Tom Pashley has seemingly done it all at Pinehurst, from cooking omelets to raking bunkers to working the overnight shift as part of the audit team during his stint in the mid 1990s as part of the resort’s first-ever Manager in Development Program.
So, even though some of the names have changed in nearly two decades, Pashley will be speaking from a position of knowledge when he addresses any of the resort’s most precious commodities – its nearly 1,200 employees – when he takes over as Pinehurst Resort president in October.
“It was a real gift to have a year here with no real responsibilities; I wasn’t getting performance reviews, I was just showing up at a department, inserting myself and asking them to teach me,” Pashley said of the program unveiled back in 1996 by then Pinehurst head Pat Corso. “I even worked as a bellman.”
Pashley, 45, is a Pinehurst Resort lifer, the hand-picked, in-house successor to Don Padgett II, who will retire this fall and become the resort’s executive emeritus. Pashley will bring a new vibe to the property that just made history by hosting back-to-back men’s and women’s U.S. Opens.
He’s married with two children, growing up in the Internet, Facebook and Twitter age. Compare that to Padgett, whose folksy style is appealing and effective. However, Padgett still uses a flip phone and doesn’t converse via email.
“Mr. Padgett made sure we were going down the right path as it was related to golf because he comes from a golfing pedigree. His dad really put us on the map from a competitive standpoint and brought championship golf back to Pinehurst, and then Don continued to refine our golf product to what Pinehurst should be as it relates to golf. But he doesn’t have the technology understanding that Pinehurst needs with the web generation and apps, so he knew he needed somebody more of my generation to help position Pinehurst for the future. I will be bringing a different perspective.”
Corso, now the executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress economic development program, recalls his first meeting with Pashley.
“I tried to paint the bleakest picture I could about the realities of the commitment it takes to make it in the hospitality industry,” Corso said. “Knowing that Tom had an offer from Eli Lilly for twice what I was willing to pay I was shocked when he agreed to join our team … he has earned this opportunity.”
Pashley grew up in another golfing Mecca – Augusta, Ga. – and began playing golf as a 10-year-old with his older brother, who was 12 at the time. When Pashley graduated high school, his parents urged the two brothers to go on a golfing trip, and the elder son picked Pinehurst Resort.
“I had never heard of Pinehurst,” Pashley said. “It was on the cover of Southern Links Magazine. We had no idea what to expect. I was 18 years old and we showed up here and were overwhelmed at how beautiful it was.
“We burned through a roll of film on every course we played, and enjoyed it so much we came back two years later,” Pashley added while flipping through a stack of photos. “Pinehurst just became this special golf destination to me, so it’s really a unique opportunity that I now have to be leading it.”
Pashley began his “career” in Atlanta as a CPA, and after three years he knew he wasn’t suited to crunching numbers.
“It wasn’t what I woke up in the morning wanting to do, and I didn’t think much about it at night. It wasn’t my passion,” Pashley said. “It gave me a great business foundation, but it made me realize it wasn’t for me. If you can find something that you go to bed thinking about, dreaming about, if you are able to have that be your career, that’s how you succeed. Otherwise you are just swimming upstream.”
Pashley headed to North Carolina and specifically the Triangle, and enrolled in Duke University’s MBA program. He soon found a bunch of golfing buddies and began hanging around the course in Durham.
With one more year left at Duke, Pashley knew he wanted a career path that included golf, so he wrote a letter to golf coach Rod Myers, asking how he could get involved in the game.
“I told him I’ll do whatever I can do with Duke golf, whether it’s picking up golf balls or cleaning clubs. I just wanted to get my foot in the door with golf,” Pashley recalled.
Myers, who passed away in 2007, met with Pashley and offered him a graduate assistant coaching position.
“Rod opened the door for me,” Pashley said. “He wasn’t a real aggressive recruiter so he gave me a hit list of 12 kids he was interested in and asked me to try to do an outreach program. So., I began writing them letters and calling them on the phone trying to convince them that Duke was the place they needed to go to school.
