Evolution of Fire Pit Collective

The Evolution of The Fire Pit Collective

A new golf media company 25 years in the making

I still remember the first time Matt Ginella and I broke bread, at Fanelli Cafe in New York City. It was 1996 and we were just starting out at Sports Illustrated. The talent and sense of heritage at SI awed us both but what I recall most vividly from that dinner was Matt giving voice to the frustrations that I, too, had been feeling but was reluctant to say out loud. SI had a rigid, top-down decision-making process and every idea had to be refracted through the sensibilities of a half-dozen old white guys, all of whom went to Princeton, or so it seemed. Matt and I sat in that restaurant for hours, chewing on how different things would be if we were in charge.  

In the ensuing years he blazed a trail at Golf Digest and Golf Channel, adding a vitality to both organizations and bringing artful storytelling to the travel and course architecture beats. I had a long run at SI, writing a couple dozen cover stories and six books before eventually moving on to Golf Magazine in 2018. Way too much fun was had along the way. Matt and I remained best friends and frequent playing partners—barnstorming across Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and many other wondrous landscapes—but the relationship was occasionally complicated. After I wrote about us playing all 8 courses at Pinehurst in the span of four days, Matt’s boss discouraged him from teeing it up with a putative competitor so we had to play our rounds in secret, enforcing a strict social media blackout. Sitting around a clubhouse bar or fire pit afterward, our conversations often returned to our respective workplaces. We both had an insider’s view of how the Internet had changed everything and the flailing attempts of legacy media to understand the ever-shifting landscape. (I’ll never forget being in a meeting in 1997 when one of the top execs of CNNSI.com, the nascent Sports Illustrated website, said incredulously,”We’re just going to give away all of this for free?”; the magazine finally enacted a paywall last month, 24 years too late.) In our conversations, Matt and I frequently vented about the corporate overlords we were both battling even as the logos on our business cards changed. Matt excels at capturing images and I traffic mostly in words but deep down we’re the same: storytellers who care deeply about the work. It was dispiriting to still be fighting the same battles that informed our first heart-to-heart at Fanelli Cafe a quarter-century earlier. 

Evolution of the Fire Pit Collective St. Andrews
At the Old Course with frequent wingmen Tom June (left) and Kevin Price.

Last year Matt finally took control of his own destiny, leaving Golf Channel to build a lively podcast, a sophisticated website and partnering with a talented group of technicians who make everything look and sound crispy. In all of this he was aided by Alex Upegui, whose mastery with machines is matched by his organizational skills. Alex has spent 15 years working the production side for a variety of sports and networks and he became Matt’s trusted wingman, handling all the details on more than 100 roadtrips they took together for Golf Channel. The refined aesthetic of their videos owes much to Alex’s sensibilities. I watched from the sidelines with respect and more than a little envy at what they were building. They called this new enterprise the Fire Pit Collective. I am thrilled to announce that as of today I’m a part of it, too, having signed on as a co-partner in the Collective. At long last, we are going to build our own golf media company, doing it our way. 

TheFirePitCollective.com will be the home for my original long-form features, weekly columns and event coverage. For my entire career you, the loyal digital reader, has been forced to endure a relentless assault of pop-up videos, embedded links, garish ads and other clutter that destroyed the reading experience, which is supposed to be transporting. That ends today. For the first time, I am in a position to personally promise that all of my stories will be presented in a clean, beautiful format that maximizes your enjoyment, not a corporate suit’s Christmas bonus. In addition to all of the typing, I’m excited to finally immerse myself in long-form video storytelling and get back to podcasting. (More on that soon!) I am going to oversee Fire Pit Presents, which will give aspiring writers a platform to share their work. Matt and I have ambitious plans for a travel series and to host experiential events at great golf courses, featuring thought-provoking guests. Over time we will add more talent, with an eye on diverse, unexpected contributors. We don’t yet know exactly how the Fire Pit Collective is going to evolve but we’re excited to figure that out, together. The goal is simple: to build a community of folks who love golf and appreciate a good story. 

