Welcome to Crooked Stick Golf Club: Tony Pancake Interview

Welcome to Crooked Stick Golf Club: Tony Pancake Interview

Crooked Stick Golf Club might be one of the best golf courses in the country. Located in Carmel, Indiana, this course will host the 2012 BMW Championship. The course has hosted several PGA, LPGA, and amateur events in the past as well. John Daly knows this course, having won the 1991 PGA Championship here. Since then, they have hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, the Solheim Cup, and the U.S. Senior Open. Crooked Stick first opened in 1964, and was designed by Pete and Alive Dye. I have never played here, but a few weeks ago I went out to visit with Tony Pancake, Director of Golf and Club Operations. While there, Mr. Pancake was nice enough to show me around the clubhouse and gave me a tour of the golf course. Mr. Pancake also used to work at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Valhalla hosted the 2000 PGA Championship. Tiger won that… and I was there to see it all unfold as a volunteer standard bearer. I hope to one day play Crooked Stick, but until then it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Tony Pancake.

How long have you been at Crooked Stick Golf Club?

This is my 9th year at the club. In 2004 I came to Crooked Stick following Jim Ferriell who is still our “Professional Emeritus”. Jim has now been at the club over 35 years.

Crooked Stick is one of the nicest golf courses in the state of Indiana. What’s it like being affiliated with such a great facility?

It’s truly an honor and privilege. Not only is Crooked Stick a great golf course, but we also have a membership who is passionate about the game and really wants an incredible golf experience at the club.

Later this year, the PGA TOUR will be here. Crooked Stick will host the 2012 BMW Championship. Are you excited to have the PGA here?

We are very excited to host the 2012 BMW Championship. While we have hosted some great events in the past 8 years including the Solheim Cup, the Women’s Amateur and the Senior Open. This will be the first time since 1991 that we have hosted the PGA TOUR players. Knowing we will have the top 70 players in the world for all 4 days is special!

Tiger is scheduled to play in that… and I am Tiger’s biggest fan. Do you watch a lot of golf on TV?

Weekends are a busy time for golf professionals so I don’t watch much golf on television. I focus on the majors with the Masters being my favorite event to watch because of the excitement on the back 9.

Who are some of your favorite players?

I don’t really have a favorite player. I enjoy following the players with ties to Indiana and as an Alabama grad I root for Michael Thompson and Bud Cauley. I really enjoy watching the various golf swings of all the players.

Do you think Tiger will break Jack’s record?

Since you are Tiger’s biggest fan, then you will not like my answer but I don’t think Tiger will break Jack’s record. My reasons are that there are so many great players now and they are not as intimidated by Tiger as they were 5 years ago.  Secondly, Tiger wants it so much that I think there is added pressure each year for him to win. Finally, there has been some speculation that Tiger’s body will not hold up and I think there may be some truth to that.

Folks can volunteer for the BMW Championship. How many volunteers are you looking for?

We need 2,600 volunteers for this event and the Indianapolis community has again shown their willingness to share some Hoosier hospitality as we have over 2,500 volunteers already registered.

This place was almost called The Golf Club of Indianapolis. Tell me a little bit more where the name Crooked Stick came from.

You are correct that the plan was to name the Club The Golf Club of Indianapolis but one day during construction of the course Mr. Dye found a “crooked stick” that was shaped like a golf club and he picked it up and starting hitting rocks, etc. and one of the members suggested the name Crooked Stick.  hat “crooked stick” is still on display in our clubhouse.

Do you get to play very much?

Like most golf pros, I don’t play as much as I would like to but my love for playing and teaching the game is what motivates me. I would like to play a couple of  times a week but probably average 3 or 4 times a month.

Sorry to keep talking about the BMW… but that will be a big event. How many spectators do you expect that week?

We expect around 150,000 spectators for the week. As I mentioned earlier, having the top 70 players for all 4 days was one of the things that made this event attractive to us.

How many members do you have out here?

We have 225 local members. Some of the foundational principles of the club include no starting times and not having to wait when you play golf so the limited # of members has helped maintain those principles.

There have been some pretty big events held here… from junior golf to the senior PGA. What is it about this course that keeps these events coming back to central Indiana?

That’s a good question. I think it’s a combination of community support from a ticket and hospitality standpoint, quality and reputation of the golf course and the history of successful events that we have hosted. Additionally it doesn’t hurt that Pete Dye built the golf course and still lives on the 18th hole!

When did you start prepping the golf course for the BMW Championship?

We have been working on the event since September of 2009 when the Senior Open was completed. In terms of the golf course, we started last fall with a few minor modifications and some agronomic practices that will help us get the course ready for the players.

What is your favorite hole out here?

This is a tough question because there are so many holes that I think are great. Since I have to pick one, then I’m going to choose #8. It’s a long par 4 (about 450 yards) with a lake running the entire length of the hole on the left.  Bailing out right is no bargain due to thick rough off the tee and a challenging bunker next to the green.  One of the things I like about the hole is that you can play it aggressively and make an occasional birdie but risk a double or triple bogey. In summary it’s a great spectator hole but a real challenge if you are playing!

