You could say Jerry Pate has been in the green industry every since he was a teen-ager. As is so typical of many kids his age, when he was growing up, he took odd jobs to earn spending money while going to high school. One of the jobs he had was working on a maintenance crew at a golf course. It was here that Pate learned how to cut turf, and also how to play golf.
When it was time for him to go to college, Pate enrolled at the University of Alabama. Although only an average golfer, he caught the eye of Coach Bear Bryant. In those years, Alabama did not have a very strong golf program, but Pate got some good instruction and his game improved.
Up until his senior year, Pate had no intention of playing professional golf. He was going to graduate and go to work for his father, who managed a few Coca Cola bottling plants.
Then, in his senior year, Pate entered the U.S. Amateur golf tournament and won. Coach Bryant helped mold Pate, introducing him to the world of sports.
Upon graduation, he was encouraged by the coach to try his hand in the professional ranks. He played as an amateur on the pro tour in 1975 and in all the tournaments he entered, he made the cut. That gave him the confidence to turn pro. He went to qualifying school in the fall of 1975, turned pro and began his career as a professional golfer in early 1976.
In his rookie year he became a sensation by winning the U.S. Open. At 22 years of age, he was one of the youngest players to win the U.S. Open; Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones were the only others to win the U.S. Open at that young age. Jerry Pate had a very promising career. In 1982, he won the Players Championship and took that famous leap into the lake.
While practicing with a one iron, he hit the ground hard, tore a cartilage in his shoulder, and for all intents and purposes, his golf career was over. They did not have arthroscopic surgery in those days. He continued to play, but struggled with his game, and in 1986 he did have arthroscopic surgery, and again in 1987, and then again in 1988. He went into rehab, but never fully recovered, so he hung up his spikes.
In the off season, Pate began working with Tom Fazio, learning the ins and outs of designing golf courses. He co-designed Bluewater Bay in Niceville, Florida. He worked with other golf course designers learning the trade. ?Like any other business, you have to learn the trade, gain experience and polish your skills,? said Pate. In 1981, he designed Tiger Point in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and in 1982 he and Ron Garl designed Palm Beach Polo, also in Florida.
In 1988, Pate went to work for ABC Sports. He stayed for five years and then moved to CBS for another three years. During this time, he continued designing and building golf courses.
It was also during these years that Pate became familiar with Toro products. He had had a putting green built in his backyard some years before, and when he needed to buy a mower to cut the greens, he went to the local Toro distributor. Owning a few golf courses, he also knew how the equipment would perform, so when the opportunity arose in 1997, he bought the Toro distributorship for some areas in the Southeast.
When asked why he would buy a distributorship, he explained, ?We?ve built more than 30 golf courses and I am very familiar with the importance of irrigation and how good equipment can help a golf course have more playability. I worked on a maintenance crew as a kid, so I was comfortable with the equipment. It was a logical move for me.?
In addition to his other ventures, Pate has 50 acres under cultivation where he grows specific Bermuda species for golf courses, greens and athletic fields. Wausau Turf Farms not only grows the sod, they also plant the sprigs.
One would say that Jerry Pate has a pretty full plate. He sees these ventures as challenges. ?There are tremendous opportunities, especially in our part of the country. We?re in a growth mode, and I envision continued growth for our companies,? says Pate. ?Being able to contribute to making golf courses better, more playable and be able to stand up to all the weather and diseases is part of the challenge.?
?The other part of the challenge is to develop strong relationships with the landscape contractors in our area. We feel we can help them do a better job for their clients. It becomes a win-win situation. Equally as important is the gratification we receive knowing we?re part of a team, helping our customers do a better job.?
Pate resides in Pensacola, Florida, with his wife Soozi. They have three children: Jenny, 27; Wesley, 25; and Jamie, 22. A few years ago, Pate joined the Champions Tour and still plays competitive golf. When he?s not traveling for golf tournaments, or for his businesses, Pate likes to go to his farm and do some hunting and fishing and just relaxing.
Will any of his children follow in his footsteps? ?I don?t know, right now,? says Pate. ?Wesley is working at our office, learning the equipment and irrigation business. But I won?t push them into doing anything they don?t want to do. Wes is a pretty good golfer; he has played on the mini-tours, and possibly will go back to try again. Whatever they want to do will be okay with me.?
Jerry Pate sees a great opportunity for landscape products, irrigation systems, as well as lawn mowers and other equipment. He see the future clearly, and knows he wants to be part of it.10/05