Tom Pashley has always been a quick study. That's why it didn't take him long to figure out that he preferred a job in golf to one in accounting.
Still, it took degrees from the University of Georgia and Duke University to get him where he wanted to be -- in Pinehurst. He came to the resort in 1996 and has worked his way to executive vice president of marketing.
Pashley was reared in Augusta, Ga., so he knew a little about the traditions of golf. But he fell in love with Pinehurst in 1987 when his parents sent him and his brother Steve to the resort as a high school graduation present.
"That was my first time here," Pashley said. "At the time, there were seven courses and a beautiful hotel, and we golfed all day and watched tennis at night.
"Steve was two years older, but neither of us knew the scale of this place. We showed up for dinner at the hotel dining room wearing our hard-collar Munsingwear golf shirts with the little penguins on the front without jackets and had to borrow a couple from the closet before we could get in.
"We were definitely impressed. We visited the Hall of Fame and took pictures of every hole we played. It was kind of an awakening. I loved golf and watched it on TV, but I had never heard of Pinehurst. I couldn't believe this place was here, and I hadn't heard of it."
Life, like golf, takes some strange bounces. Pashley went to the University of Georgia, got a degree in accounting and went to work for an auditing firm in Atlanta. Golf was for weekends and daydreaming.
"I knew very quickly that I didn't want to be an accountant," Pashley said, "so I went back to school and got an MBA in marketing."
The timing was perfect. Pat Corso was president of Pinehurst Resort and looking for fresh new minds to help him and Don Padgett restore the resort to its former prominence in the world of golf.
"Mr. Corso said the first thing he wanted me to do was to meet Don Padgett," Pashley said. "They wanted to find a place for me and put me in a year-long management-development program. They told me that by the time I had done that for a year, I would know how all the pieces fit together.
"I spent three days at the front desk in the hotel, two weeks in the kitchen, a week on the golf course maintenance crew raking bunkers and picking up pine cones.
"I was scratching my head, wondering what I was doing. Mostly I just had to show up, listen, talk and report back on what had happened.
"I worked with Jon Wagner when he headed the Championship Management Program for the 1999 U.S. Open, and he was the perfect person for that job. When he left, I worked with Reg Jones who did such a great job with the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles and the 2005 U.S. Men's Open.
"When you're working with people of that caliber, you take things for granted. But when they step away, it's humbling. What better way to learn than in that environment? You just tend to step outside yourself and appreciate where you are and how lucky you are."
Recent personnel changes at Pinehurst Resort have opened new opportunities for the energetic Pashley. Wagner left shortly after the 1999 Open. Padgett passed away in 2003. Corso left shortly afterwards and was replaced by Don Padgett II. Jones resigned a few months ago for a job with the USGA. Matt Massei, who had replaced Padgett as director of golf operations, resigned to take a position with Corso's management firm in New Hampshire.
Kocher resigned her position as a vice president of the resort.
"My molding came from picking up things from everybody," Pashley said. "You couldn't help getting something from Padge or Pat Corso. From Padge, it was learning to keep chipping away at a project until you got it done. From Corso, it was the passion and love he had for this place, unlike anyone I've ever known.
"Beth was one of the best negotiators I've ever sat across a table from. When she left, I took over as manager of Championship Management."
Pashley is passing the knowledge and the passion along to those he works with on a daily basis, such as Ricky Lasky, director of sales; David Benne, operations manager; Claire Corso; championship coordinator; and Heather Fueger, championship manager.
Events such as the recent People vs. the Pros, an ESPN televised match featuring professionals Retief Goosen and Gary McCord against two "average" amateur golfers keeps the Pinehurst name before the public.
"That helps," Pashley said, "but we're continually advertising, trying to find ways to grow our business. The U.S. Open, of course, is the ultimate advertisement. But the People vs. the Pros was good for us in terms of getting people to understand that No. 8 is a great course, too.
"We'll be holding the 2008 U.S. Amateur on courses 2 and 4, because we want people to know that No. 4 is a great course.
"You've got to start history somewhere, and with No. 4 it's the U.S. Amateur."
The promotion of Pinehurst would be a much tougher sell without the 100-plus-year tradition of the resort.
"There are a lot of great golf destinations," Pashley points out. "They can build great golf courses and resorts, but they can't create the history and tradition that is here. They can't have a 100-year-old Donald Ross course and they can't have our hallway. They can't talk about Annie Oakley visiting or rounds played by Ben Hogan. I've fallen in love with this place.
"It's not just about maintaining. You have to keep finding ways to improve. There's still some growth opportunity, and we want to improve the product for members and grow membership. The Spa is an attraction for families in the summer and the off-seasons. We want people to know that Pinehurst is a place where even a 6-year-old can have fun."
As for Pashley, he loves the game as much as ever. But with a wife, Susan, and two children, 3-year-old Holly and 5-week-old Max, the rounds are becoming more infrequent.
"I play about once a month," he said, "but it looks like my golf career is over. I guess my next outing will probably be in a father-son tournament."
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