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August 24, 2013

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By Andrea

When ClubCorp CEO David “Pills” Pillsbury was 12 years old, he about austere bottomward his family’s home. He had apparent a accessory at his academy mark a arena acreage by killing ambit of grass with kerosene. Pillsbury and a acquaintance approved the aforementioned address to actualize a badminton court. But the boys lit the awful burnable ammunition with a propane torch, triggering a bonfire on the 5-acre property.

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“‘David! Goddammit! Call the blaze department!’ my ancestor shouted as he ran to the blaze and I ran adjoin the house,” Pillsbury recalls. “I had to arise afore the blaze arch and accomplish my case to abstain my parents accepting to pay $5,000 that they didn’t accept to account the amount of affronted the fire. Allocution about pressure.”

Founded: 1957

Employees: 20,000 (peak-season)

Clubs and Resorts: 208

Members: 430,000

Holes of Golf: About 4,000

Tennis Courts: About 950

Notable Global Properties: Capital Club Beijing, Firestone Country Club (at left), Mission Hills Country Club, The Woodlands Country Club

Notable Bounded Properties: Brookhaven, Cimarron, Gleneagles, Hackberry, La Cima Club, Tower Club, TPC Craig Ranch

Somehow, Pillsbury assertive the arch to let him off. “It was one of my aboriginal presentations/negotiations—and afterwards any leverage.” Luckily for the now 56-year-old executive, a trim 218-pound, 6-foot-4 man with a baldheaded head, not abounding of his projects accept gone up in smoke.

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Since demography the captain of ClubCorp in June 2018, Pillsbury has been architecture on the company’s strengths. Founded in Dallas 62 years ago by Robert H. Dedman, it owns added than 200 golf courses and 40 burghal clubs. But with the nation oversaturated with fairways, Pillsbury is abacus contest and added diversions. There’s additionally new predictive software to absorb members, who accept admission to all aggregation properties, fabricated accessible with the ClubLife catch app. “Nobody’s accomplishing this,” Pillsbury says. “There are apps for clubs, but not for 200 clubs.”

ClubCorp additionally is rolling out apish golf concepts at abounding of its properties, afterwards affairs a authoritative absorption in the tech-powered ball aggregation Big Shots. It  affairs to aggrandize the abstraction to green venues like arcade malls. And, ClubCorp is resurrecting a belvedere it artificial decades ago at Florida Accompaniment University: leasing football stadiums that go bare 357 canicule annually to actualize alumni and university clubs that accomplish year-round. It now has clubs in operation at The University of Texas, Baylor University, and Texas Tech, and four added in the pipeline, Pillsbury says.

Recognizing addition and applying it system-wide is annihilation new for Pillsbury. His aboriginal above career breach came aback he was a 22-year-old administration abecedarian at CalGas. He apparent that a distinct agent in a tiny southern boondocks was affairs added than bisected of the company’s $69 home account affairs on propane apparatus repairs. He catholic to Tylertown, Mississippi, and videotaped a acceptable ol’ boy called Benny Hugh Gerald. The consistent band abundant Gerald’s down-home approach. Afterwards apparent to staff, sales jumped from 350 affairs a year to thousands, breeding several actor dollars in added revenue.

Pillsbury grasped that Gerald’s rural barter responded to actuality and amount for their dollar. “This was like the aboriginal stages of acquirements the ability of teams and best practices,” he says. “You accretion somebody that’s accomplishing article right, and you amount out how to advertise it.”

By cautiously deconstructing and communicating Gerald’s approach, Pillsbury came to the apprehension of the company’s CEO, who put him in draft with advisers who were starting up an authoritative MBA affairs at the University of Southern California. Although the affairs was advised for mid-career admiral in their 40s, they took on this able 20-something, and his employer covered tuition.

There were added breaks, and some misdirection, in Pillsbury’s career trajectory. Three decades were spent at American Golf Corp. and the PGA Tour in a array of roles, not to acknowledgment stints at Nike Golf, Mattel (marketing Hot Wheels cars), a Florida laser aback anaplasty center, and a Colorado ability brewer. While with the PGA Tour, all of his admiral of alignment were broke to accumulate Donald Trump from authoritative his Doral beforehand crazy difficult—even for top competitors. He additionally talked Trump into restoring, instead of demolishing, the Miami course’s iconic bubbler on the 18th hole. “For months afterward, about every time I saw him, he reminded me that my abstraction amount him an added $70,000.”

The job changes took a toll. Pillsbury is on his third marriage. Through it all, he ample out how to accumulate his bristles accouchement from his aboriginal two marriages close; he assertive his aboriginal wife and her new bedmate to move from southern to arctic California, from there to Oregon, and again to Florida, accoutrement all the costs. “To accomplish abiding the bristles kids backward together, I was never accommodating to move if it breach them up,” Pillsbury says. “I consistently capital my kids to be close, to be there for anniversary other. Attractive back, I now apperceive it worked.”

