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.
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.