Crazy to think that all of this started over hamburgers. Twenty five years later, we are hungrier than ever.

–Alan Shipnuck

Matt and Alan through the years

You can reach me on Twitter or comment below. 

19 thoughts on “The Evolution of The Fire Pit Collective”

  1. Alan,
    I try to read everything I can find which you have written. You, Michael Bamberger, Lorne Rubenstein and David Owen are the best golf writers on the planet. I am a charter member of the Shivas Irons Society and was fortunate to meet Michael at the Shivas writer’s conference in Carmel in February of 1994. I also was one of the original course raters for Brad Klein at Golfweek after meeting him at conference. I thought Matt Ginella did a great job on his golf trips for The Golf Channel (which new owner NBC will probably ruin). I congratulate you on this new venture and wish you well. If there is anything I can do to assist you in this effort please contact me. I have quit reading many websites in the past few years due to the exact distractions you mention.

    1. James,

      The Shivas Irons Society would love to have you back! I can’t find your name in our database. I have taken over running the Society since Steve Cohen passed away and would be delighted to catch up and hear about your early experiences with SIS. We recently had Alan Shipnuck (and Michael Murphy) on a Zoom call and, in case you’re interested, here’s the link to it: https://www.shivas.org/shivas-irons-news/alan-shipnuck-zoom-conversation-shivas-irons-society

  2. Great Team! Love the Fire Pit and it’s roots to the game! Your above story gives us the inside on the past 25+ years with Matty G. You and I live 25-30 miles apart. Love to treat you to a round at Cordevalle when you are ready! Matty G is welcome to join too!

  3. Really looking forward to this venture. I think there is a great opportunity to up the game in golf coverage. Have enjoyed the books and articles for years. Best wishes, and if you need any help in the Memphis area don’t hesitate. Will be watching and reading.

  4. Hi Guys,

    First, I’m incredibly jealous (or supportive) of what you’ve created. I went to Ferris State to become a golf pro, a shit ton of years later, I’ve been in startups (technology) in SF, LA, NYC (I lived a block from Fanelli, still in the the area), trying to think of what’s next (along the lines of something completely free and fun).

    That aside, I don’t know your exact focus, or next article – but, I’ve been trying to think of how to gather some of the great stories of the avid golfer, their devotion, friendships, etc. In this case, my father.

    He turns 80 this June. He organizes a yearly tournament with his friends, this started in 1963 – I believe, (where he first asked my grandfather to marry my mom). 50+ years later, many different forms, friends, some now deceased, this tournament continues.

    Within that, there are countless stories those better versed at telling (capturing) the essence of it all – how much golf has meant to a generation, the friendships, the jokes, the same course (in Northern Michigan), the commitment, the love (I guarantee The Golf Channel is on 90% of the time).

    My dad hand writes a poem each year, steak dinner at someones lake house every Friday, organized competitive variations over the 4 days (sand bagged handicaps), a writeup of each player going into the tournament, trips to church or trips to casino when not golfing, all run by my dad and his life long friend, and on and on .. .as you can imagine.

    With that, I don’t know if this interests you to write up an article, or podcast, or video, or not … but, I know there is a wealthy of information, a generation of golfers, what is has meant, and how it probably keeps them going today …

    Should this peak your interest, my email / phone number below.

    And btw, they kick my ass with their ability to chip and putt (and if you’re over 80, or whatever rule my dad comes up with, get to tee off from the red tees).

    BTW, he’s played every course in Michigan you could imagine, Forest Dunes is incredible, you may want to check out Acadia Bluffs.

    Good luck with your journey, sounds amazing!


  5. “The refined aesthetic of their videos owes much to Alex’s sensibilities”- poetry in a blanket. For that alone I’m in!
    Hope you guys remember your Irish brethern. Best wishes for this exciting venture which has the right feel about it. An=y chance Bamberger and you Alan would hook up again and chew the cud post Majors? Those were the best Pods known to man.