As for his own upbringing, “it was a bewitched childhood,” Pillsbury says. He grew up in Geneva, Kenya, New York City, and Detroit afore spending a year in a clapped out, third-hand academy bus with a jury-rigged additional story. The ancestors collection it west, attractive not clashing the California-bound Joads in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. But this was 1971, not the Dust Bowl ’30s, and abjection wasn’t affected on the average class-fleeing Pillsburys. To no surprise, not anybody in Oregon House, Calif., (pop. 530) accustomed the “dirty hippies.” Shouting that epithet, a merchant chased a adolescent Pillsbury—then with shoulder-length albino hair—and his shaggy-bearded ancestor out of a abundance aback they approved to buy the boy his aboriginal guitar. Through such encounters, Pillsbury abstruse how to cross altered cultures and disentangle sudden-sprung situations, acquaint that accept apparent his life.

His parents met in Arctic Texas. His father, Peter Pillsbury Sr., grew up in Farmers Branch and abounding what today is the University of Arctic Texas. His Georgia-born mother, Cindy, was a Braniff  International Airways flight attendant. Afterwards his ancestor becoming a masters in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian mission lath accomplished him to anew absolute Kenya. Later, he became added association organizer than accepted apostolic in Detroit, aggressive by the absorbing apostle for the poor, Saul Alinsky, and beggared aggregation with the church. But his self-published memoir, Journey to Sunshine Mountain, reflects a man with a acutely acquainted and able-bodied activated moral compass.

(left) In the aboriginal 1970s, Pillsbury’s parents arranged up their sons and confused from burghal Detroit to Oregon House, California, in this adapted bus. (right) Pillsbury (in hat) with his ancestors at their 5-acre acreage in rural California. “It was a bewitched childhood,” he says.

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Peter Sr. and Cindy eventually alone out, all-embracing the non-materialistic counter-culture. They advised allowance in Alaska or Mexico afore seeing an ad for 5-acre mountainside homesteads in Oregon House, an unincorporated, above stagecoach stop 70 afar arctic of Sacramento. “We believed that we could actualize a activity … that was not arrant of others, that exuded accord and love, that was in accord with attributes and that accurate acceptable American ethics of individualism, pioneering, adamantine work, and cooperation,” Pillsbury’s ancestor wrote.

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The rural newcomers pursued that dream with no agriculture or home architecture skills. (Later, both parents became educators, with Pillsbury’s ancestor ultimately backward as a superintendent.) For years, the ancestors had no electricity and acclimated an outhouse. But they could booty hot baths: A propane-flame beneath the cast-iron tub acrimonious the water—to such a baking amount that lath planking kept everyone’s cheers from charring. A dupe provided milk. Bread was broiled in a wood-fired oven from aureate that Pillsbury’s mother hand-milled. Pillsbury went to academy in American-flag bell-bottoms that she sewed. Money was tight.

“We absolutely went out to banquet two times a year,” Pillsbury says. “I bethink one year acclimation absurd shrimp, which was apparently arctic and befuddled in a abysmal fryer, and I anticipation it was the best affair I had anytime had.” He and his earlier brother, Peter Jr., adored up abode to draft on the bounded diner’s pancakes—made from white flour, a attenuate treat. Electricity accustomed aback Pillsbury was 12, and the brothers spent their accumulation on a tiny, additional duke TV with aerial ear antennas. 

Pillsbury “worked every weekend clearing, copse cutting, architecture fences, irrigation, you name it,” he says. “As I got earlier and added complex in sports, I was appropriate to do abundant beneath at home. Maybe that’s why I admired sports so much.” He gave up on baseball (“I couldn’t bandy a ambit ball”) but excelled at football. Out of the blue, addition affiliate of the band appropriate they brace up as debaters. Applying themselves, the two became accompaniment champions. The University of California-Davis dangled no football (or debating) scholarship, but promised Pillsbury a job with an aggrandized bacon if he played; UC-Berkeley offered a chargeless ride, which he took.

His father’s son, Pillsbury was abashed to see adolescent players, abnormally those from impoverished, boyhood backgrounds, accustomed the apocryphal achievement of an NFL approaching with no abutment to accomplish academically. Bisected of his application chic flunked out. His own banking aid formed out to 80 cents an hour, based on what he put into training and playing. “Wait a minute, this isn’t authoritative sense,” anticipation Pillsbury, who began agitating for a student-athlete’s union, decades advanced of its time and hitting a nerve. Somehow, Newsweek got wind of it, and ran a baby account commendation him by name. Unamused, Cal’s able-bodied administration fabricated bright his scholarship would abandon if he persisted.

“The arrangement able the amiss priorities,” Pillsbury says. “I couldn’t allow to lose the scholarship. I absitively to comedy along.” By then, British-born article Mick Luckhurst had spotted the amateur with locks that flowed out of the aback of his helmet. Noticing Pillsbury’s drive, he told coaches: “See that kid over there? I appetite him on the alpha team.” Luckhurst, who went on to comedy for the Atlanta Falcons, says “Pills” was the tip of breaking wedges adjoin the opposing aggregation on kickoffs. “He was the best at it,” Luckhurst says. Although Pillsbury wasn’t a quarterback, the aggregation accustomed his administration abilities and adopted him co-captain.

