Larry Berle spent 30 years promoting concerts before selling SRO Productions in 2004 –but he has another accomplishment: playing Golf Digest’s Top 100 golf courses in the United States.
It took him 10 years – from 1992 to two years before selling his Minneapolis company. He recently self-published a book on his accomplishment, A Golfer’s Dream, and was interviewed on the Golf Channel. He’s selling his book online at Golfersdreambook.com and Amazon.com.
At first blush, this sounds like an idle pastime: a successful businessman golfs about 10 cool courses a year, then writes about it. Not so. Almost 80 percent of the Top 100 courses are private and keep a low profile. And for some, Berle is the last person they wanted on their course.
"A lot of them don’t appreciate being on this list because it just encourages people like me to knock on their door, and they don’t like that," Berle told Pollstar. "I bet a lot of the people would want to change the names of their clubs to just ‘Keep Out.’"
Berle spent a decade networking, trading, cajoling, asking for favors and just getting lucky. He found many people were interested – even anxious – to help him. And, fortunately, he became friends with an owner of an airplane and the two worked out a great trade – one would fly, the other would get the "in." They had the advantage of flying before 9/11, too.
The biggest accomplishment was Augusta National. Everybody who has even the slightest passion for the game wants to play that course and doesn’t realize the same is true for everybody else. Likewise, few golfers live near the Augusta, Ga., course so a "favor" requires days of driving to and from the course.
Fortunately for Berle, a person who worked one floor above SRO was a member. One day, they met in the bathroom.
"I asked him, ‘I hear you’re a member of Augusta National. And you could see it in his eyes, he could tell what was coming. I asked him, ‘What would it take for someone like me to play it?’ which I thought was a nicer way than just asking him, ‘Hey, can you take me?’"
The member told Berle that he would have to become good friends with a member.
"I proceeded to become extremely good friends with him, and we still see each other to this day."
Another top golf course, The Sanctuary near Denver., accepted no public play or guests. He had to become a member of a charity group that was allowed to play just once a year at the club.
"I think it’s easy to knock off 20 or 30 or 40," Berle said. "After that, it’s a whole ’nother story. One of the strategies I tried was trading concert tickets for tee times. It was successful three times."
He traded Sinbad tickets to play Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indianapolis. He played the round then got back in time for soundcheck.
"I went up to Sinbad to gloat to him what I had been doing that day and it turned out he had spent the whole day out at the Indiana State Penitentiary visiting Mike Tyson. He not only one-upped me, but guess who paid for Sinbad’s limo while it sat there."
Next up was the Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. – a suburb of Chattanooga. Berle traded tickets to a Yanni show he was doing in Nashville.
"I figured there wasn’t a golf pro in the world that wants to see Yanni, but they have girlfriends."
For whatever reason, the golf pros accepted the offer and he took off to Chattanooga the day before the concert. He stopped at a hotel about 50 miles outside of town and drove the rest of the way the next morning. He took off for his 11:30 a.m. tee time with plenty of time to spare.
"I get in the car and I get about 20 miles outside of Chattanooga and I see this big sign that says, ‘You are now entering the Eastern Time Zone.’ I had no idea that Tennessee was split up! Suddenly, instead of being a half-hour early, I’m a half-hour late."
Fortunately, the club is so exclusive and gets so little play that the "tee time" was only on paper. Berle knocked another off the list.
He was also successful trading k.d. lang tickets for a round at Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio.
Berle sold SRO Productions to Steve Madson in 2004. He completed his golf quest about the same time SFX was gobbling up all the promotion companies and Berle saw the business was "changing dramatically." He decided it was time to move on and, after SRO transitioned to CD compilations, he retired.
Berle wrapped up his quest at the Atlantic Golf Club near Long Island, N.Y., with record exec Steve Ralbovsky. The two played alongside the local golf pro, Rusty Rippenberger, who just happened to break the course record that day by one stroke, shooting 66.
Along the way, Berle met Donald Trump, who apologized to Berle after shooting a wayward shot onto the 17th green at Winged Foot. Another time, Berle golfed with future PGA golf pro Jerry Kelly, who later called him looking for concert tickets.
One time, Berle had to practically sneak onto a course because he was a double threat: a Jew and an entertainment businessman. Fortunately, he was friends with William Morris Agency Senior VP Clint Mitchell.
"I told him that I was working on this quest and I had tried to get on the L.A. Country Club," Berle said. "I don’t know how much you know about the club, nor do I know if they’re still as snooty as they were, but they didn’t want any Jews around, which is me, and they also didn’t want any showbiz people because they didn’t want the notoriety. All the showbiz people in town went to the Riviera or Bel Aire country clubs."
Mitchell worked some angles – partially, Berle assumes, so the WMA exec himself could get to play the exclusive club without asking directly – and they teed off with Richard Rosenberg – former principal of Triad Artists.
"He’s someone I knew of and met but never had much contact with, so this had double value for me," Berle said.
Berle started writing letters to his friends about the various courses, then as the world started to go online, he wrote e-mails. Friends would forward the stories, and Berle found himself getting invited to more golf courses by people he never met. Through it all, he maintained a 12 to 16 handicap, meaning this whole adventure was undertaken by an average golfer.
"People would say, ‘Your stories are so good, you should write a book,’" he said. "Yeah, right. Like I’m an author. Finally, I did write a book." But not before suffering a near-fatal bicycle accident that left him in a coma for two weeks.
Berle spent two months in bed but recovered to finish the book and get back to the links.