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How Music-Industry Heavyweights Forge Multimillion-Dollar Relationships on the Golf Green

Darius Rucker, Tiger Woods and Martin Bandier on a golf course.

Darius Rucker, Tiger Woods and Martin Bandier on a golf course.

They gamble, they schmooze, and they forge ­multimillion-dollar relationships at country clubs with six-figure initiation fees. Why the music ­business’ golf addicts can’t get enough of that ­pretty green.

DESCRIBE YOUR MOST MEMORABLE GOLF SHOT OR EXPERIENCE

RICHARD “GUS” GUSLER: A few years ago I played with Brett Favre and [golf instructor] Peter Kostis in the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Charity Golf Tournament. The ­tournament was taped and replayed on ESPN. We were on a par-3 hole, which was a TV hole, so they put a ­microphone on Brett. None of us hit the green so we were chipping from off the front of the greens. In my backswing Brett cut the loudest fart I have ever heard. I started ­laughing but ­finished the swing. It landed on the green and started ­rolling to the hole. Brett is ­shouting out, “It may have helped!” It went into the hole for birdie 2. ESPN kept it in the broadcast, but just as he broke wind, they turned down the mic. If you ­listened closely, you could still hear it.

MARTIN BANDIER: While competing in a charity event in South Carolina sponsored by Hootie & The Blowfish, I played in a foursome with Tiger Woods, Darius Rucker and ­[former SBK Records ­partner] Charles Koppelman. On a par 3, 175-yard island green, I birdied the hole while the rest of the foursome’s initial hits went into the water. Nice to beat Tiger on a hole.

JIM VELLUTATO: I sunk a 10-foot putt to win the Nevada State High School Championship in 1976.

SAM FELDMAN: A 142-yard hole in one that I called.

JOHN BOYLE: The second hole at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, Calif., is a long, 440-yard par 4 — the No. 1 handicap hole on the course. The second shot is an uphill blind shot to a crowned green. After a solid drive, I was about 200 yards out with a strong wind blowing in my face. I pulled out a 2 hybrid club and hit it really hard, but I couldn’t see it land. As I approached the green, I spent about five minutes ­walking around the hole ­looking for my ball. On the verge of ­giving up, I walked past the hole and there it was, in the cup — an eagle on the No. 1 handicap!

STIRLING MCILWAINE: The most recent was at the Desert Charity Classic in May [a Ryder Cup-format, 36-player, three-day tournament at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.]. The entire three days came down to the 18th hole of the final singles match on the final day between Brian Schall and me. I had to give Brian a stroke. I hit a great 45-yard chip and sank a 12-foot putt to beat him and lead our team to victory.

PETER SZABO: The 17th green at Spanish Bay [in Pebble Beach, Calif.] on Nov. 27, 2010. After chipping onto the green and putting out, I got down on one knee and proposed to my ­girlfriend, Chelsea McLennan. Luckily, she said yes.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU GOLF?

STEVE RENNIE: I play or practice just about every day.

VELLUTATO: Saturday, Sunday, and if our A&R meeting gets canceled, Monday.

GUSLER: Two to four times a week in spring, summer and fall. This will also be the 16th year in a row that I go to Scotland to play golf for three weeks. There, I’ll play 18 holes every day and 36 holes every other day.

BOYLE: About 25 to 30 times a year, but it comes in waves. I love when Coachella ­happens; it’s a great excuse to golf a bunch.

TONY COUCH: Twice a month, and I am currently practicing on the range and ­simulator at least once a week.

GAYLE HOLCOMB: Not enough.

WHO’S YOUR GO-TO GOLF PRO?

BANDIER: Rick Hartmann at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

TOM CORSON: Mike Summa at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn.

MARK SUDACK: Paul Parlane at MountainGate Country Club in Los Angeles.

EVAN LAMBERG: I listen to anything Irving Azoff and [entertainment attorney] Eric Greenspan will try to teach me — and not just about golf.

CHARLIE BRUSCO: [Former Eagles guitarist] Don Felder is trying to help my game.

LYOR COHEN: I never took lessons.

JOHN OAKES: I'll take advice from anyone I am playing with, but [Rockstar Energy Drink activation director and former caddy] Nick Allen is the voice inside my head.

HOLCOMB: Ken Green at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

RICK KRIM: Chris "Tank" Cavanagh at Hudson National in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. He’s a big music fan who takes good care of me and vice versa.

CRAIG BALSAM: Chris Billington at Bayonne [Golf Club in Bayonne, N.J.].

FELDMAN: Jeff Michealson at Bel-Air Country Club [in Los Angeles].

WHO DO YOU GOLF WITH FROM THE MUSIC BUSINESS?

LYOR COHEN: Flea and Roger Waters.

RENNIE: Producer Brendan O’Brien, [Fun singer] Nate Ruess. I used to play with Mike Einziger and Chris Kilmore from Incubus.

KRIM: [Lava Records CEO] Jason Flom, [former TLC ­manager] Bill Diggins, [Green Day manager] Pat Magnarella, Kevin Welk, [SR Productions partner] Scott Reich, [Grace Potter’s husband and The Nocturnals ­drummer] Matt Burr. And now, ­hopefully, [my new boss] Marty Bandier.