What is the hardest hole on the golf course?

Again, there are many holes that could qualify depending on wind direction and hole locations, but I’m going to choose the 16th hole. It’s toward the end of the round which brings in added pressure if you are playing well. The 480 yard hole requires a long and accurate tee shot between some deep bunkers. The downhill second shot is one of the most intimidating on the course with a lake on the right and bunkers on the left. The greens features 3 levels and has a back right hole location that will scare even the best players.

Speaking of volunteers, I volunteered at the 2000 PGA Championship down at Valhalla. Tiger won that event. You used to be at Valhalla. How does golf in Kentucky compare to golf in Indiana?

I really enjoyed my time in Kentucky and have many great friends in Louisville. Also, I think Valhalla is an excellent course that they continue to improve. When I compare the two courses, I think Crooked Stick is a little more difficult because we have so many holes where one bad shot can lead to disaster. Both courses are open off the tee but require precise 2nd shots into the greens. That potential double or triple bogey is what Crooked Stick a little more difficult in my opinion.

Let’s say I wanted to become a member at Crooked Stick. Where does that process begin?

Membership into the club is by invitation only so you must be introduced by one of our existing members. The process is something that again helps us make sure our membership appreciates the foundational principles of the club and that we identify prospective members who are passionate about golf.

During the 2012 BMW Championship, what will your responsibilities consist of? Will you get to watch any of the action?

My role is to make sure that everyone is having a nice time! We want the players, fans, media, members, spectators, volunteers, etc. to walk away and say, “Wow, was that a great event and the club made me feel special while I was there.”  We’re fortunate to have some great employees who enjoy making our members and guests feel special! In terms of watching golf, I’ll tape it and watch it the week after so I can see how the course looks, how the holes play, how far they hit the ball, etc.

How important is junior golf to the success and the growth of the game in the coming years?

In my opinion this is the key to golf’s growth. We all know that Tiger has increased the interest in golf but it has not lead to any growth in the number of people playing. If we can get kids interested, then most likely their parents will want to get involved as well. One of the things I have been most proud of a Crooked Stick is our junior golf initiatives. We have over 75 kids in our junior golf program each summer and many of our kids are competing in state and regional events. Last year we started a Junior Development program where we offer membership privileges for a year to 5 kids from the Indianapolis area who have shown a passion for golf, enjoyed some success playing, are doing well is school but don’t have access to a golf course.

Tell me a little bit more about your scholarship program.

In addition to the Junior Development program that I mentioned we also have two scholarship programs. The Western Golf Association offers the Evans Scholarship to benefit caddies and we have a Crooked Stick scholarship program for caddies and employees. Over the past 30 years we have helped over 75 kids achieve their dreams of attending college!

What’s in your bag?

I’m a Titleist guy, so I play all Titleist clubs and golf balls. Titleist stands for quality and performance and I need all the help that I can get!

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?

You won’t believe this, but I have had 11 holes in one!!! When a member heard that, he asked if I was the pro at a par 3 course early in my career!

Do you have caddies here at Crooked Stick? Do you think a caddy helps a player play better?

We have about 75 college and high school aged kids who caddy during the summer months. I think playing with a caddy adds to the experience of your round and it’s a chance to get to know a young man or young lady and have a positive impact on their life.

How do you know Tim Ryan?

I’ve not met Tim, but we have gotten to know each other thru his book on Henry Picard. I have had some students that took lessons from Mr. Picard so I contacted Tim so I could get some books and learn more about how he taught golf.

Crooked Stick is one of the golf courses on Tiger Woods 13. What was that experience like?

The most amazing thing is that they can put together the game with GPS technology and really don’t need to spend much time on the golf course. It’s incredible how accurate the information is and the attention to detail. They were only on-site for a couple of days and then put it all together.

This winter wasn’t bad… but do you ever get bored when there is snow on the ground?

I really look forward to the winter season. We put in long hours during the summer and while I enjoy being a golf professional I enjoy being a husband and father more. The winter is a time for me to focus on my family and get recharged for the next season.

What’s next for Tony Pancake? Are there talks about bringing more amateur and professional events to the facility?

Crooked Stick is the final stop in my career unless the club decides they don’t want me anymore. I really enjoy being a part of the club and hopefully having a positive impact on our membership. In terms of future events, we currently don’t have anything scheduled. The BMW will be our 4th event in 8 years so we need to give the membership and the community a break for a few years. I’m sure we’ll look to bring another national event to the club between 2015 and 2020 but there is nothing scheduled at this time.

I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to sit and talk. I know you are a busy guy. In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

Thanks for the chance to share some of my thoughts on golf and Crooked Stick. I’m lucky to be in a position that I enjoy and I’m grateful for all the people who have helped make it possible for me.

Crooked Stick Golf Club: Tony Pancake