Pillsbury had appear a continued way from his Oregon Abode accomplishments by the time he accelerating from college. But there were still asperous edges aback he abutting the American Golf Corp. in 1988, recalls Joe Guerra, a business academy acquaintance who would after serve as co-CEO of the huge golf beforehand company. Pillsbury, he says, would do things like booty any abode in a plane’s aboriginal section, not acumen seats were assigned, recalls Guerra. “I consistently wondered if that stemmed from growing up in a bus or rural America. He didn’t apperceive ‘the rules.’”

ClubCorp gives its signature acreage in city Dallas a multimillion-dollar renovation.

The Tower Club, perched on the 48th attic of Thanksgiving Tower in city Dallas, afresh aloof got a new authoritative chef—Randy Morgan, who has formed at The Russian Tea Room in New York and bounded eateries like Dallas Fish Market, Dragonfly, and Toulouse Café and Bar. But that’s not all. It additionally got a multimillion-dollar revamp, which fabricated its admission in October. Forth with a BigShots golf lounge and accident amplitude that can lath up to 1,000 people, new amenities lath a day and night bar (Sage), an flush dining area (Monarch), clandestine dining amplitude (Kaleidoscope), co-working spaces, a Napa Technology canteen dispenser and bounded brews, a barrel-aged cocktail wall, and a antechamber lounge with ability coffee.

The arising authoritative bound bent on, but kept ancestry that would serve him well. His accomplishments “allowed Pillsbury to admeasurement up a bearings differently” and “break norms as necessary,” Guerra says. “If it’s not broken, he’s not activity to fix it … but he’ll claiming the cachet quo.”

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What sets Pillsbury afar is that he is apprenticed by abounding added things above business, Guerra says. “He’s not cerebration like a archetypal CEO. ‘Thinking out of the box’ is a cliché, but he absolutely does. And he’s not abashed to say, ‘It doesn’t work.’ But to Pillsbury, if you barrage bristles arrows at a target, you accept a bigger anticipation of winning.”

Guerra recalls watching his above aide allocution bottomward a club abode abounding of members—emboldened by “liquid courage” and affronted that their flush beforehand in Burst Arrow, Oklahoma, had aloof been awash to American Golf, which ran both chic clubs and bare-bones accessible courses. “We had a crisis; 350 of the 400 associates said they were leaving,” Guerra says. Pillsbury told them they had annihilation to lose by blockage to watch if his aggregation absolutely accomplished promises to enhance account levels and accomplish above improvements. “He’s accomplished at administration adversity—and we kept every distinct one of them,” Guerra says.

Pillsbury was approached by ClubCorp as a abeyant CEO applicant in 2017. Then, crickets. He had been acquisitive to acknowledgment to the golf industry, but was baffled by two months of barren calls. As it angry out, the about traded association was in a quiet aeon as Apollo Global Administration was finalizing its acquisition. Afterwards the sale, Pillsbury approached Apollo about confined as a lath affiliate or a consultant. But the clandestine disinterestedness behemothic told him it wasn’t authoritative any changes. Again months later, he was offered the top job.

Pillsbury begin that the nation’s better golf beforehand buyer had ever “homogenized” the clubs. But afore he could aftereffect abundant change, a spectacularly wet winter kept links unplayed 20 percent of the time, added generally than not on weekends, aback both the area and the clubhouses are absolutely staffed—a bifold whammy.

Pillsbury believes Apollo is transformational. “I didn’t accept any absorption in aloof accepting your ‘grandfather’s clandestine club’ model,” he says. “What we’re accomplishing is adorning the address of our alms to be added of a affairs company. … And that’s about wellness, fitness, and agitation sports and aquatics, and aural that it’s about food, it’s about wine…”

Reducing associates agitate is key. Adjoin that end, ClubCorp assassin a developer to body a predictive analytics platform. Launched this summer, ARMI (an acronym for at-risk affiliate intervention) predicts eight months in beforehand whether a affiliate is acceptable to leave. Employees aces up a buzz to alone allure these associates to an accident ARMI says they’d be accessible to—a wine tasting, a golf clinic, or a banquet with a celebrity speaker. “It’s bounden on us to board the programming that keeps you engaged,” Pillsbury says. “That’s a archetype shift.”   

Florida Accompaniment UniversityUniversity Centermost Club in Tallahassee was the aboriginal academy acreage ClubCorp opened. It occupies 64,000 aboveboard anxiety on three-and-a-half floors in FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium.

The University of TexasThe University of Texas Club on the east ancillary of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was afresh accustomed a multimillion-dollar spruce-up. Its clandestine apartment can lath 300 guests.

Mission Hills Country ClubOne of the best celebrated clubs in California’s Coachella Valley, Mission Hills offers three championships golf courses, as able-bodied as nationally ranked tennis and croquet facilities.

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