NORTON — Nervous tournament staffers kept checking the time, discreetly reminding their man of a dwindling deadline — 20 minutes, then 15, then 10, finally 5 — and wondering how they’d ever get Seth Waugh to the first tee at TPC Boston, where Tiger Woods would be waiting.
A pro-am pairing with Woods is still held in high regard, and certainly was on Aug. 28, 2003, the day before the first round of the very first Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods was the top-ranked player in the world then, golf’s biggest star. Waugh was the CEO of the new tournament’s title sponsor, and as his 6:50 a.m. pro-am time approached, he was meeting with two important clients inside the clubhouse at TPC Boston.
By the time Waugh finally reached the tee, Woods and the others in the group were in the middle of the first fairway. So Waugh teed his ball up, launched it toward his playing partners, and raced to catch up. Handshakes were exchanged in the fairway, a genuine apology likely offered. And off they went.
“If you really didn’t understand what happened you’d think he was late for his tee time,” said Jay Monahan, back then the tournament director for the Deutsche Bank Championship, and now the senior vice president of business development for the PGA Tour. “That’s not the way I look at it. He had meetings that I’m sure were very productive for the business. I think it’s a testament to him that when he’s with his most important customers, there’s nothing else that matters, and he has the wherewithal to explain that to Tiger and to make that be a positive.
“Seth always has an understanding of what’s important. If you watch him walk around the venue, from the security guards at the front desk to the people in the equipment trailers to the guys cleaning up trash on the golf course, he inspires everybody and makes them feel good about the impact they’re having on the tournament.”
It’s tough to pick who the bigger figure is in the history of the Deutsche Bank Championship, which will be played for the 10th time starting on Friday. Is it Woods, who has played here seven times (missing two to injury), won once, and generated millions of dollars for his foundation through his charitable partnership with the tournament? Or is it Waugh, the person most responsible for bringing the Deutsche Bank Championship here and keeping it here? The bank, and the PGA Tour, announced a four-year sponsorship extension Wednesday night, keeping the sponsorship agreement in place at least through 2016.
Actually, it’s probably an easy decision.
It took the right title sponsor, the right course, and the right date on the PGA Tour calendar to build the tournament into what it’s become: an $8 million event held over Labor Day weekend that pumps some $50 million into the local economy every year and helps dozens of area charities. It’s the second of four playoff events on tour, guaranteed to always have an elite, 100-player field. This year the top 13 players in the world, according to the rankings, are playing.
All of it — the field, the purse, the charities — are a byproduct of what Waugh envisioned more than a decade ago, when he hatched this tournament sponsorship idea as an attempt to improve the US brand of the German-based bank, which he joined in 2000. Waugh quickly settled on golf as the platform.
“Because of all the reasons we love it: the ethics involved, the personalities, the philosophies, and the demographics,” Waugh said. “So we focused on golf, and began talking about possibilities. We wanted to find a town that made sense for us, where our clients were, a place that would appreciate the game, a place that we could easily get to from both Europe and New York. I also didn’t want to rebrand another event. We wanted to do something new.”
San Francisco was considered, as was Bethpage Black on Long Island, but Waugh thought the Boston market made the most sense.
“We wanted very much to make it a part of the Boston sports scene,” he said. “Boston embraced us, they wanted it, they wanted us to be committed. I love walking around the tournament and seeing three generations together. Boston is a family town, it’s a family weekend. We thought, let’s play that up, let’s make it an advantage for us.”
About to celebrate 10 tournaments, it’s hard to argue the tournament’s success, or its imprint on the local sports scene.
“He wants this whole place to be family,” said Eric Baldwin, the championship director who has worked with Waugh since the tournament’s inception. “He didn’t want to just title sponsor another PGA Tour event. He wanted to create an experience, and he wanted to get everyone together to be family. From our vendors, from our spectators, from our players, he wanted to welcome everyone in. He always asks us, ‘How is the happy factor?’ If you create a good happy factor, everything will work out.”
Waugh might not look local, with his perpetually tan skin and sunny disposition. But he was born in Ayer, when his father was teaching at the Groton School. The family settled soon after in New Jersey, with Waugh graduating from the Lawrenceville School, playing soccer, basketball, and baseball, where he was all-state.
Four years at Amherst College followed. Before graduating in 1980, Waugh was baseball teammates with Dan Duquette (the Lord Jeffs were 24-10 when they were seniors), met basketball captain Sheila Clancy — they’ll celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary next week — and became a double major, earning degrees in Economics and English.
His passion for golf came years later, after injuries while playing other sports began to pile up. The competitor in Waugh turned serious when an early invitation to a member-guest event didn’t go well, final-hole pressure ultimately too much for him to overcome. He took lessons, and got his handicap as low as 4 (he plays to an 8 now). Multiple private clubs count Waugh as a member, including Boston Golf Club in Hingham, which serves as host for the John D. Mineck DBC Junior Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event that pits a team of juniors from New England against their counterparts from around the country.
It’s hard to tell if Waugh’s passion for golf has rubbed off on — or perhaps sparked — his company’s involvement with the Deutsche Bank Championship, or whether the tournament and his employer’s expensive investment have influenced his feelings for golf.
“I love what it stands for,” Waugh said. “I love people taking off their hats to shake hands, I love the places where golf is played, I think they’re beautiful. I love spending four hours with people I want to spend time with. I’ve come to really love the game, but frankly it’s grown a lot the last 10 years.”
This might be the last Deutsche Bank Championship in which Waugh is so directly involved. He announced earlier this year that he was stepping down as CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, but agreed to stay on until a successor is found. He’s still there.
He hasn’t dismissed the possibility of having some sort of position — with the bank or the tournament — going forward, but his professional decision was made for personal reasons. Waugh’s son, Clancy, is a senior at the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Fla., and has committed to play golf at Wake Forest, starting next year. When he’s not on the road working — he splits his time between New York and North Palm Beach — Waugh teaches a weekly class at Clancy’s school (economics), and is an assistant coach for the golf team. He is, after all, the son of a teacher and a coach.
“I had my dad in five different classes, and he coached me in seven different sports. That’s how I grew up,” Waugh said. “I’m very, very close to my wife and my son, and I want to have this one year with them. I’m doing it because I’ve traveled 70 percent of my life for the last 30-odd years, and I basically don’t want to have any regrets. I don’t want the first to be that I didn’t live at home when my son was there.”
And if it means he walks away from the tournament that’s meant so much to him?
“My heart will always be with it,” Waugh said. “If the bank would like me to stay involved in some way, then I’m very happy to do it. But if someone else at the bank wants to take the ownership that I’ve had for 10 years, then I’m very happy to pass that on.”
First, though, comes this week, the 10th playing of the Deutsche Bank Championship. All at the same course, all sponsored by the same company. What started as a local novelty — “When we first got there, nobody could even pronounce Deutsche Bank, much less spell it,” he said — has morphed into the unofficial back-to-school, end-of-summer PGA Tour New England golf blowout. One man has been the driving force.
“Seth is the one, along with our commissioner, that really sensed that Boston and New England needed to be on the schedule, and ultimately it was Deutsche Bank that stepped up. But that doesn’t happen without the support of and recognition of their CEO,” said Monahan. “He wanted to create something very special for the region. I think it’s his vision that’s led the tournament to the great success that it’s had.”
Oh, and if Waugh is conducting some morning business on pro-am day, he’ll have a few more hours before he’s expected at the tee. He’ll be playing with Rory McIlroy on Thursday, set to tee off No. 10 at high noon.