“He even allowed me to go to the PGA merchandise show with him so I had golf coach credentials, and to me that was a big deal. I knew that’s where everybody in the golf industry was. I was handing out resumes to Ping and Titleist – any of the big companies. They are trying to conduct business and here I am trying to get a job at their major trade show. None of that panned out, but Rod ended up calling Pat Corso. That’s how I got my foot in the door at Pinehurst.”
Pashley’s stint in the Manager in Development Program was cut short after 10 months when a job opened up with the Pinehurst Championship Management team. As director of business development, Pashley pieced together corporate strategic alliances for the 1999 U.S. Open.
It was the first of seven titles Pashley would hold as he climbed the Pinehurst Resort executive ladder over the next decade. He also sold all of the resort’s corporate hospitality for the 2005 Open.
“Pretty much by October 2004 we were done selling the Open packages and I was in little bit of no man’s land,” he said. “Don Padgett asked me to move into the marketing role. It was great timing again. Great timing is the theme of some of this story. And look he is at an age to retire now, which is another bit of great timing for me.”
Embedded with a sales and marketing background, Pashley said his leadership style will likely center on the guest.
“I’ve spent the last 10 years at Pinehurst trying to get people to come here and holding them so near and dear,” he said. “We’re in a very competitive environment out there, so when you are finally able to convince a guest to call the reservation number, to get them to go to the website and book their Pinehurst stay, that’s a huge win.”
Pashley said he will also be an employee advocate.
“What I remember the most from back in 1996 was that every department found a way to think they were the most important part of the Pinehurst experience, and the truth be told, they were all right, every single department and employee plays a part in the experience here,” he said. “That’s beautiful. If everybody didn’t feel that way you would worry, that they are not seeing their overall role at the resort.”
Pashley said part of Padgett’s legacy was assembling a solid team that he can rely on to produce memorable golfing, spa and dining experiences.
“That’s a great tribute to Don, that he is leaving us well positioned to not miss a beat,” Pashley said. “I like to tell our employees we’ve got to give our guests an experience to tweet about. And are we delivering word-of-mouth types of experiences that are going to blow people away. If we didn’t do it yesterday then we’ve got a brand new opportunity tomorrow.”
“Tom brings a ‘top-to-bottom’ knowledge of the resort and community,” Corso said. “He’s been here 18 years, has four Opens under his belt and has seen the best and worst of times. I don’t think there is anyone who is better prepared to take on this responsibility than Tom.”
Pashley’s “fresh” approach won’t just center on the hotel properties, a new swimming pool or a revitalized membership. At the center of the resort, first and foremost, is golf.
“Donald Ross died in 1948, 20 years before I was born, so I think the way we bridge that generational gap is with our championships,” Pashley said. “People may or may not know who Donald Ross is but hopefully they will know who Martin Kaymer is and Michelle Wie. Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer – all those great names we have on our walls – and if you are a golfer that wants to come to a place like Pinehurst those names will continue to mean something to you. But we have to continue to add color photos to the beautiful black and white photos we have in the hallways. There is some great history here, but the further removed we get the less relevant those people will be.
“Part of my goal is to earn our contemporary relevance with each generation, and we’ve got to find ways to do that,” he added. “What we’re seeing now is changing demographics. Our membership came out for a July 4 party and you couldn’t believe the number of kids running around kicking soccer balls on the tees and playing on the lawns. When I moved to Pinehurst 18 years ago you did not see that. We’ve been able to evolve and attract a different demographic.”
Pashley takes over control of the resort during an upswing, but remains focused on improving amenities and guest “moments in time.”
“I have been here for 18 years and you can take this place for granted, maybe forget as you’re driving up to the Carolina Hotel going to a meeting that the car in front of you may have driven here from Canada and is going slow to take in scenery, the beautiful Carolina Hotel that is beginning to appear in front of them,” Pashley said. “It’s about reminding our team about making sure we consistently deliver that wonderful experience.”