Geoff Ogilvy’s Major Evolution
We welcome the U.S. Open champ to the Fire Pit Collective as he transitions into a new role in the game
By Alan Shipnuck
Bobby Jones had nearly the same command of the English language as he did his Spalding ball, yet even this erudite champion struggled to put golf’s mysteries into words. “There’s a tremendous lot to this game,” he wrote in his 1927 book Down The Fairway, “and I fancied when I started this little story that maybe I could think a little of it out as I went along, and tell people about it. But it’s a big assignment; too big for me. I may have reasoned out somewhat of the mechanical side; perhaps just a bit of the psychological side. But behind it all, and over it all, there is something I think nobody understands.”
As a boy growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Geoff Ogilvy was enthralled by the game, and Jones’s musings. He calls Down The Fairway his favorite golf book and claims to have read it “like a hundred times.” (It’s my favorite too, at least of the non-Bamberger variety.) Ogilvy would grow up to be a champion and a golfing gentleman in his own right. For all of his accomplishments—including winning the 2006 U.S. Open, 76 years after Jones took his fourth and final one en route to the Impregnable Quadrilateral—Ogilvy has always been separated from his peers by a palpable curiosity about the game. “There are a lot of pros out there who get given a club and told to hit it and they can,” he says. “They don’t think any deeper about golf than where’s the pin and let’s hit it. And that’s fantastic. I wish I could be like that. There are others that take a deep dive and lay in bed thinking about it. And I’ve always been one of those guys.”
Ogilvy’s restless mind has made him a go-to interview for the press room bards and a favorite guest voice for podcasts and print publications. It has led him into a fruitful side gig in golf course architecture, where he brings his Golden Age sensibilities to a modern audience. And now this protean figure knows what it feels like to be Bobby Jones circa March 1934. But in comparison to what Ogilvy has pulled together in his native Melbourne, the inaugural Augusta National Invitation Tournament was a modest creation. On Monday at 7:30 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time, the inaugural Sandbelt Invitational will commence. It might be the most audacious new tournament since Jones brought together the game’s masters at a repurposed nursery in Augusta, Ga. The Sandbelt Invitational and Jones’s gathering of friends share some of the same DNA, as Alister MacKenzie designed both Augusta National and Royal Melbourne West, which will host the second round of Ogilvy’s invitational. The 72-hole tournament visits three other courses built in a wondrous stretch of rolling terrain in the Melbourne suburbs: Kingston Heath, an elegant, tactical course with MacKenzie greens and bunkering that is widely considered one of the most complete tests in the world; Yarra Yarra, which dates to 1926 and has hosted numerous big-time tournaments, boasting a roll call of winners that includes Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Tony Jacklin and Karrie Webb; and Peninsula Kingswood, a modern wonder Ogilvy helped create featuring such mouth-watering visuals he calls it “golf porn.” The unique format will bring together male and female professionals alongside top amateurs of both sexes, with all 63 players on the same leaderboard. Ogilvy’s eponymous charitable foundation is supplying the modest purse for the pros. The spark for the tournament—Ogilvy’s friend and partner-in-crime Mike Clayton played a big role—came from Ogilvy’s desire to give back to the game that has given him so much, especially after the Australian Open was recently canceled for a second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When I grew up we had eight or nine or 10 tournaments in Australia,” Ogilvy says. “Greg [Norman] used to come back and play six or seven of them. They were really big tournaments. At Royal Melbourne in 1998 we had Nicklaus, Freddy Couples, Payne Stewart…everybody came. I grew up thinking the Sandbelt was about golf tournaments. And then they disappeared. The world changed.
“Through the pandemic, I started a foundation with a bunch of friends, just to get the up-and-coming amateur golfers—boys and girls—in the mix with the pros, to play and practice a little bit. We’ve been doing that weekly (for 18 holes) and we thought, wouldn’t it be good if we could get everyone together, have a four-round, end-of-the-year game with everybody? We thought why don’t we call the Sandbelt courses—that will be really cool. We had this dream of Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath and all that. It just grew from there.”
Ogilvy will be the biggest attraction in the field, although his expectations are modest given his lack of tournament reps. He does allow that if he gets off to a hot start he might quickly morph from a genial host to a “grumpy pro.” (Jones came out of retirement every year at the Masters, never finishing better than 13th in a dozen starts; in the post-war years his body had already begun to betray him due to syringomyelia.) By the time he was 33, Ogilvy had won an Australian Open and seven PGA Tour events, including three WGCs and the Tournament of Champions. It came at a cost; Ogilvy has always burned hot on the course and been his own harshest critic. (Jones needed two fingers of corn liquor to take the edge off after a round, and the crushing pressure to perform chased him from competition at 28.) Over the last decade, it became increasingly difficult for Ogilvy, 44, to walk out the door for far-flung tournaments as that meant leaving behind his three kids. In 2019, Ogilvy and his family left their adopted hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., and returned to Australia. He was already committed to a “gap year” to get the family settled, and then the pandemic hit, keeping Ogilvy on the island for the duration.
On the outside of the golf world looking in, Ogilvy had a chance to ruminate on his place in the game. The Sandbelt Classic was born as part of this transition to elder statesman. And now Ogilvy is carving out another new identity: media mogul. We are delighted to announce he has bought a chunk of the Fire Pit Collective and that we will become the platform for his thoughts about the game. Ogilvy will host his own podcast. When the muse visits, he will write about his golf passions: architecture, history, the evolution of the sport, the inner game at the highest level. There will be a travel element, with the modest goal of turning Ogilvy into the Anthony Bourdain of the golf world. There are many top-100 lists, all of them flawed in their own way; when Ogilvy oversees his own, it instantly becomes the most interesting and credible. For Jones, being a tour guide through the golf world was too big of an assignment. Ogilvy relishes the opportunity.
“I’ve always loved the media side of things,” he says. “I’ve read every golf book there is. Once I got out there [on Tour] and started having more media obligations…it’s not about I like people hearing what I have to say. I just enjoy the whole story of golf. I love when somebody explains it in a really good way. I just think (joining the Fire Pit Collective) is going to be really fun. There are a lot of cool stories in golf that need to be told.”
All of us at the FPC are thrilled to help Ogilvy tell his story, and show fans the golf world through his eyes. Our daily coverage of the Sandbelt Invitational is just the beginning. When it comes to his new role in the golf media, one of the sport’s most authentic voices has a modest goal. “I just want people to love golf as much as I do,” Ogilvy says. “If they want to! You don’t have to listen. But I want them to understand why some of us are so crazy and passionate about it.”