After operating the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour for 23 years, Todd Thompson was not looking to take a different career path. But when the right opportunity came along, it was the perfect time for him to make a move.
Earlier this spring, Thompson joined the staff of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic as Tournament Director, and in recent months he has been preparing for this year’s event, which will take place the week of Nov. 13-19 at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island.
Thompson has been involved in golf his entire adult life, beginning with a college stint as a member of the U. of Georgia golf team from 1984-88. Thompson had a nice career in Athens, winning two tournaments, twice making second team all-SEC and serving as team captain as a junior and senior, helping lead the Bulldogs to an SEC title and a top-10 finish at nationals as a senior.
But while several of his teammates (Peter Persons, Tommy Tolles, Matt Peterson and Paul Claxton) went on to play professionally, Thompson went to work behind the scenes in the golf business, including a stretch as Tournament Director of the Georgia PGA from 1990-94..
Thompson left his job with the Georgia PGA to start a junior golf tour that was to serve as a bridge between statewide junior organizations in the Southeast and the American Junior Golf Association, and the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour has been a successful operation since Thompson created it in 1994.
Thompson was approached earlier this year by representatives of the RSM Classic ,who were looking to find a replacement for Scott Reid as Tournament Director for the PGA Tour event. Thompson said the contact “was totally out of the blue,” but after being interviewed and learning more about the opportunity, it turned out to an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s hard to turn down St. Simons Island,” Thompson said in a recent phone interview. “This is a totally different challenge from what I’ve been doing. “
Thompson said he initially found the possibility of taking the job “intriguing, and the more I heard about it and the people involved with the Davis Love Foundation, I knew immediately it was attractive to me.”
When approached about the job, Thompson was unaware the RSM Classic was in need of a new Tournament Director, and he said the open position “was not on my radar.” But once he familiarized himself with the job and its responsibilities, Thompson accepted the offer and said it was “the best thing that could have happened to me.”
The opportunity to work with the Davis Love Foundation, which operates the RSM Classic, and the chance to live along the Georgia Coast was too good to turn down, and the timing of the offer was perfect from Thompson’s standpoint.
With his daughter concluding her college education and his son about to enter Thompson’s alma mater, he did not have to worry about uprooting his children, with the nature of the new job allowing Thompson to continue managing the Auburn-based SJGT remotely.
The Southeastern Junior Tour spans the region from Mississippi to Florida and South Carolina, with the bulk of the tournaments played in Georgia and Alabama. Thompson is still able to make the occasional appearance at one of the SJGT’s events, and he’s been back to Auburn a few times, but with the dates for the RSM Classic approaching, he will be less involved with the operation of the junior tour for a while.
Georgia’s golf schedule also fits in nicely with Thompson’s, as the Bulldogs are spending the entire fall on the West Coast and in the Midwest. Three of the Bulldogs’ spring events will be played in state, including the SEC Championship at Sea Island GC, allowing Thompson to watch his son Davis play when his tournament duties are not as pressing.
For years, Thompson has operated a junior tour with approximately 38 events a year. His new job is all about getting ready for one week a year, albeit a week in which he says “the number of moving parts is surprising.”
Thompson was able to get some advice fellow ex-Georgia PGA Tournament Director Peter Ripa, the Tournament Director for the PGA Tour event in San Diego.
After several months on the job, Thompson said the most necessary attributes for his new job are “organization and patience.”
Being Tournament Director for the RSM Classic means having “to manage a lot of different things,” Thompson says. In addition to the tournament, Thompson is responsible for the two tournament pro-ams, the concert during tournament week, and the various events – some golf-related, some not – that take place around the event.
“It’s hard to believe that one event takes a whole year to plan,” Thompson said.
Upon beginning his new job, Thompson was able to take his time familiarizing himself the people and groups he will be working with before and during the tournament.
“I had some time to learn the job and meet people in the community, the RSM executives involved in the tournament, the people involved with hospitality, the cooks and all the Sea Island staff.
Among the aspects of the tournament Thompson has to keep an eye on are player caddies, the operation of the locker room, the media, timing of deliveries, pricing and food.
“I never would have thought that I’d be here looking at menus and deciding what to feed the players,”
he said. Thompson is also cognizant of the Taste of the Golden Isles event held on Friday of tournament week.
Tournament week begins on Monday with the BMW Pro-am on the Seaside course, with the club closed to the public both Monday and Tuesday, which will serve as practice round day for many of the players. Most of the players competing in the Monday pro-am will be arriving from the PGA Tour tournament in Mexico the day before, with the RSM Classic in charge of getting them to St. Simons in time for the pro-am.
Wednesday is Community Day, with free admission to the public. The Yamaha Pro-am will be held on both the Seaside and Plantation courses, with several youth-oriented events set for that afternoon on the Sea Island Golf Performance Center practice putting green.
A Youth Golf Zone event with PGA Tour pros is set for 3 p.m., followed by the Charity Putting Challenge at 4 p.m. involving tour pros along with Special Olympics athletes and representatives from local Boys and Girls Clubs.
The non-golf highlight of tournament week is a concert by country music artist Jake Owen that will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at the St. Simons Island Airport, located next to the Retreat course, which is across the street from the Seaside and Plantation courses.
Proceeds from the concert were part of the effort that produced $2.2 million from the tournament last year for local charities
As for the tournament itself, one of Thompson’s duties is being part of the selection process to determine the sponsor exemptions that will be added to the field, which was increased to 156 players last year with addition of the Plantation course for Thursday and Friday’s rounds.
Thompson said there are advantages other than increasing the field to having two courses instead of one.
“We don’t have to start at 7 or 8 a.m. and players don’t have to practice as early and get to the course right at daylight. Now we have 9:30 to 11:30 tee times and the Golf Channel broadcast is 1:30 to 4:30.
“The volunteers only have to work one shift instead of two and we can reduce their number of hours.”
In case of weather delays the first two days, the tournament will also be able to get back on schedule quicker with two courses.
There will be significant changes to the PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-19 schedule, but the RSM Classic will retain its spot as the final event of the fall portion of the 2018 schedule next year. Thompson says tournament officials are not trying to move the event to a new date, with Sea Island GC happy with the tournament remaining the week before Thanksgiving.
As the last tournament before the tour takes a break of about six weeks, the strength of the field is subject to the scheduling whims of the game’s top players, many of whom don’t play after a late-season trip to Asia.
“Last year’s field was pretty strong,” said Thompson, with much of that strength coming from the local contingent of players that includes Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Brian Harman, tournament host Davis Love III and other players with Southern roots.
“Eventually we will get some of them,” Thompson says of the marquee players who have yet to play in the tournament. “And if we get them here, they’ll probably come back.”