  6. Brandon Martin

    Best of luck in this new endeavor/venture. I’ve read and enjoyed your work for over 20 years, dating back to the wonderful “Golf+” section in Sports Illustrated. You, Michael Bamberger, Gary Van Sickle and John Garrity will always hold a special place in my golf-loving soul. Anxious to see what’s next for you and your perspective!

  7. Excited to find out about The Fire Pit Collective and where we will find Alan and others on a regular basis. Mainstream (or Old Media) cannot figure it out even now because too many of the kinds of folks you describe in yours and Matt’s first dinner.

    But what they have abdicated are the entrepreneurs in the media who can now reach their audience 24 / 7 Worldwide….the only necessity being producing the kind of unique, talented perspectives that the reader enjoys more than being there in person. Not to mention unleashed pithy comments that would be said sitting around “the fire pit”.

    Thank you and excited for all your futures and for me to follow along.

    David Lea [email protected]

  8. Dear Alan – Being a long-time fan of Phil Mickelson I read with interest your article about Phil and the Saudi-backed golf league. While I understand and appreciate Phil’s motives for using his interest in this league as “leverage”, I would comment on two things: 1)Phil has legions of fans, many of whom are women. His use of obscene language is not only offensive but may cost him many of those same fans; and 2)for Phil to remain popular and relevant and to be able to use his popularity as “leverage”, he needs all the fans he can get. Phil needs to clean up the potty mouth and be aware of who is audience is……not just Monahan and the PGA Tour.
    Keep up your great reporting. You keep us informed about everything important in the game of golf.
    Best regards……..

  9. Hi Alan, Justin Cohen here, Adam Scott’s former manager. I’m hoping you can help me to source an image used in one of your past articles. Thank you.

  10. Alan, question for you: in today’s article reprinted in on-line Golf Digest, you stated, “Mickelson never said he wanted to go off-the-record and if he had asked, I would have pushed back hard, because this was my one chance to get him. He just started talking, eager to tell me everything.” Should we read anything into the words, “to get him?” If you don’t have an agenda, you might want to use terms that are less specific to reporting – people are going to read those words and argue that you were out to get him, rather than to get him as a subject of an interview. My two cents… as I read those words, I paused to consider them and whether they should be read as meaningful. In the context of your whole article, and the last few months, one might think this could go either way…

  11. Mr. Shipnuck,
    I read about half your new book on Phil Mickelson and realized a few things. First, you mentioned some hard-working golf writer trying to get a story, and I had some thoughts about that. Typing on a laptop and interviewing people is not hard work. Digging ditches is hard work. Living in the jungle for a year like I did in Viet Nam is hard work. So quit trying to make it look like you some kind of hard-working slave laborer. Secondly, Phil Mickelson has earned the right to gamble as much as he wants, as long as it doesn’t do harm to his family, which it hasn’t. Thirdly, it’s pretty obvious that people that can’t golf become golf writers. And lastly, Mickelson has done more for people in this world with his generosity than most, including you. You’re a jerk, Mickelson is way better than you as a person and a golfer, and I wish I hadn’t padded your income by buying the book. Have a nice life.

  12. Alan, enjoyed the new book and despite the candor, i found the read to be a very fair and balanced account of enigmatic Phil. Unfortunately for him, he may have worse forthcoming. one quick editorial note, (and you may already know) page 219, i think you mean koepka not oosthuizen

  13. Alan, just finished and loved reading your unauthorized biography of Phil. Not sure it is important, but Faldo was born in 1957 and could not have been 42 when he won his last Masters. I only knew this because I was 40 in 1996 and remembered that Europe’s big five (Seve, Nick, Bernard, Sandy and Ian) were all a year or so younger than me.

  14. Wondering if LIV conducts drug testing of its players?
    Perhaps an unspoken reason for some guys…in todays society.
    PGA Tour tests relentlessly
    Thanks SA

  15. Alan,
    What the hell??!! No story from Fire Pit about Rory’s winning the FedEx Cup for 3rd time, and nothing about Cam Smith and the other players that went to LIV?

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