LAMBERG: My favorite golf partner is David Kokakis, who I work with at Universal Music Publishing. We golf once a week and catch up on business throughout our round.

HOLCOMB: My husband, [Live Nation president] Nick Masters.

CORSON: [Creative Artists Agency ­partner/ music division head] Rob Light, Marty Bandier, Stirling McIlwaine, Rick Krim.

SUDACK: I mostly play with nonindustry people, but love to go out with guys like [attorney] Damien Granderson, [William Morris Endeavor co-CEO] Patrick Whitesell and Nate Ruess. I’m waiting on an invitation from Rob Light to play Augusta [National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., where he is a member].

DARREN DAVIS: I became golfing ­buddies with Canadian enchantress Anne Murray a few years back. She’s quite a competitor.

HAVE YOU EVER DONE A BUSINESS DEAL WHILE GOLFING?

BALSAM: No. I prefer to focus on play and enjoy the company.

DOC MCGHEE: No, but I have done millions of dollars in business with guys I play with.

VELLUTATO: Jason Flom said he wanted to sign [R&B singer] TQ while playing Barton Creek at South by Southwest.

BANDIER: When you play with Irving Azoff, every hole has a different ­business deal.

JIMMY HARNEN: Most of the time. The first time [McGhee Entertainment president and brother of Doc] Scott McGhee played me [country group] A Thousand Horses was in The Tap Room at Richland Country Club [in Nashville] after we played a round in December. We signed them less than a month later. The ­single is top 10 this week [on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart].

COUCH: Yes. I tipped Pete Giberga off to [rock band] Highly Suspect on the 17th at Bethpage Black [in Bethpage, N.Y.]. Johnny Stevens from the band wanted to know why it took me 17 holes!

SZABO: We ended up finalizing a Linkin Park idea at Angeles National [in Los Angeles], where we figured out how to globally debut their single to anyone who had Shazamed them in the past.

OAKES: I have an app called SignEasy, so I have signed contracts, entity-formation paperwork and more on the golf course.

EVAN WINIKER: A lot of business gets done on the course, but it’s rarely discussed in practical terms. It’s more like small talk that leads to bigger things.

DO YOU BET WHEN YOU PLAY?

MCGHEE: I play for $1 or $100,000.

RENNIE: $20 Nassau [a three-tiered bet where money is wagered on the “front” nine holes, the “back” nine holes and the total 18].

SZABO: Most of our bets involve moments you’re not allowed to photograph later. There was a great jorts bet where the loser had to wear jean shorts. And there is still an unfulfilled bet where the loser has to wear leather pants and the winner’s favorite basketball jersey to a crowded bar.

LARRY JACOBSON: No. I love money, and I hate losing.

CLAY HUNNICUTT: Remember the scene in Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, where [the two brothers who employ Aykroyd’s character] bet each other a dollar that they could ruin a guy? That’s what it’s like for us. It’s mostly for bragging rights, and for someone to have to hand you a dollar.

BANDIER: When I play with friends, we usually bet on the front and back nine and overall 18 holes. It’s not for a lot of money, but enough to make you shake when you putt.

OAKES: We pair the foursome up into partners and play a scramble that normally ends in cash losses getting converted into a round of drinks.

DENNIS ARFA: [Broadway producer/theater owner] Jimmy Nederlander and I play for the check at dinner.

FAVORITE 19TH HOLE?

LAMBERG: Farmshop in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. 

RENNIE: Members Grill at Bel-Air [Country Club] — the best hang in golf.

CORSON: The famous lobster lunch at National Golf Links of America [in Southampton, N.Y.].

SCOTT GREENSTEIN: The Clubhouse at The Bridge [in Bridgehampton, N.Y.].

JON COHEN: The bar at the Atlantic Golf Club, but my game drives me to start ­drinking way earlier than the 19th hole.

KEN EHRLICH: The clubhouse at Sherwood [Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.].

HARNEN: The Tap Room at Richland Country Club.

MITCH ROSE: The Tap Room at Pebble Beach.

RON SPAULDING: The clubhouse at Hawk Pointe [in Washington, N.J.].

MCGHEE: The bar at every course.

ARFA: When I play with Jimmy Nederlander, we go to Bryant and Cooper Steakhouse [in Roslyn, N.Y.].

VELLUTATO: Buffalo Wild Wings.

BOYLE: The couch in my living room.

LYOR COHEN: I don’t do a 19th hole. I have children.

IF YOU COULD HAVE THE SKILLS OF A PRO GOLFER, WHO WOULD IT BE?

BRIAN SCHALL: Jack Nicklaus. I learned how to play golf by watching him play on TV when I was a child.

SUDACK: I want to putt like Jordan Speith.

BOYLE: Bubba Watson — he’s the biggest hitter in the game, can shape shots like no one else, and his short game is outstanding.

KEVIN WELK: I’d like to chip like Phil Mickelson.

GREENSTEIN: The class of Bob Ford.

GUSLER: Ben Hogan.

HARNEN: Tiger Woods in 1997. He had it all — huge drives, a tremendous short game, precision putting, and he was fearless.

This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of Billboard.

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