In his own words: First Tee’s Vic Williams

Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about The First Tee of Northern Nevada. What are the duties of your position?

Vic Williams: The First Tee of Northern Nevada is a nonprofit started by several of golf’s governing bodies — Augusta National, USGA, PGA Tour, LPGA and PGA of America, in 1997 with The First Tee of Northern Nevada starting in 2004. It’s grown to reach about 10,000 kids a year. It shows kids what golf is all about, but its main goal is to help kids learn life skills through the game of golf. It gives kids a better foothold on coping with life while better preparing them for adulthood and maybe higher education. When people first hear the name First Tee they think it’s just about golf, but it’s more of a program based around golf.

I’m in charge of the organizing its two main fundraising events: The 11th Annual Golf Fore! Kids Tournament in the summertime and an annual dinner gala that’s going to be October 29 at the Eldorado. I help find volunteers, getting sponsors, doing some PR, etc. It’s something I do to fill out my week and it’s a gratifying and fulfilling organization to be part of. I’ve been on the First Tee committee for 7-8 years and now working for the organization as an independent contractor. I still do some freelance writing both in the golf realm and some other avenues.

NNBW: You mentioned you’re doing freelance in golf. Tell us about your golf publications.

Williams: We had our own magazine called Fairways and Greens, started here in Reno 1997, and in 2011 it became Golf Getaways. By that time we were owned by a publishing company out of Massachusetts, and I was kept on as publisher, editor and chief writer for the past five years. The web site is still in operation, and I still contribute to that although I’m not a partner or owner.

NNBW: How did you get into the journalism side of golf?

Williams: I was editor of a couple of Reno-Tahoe publications for 15 years in the areas of entertainment, dining, gaming, that sort of stuff. Around 1997 at the same time Tiger Woods was turning pro, a buddy of mine who had a bowling publication, came to me and said: “Let’s do a golf magazine,” So I thought we’d give it a shot. It started small and local, about 16 pages, and we just grew from there and went regional and then all over the West. By the time we took it back over from some ownership partners in 2004, we took it national for the last 10 years. It was quite a ride. We learned how tough the publishing business is, but met a lot of great people and went to a lot of places. I was in charge of most of the content and had an editorial partner in California. We really made the magazine as good as it could be. But golf took a major hit as most businesses did in 2007, 2008, 2009. It almost pushed us out of business, but a new publisher took us over and ran it for the last five years. I still do some writing on the golf side when I have the opportunity.

NNBW: Do you play a lot of golf yourself?

Williams: I play as much as I can. The other day I went to the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Right now my game is kind of in shambles (laughs). But it’s early. I used to play at about an eight handicap and now who knows. . . But through my travels, I’ve met Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus. I never expected to go places where I was interviewing the stars of the game but it happened. I traveled to Ireland, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Canada and Puerto Rico. A lot of golf destinations. It really took me to a lot of places I’d probably have never gone otherwise.

NNBW: What trends do you see in the golf industry?

Williams: I don’t think the game is in crisis, but more in transition. The governing bodies are trying to find a formula that will draw new people into the game. It’s not really the expense of it, but more the time of it. A lot of people’s lives are very scattered. There’s a lot of distractions. The way we used to spend a Saturday at the club are pretty much gone. There are a lot of stars coming into the game now that people follow. Tiger was a one-in-a-millenium type of player. But it’s going to be a struggle for the game to grow the way it did in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

That said, once people get involved with the game it changes their lives. Some of these kids (that I’ve seen through The First Tee) have tough family situations that are now going off to college. It’s really a good vehicle for teaching kids and they respond well, from what I can see.

NNBW: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job at The First Tee?

Williams: To see and hear that it gives kids confidence to go and shake people’s hands, look them in the eye and say hello. That’s really an accomplishment, especially in this day and age when everybody’s staring at a screen. From The First Tee perspective it prepares kids to be a part of the game and continue to play golf and inspires them to become business people, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs, all the things they need to be a successful person.

NNBW: What are the challenges you face in your current position at First Tee?

Williams: The challenges of being organized and getting people involved in the process. We have a pretty active board. But the challenge is to get your voice heard. There are a lot of nonprofits in Reno. We’re all trying to reach the same big pie of potential donors.

NNBW: What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time away from work?

Williams: I’m an outdoors guy. I run. I still have two daughters at home and they’re very involved in sports in golf and lacrosse. I love to read, especially current events, magazines and the occasional book when I have time. I’m very active in Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd downtown.

NNBW: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

Williams: Tahoe would be one of them. Hawaii would be the other for obvious reasons. We love the big city such as New York or San Francisco. We love to travel. Another reason the writing gig was so fun for me was because I got to travel a lot.

NNBW: If you could live your life over again is there one thing you would change?

Williams: Probably the only thing I would change is being more dedicated to my writing. But I’m still young and I can still get into that. Other than that not really, I have a great family and love where I live.

NNBW: What did you dream of becoming as a kid?

Williams: I grew up in the Space Age and when I was really young, like most kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. But by the time I was in junior high school I had figured out I was cut out to be a word guy, to be a writer.

NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?

Williams: Some people would say I’m retired now. I don’t think I would retire. My wife and I talk about how we would buy an RV and just drive around the country and volunteer for stuff that comes up. (chuckles). I’d get too antsy. I’ve got to be doing something. I would like to play more golf of course and enjoy it more for the game than just for the score.

NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like about living/working here?

Williams: Circumstance just brought me here when I was young and I just ended up staying. Reno/Tahoe on balance is a pretty good place to live. It’s got it all. Geographically it’s a great location. I’ve been here for 30 years.


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