Goodbye Mister Callaway


Yes, I have memories aplenty. You dont run up against a personality like Ely Callaways and come away with a blank book.
Ely Callaway at the podiumLets start with the fact that not everyone liked this man. In my travels around the golf industry, I heard a lot of confidential grousing about Ely, mostly from people who had been burned by his competitive fire.
Make no mistake, someone once told me over the rim of a rocks glass, that old man knows exactly how much toilet paper gets used in his building every day. And every other damn penny thats spent.
No compliment was implied. But Ely, a businessman of the old school and therefore a fan of cost control, would probably have found a back pat in the comment.
Word was a famous golf retailer tried to get Elys goat once by paying his Callaway merchandise bill, some $785,000, with an American Express card, just to get the frequent flier miles. Of course, Callaway would have had to pay Amex the transaction fee. Five percent of 785 large iswell, large. Probably did piss Ely off. But Ill bet he chuckled inside.
He admired industriousness. He admired protocol. Although his personal manner was relatively casual, even in pinstripes, he insisted that his executives come to work in suits and ties, even as all of Carlsbad was changing the entire week to casual Friday. Old school again.
A lot of golf journalists, this one included, owe Ely a large helping of thanks just for being good copy. He had a public relations staff, but he almost always met the press himself. He did that for me even when I was a freelancer trying to win my way onto the masthead at Golfweek. It definitely made a story sing when you could get a CEO to talk. And right up to the end, he was accessible.
Ely Callaway debates with David FayAnd he was usually forthright. His first duty was to his shareholders, and the reporter who forgot that did so at his peril. When I did get to Golfweek, I was warned: Be careful, or this guy will play you like a fiddle.
I suppose he tried, if you can call being an advocate for your company an attempt to play a reporter. There was one memorable moment when he got pretty vehement about it.
In 1996, Dave Seanor, my editor at Golfweek, and I devised a pre-PGA Merchandise Show feature in which we looked at the golf equipment industry as if it were a horse race. We handicapped all the major companies in each category. It turned out to be a snappy feature, aided by Daves editorial imagination and the excellent cartoons of Roger Schillerstrom.
Based on what we saw as the law of averages, we picked Callaway to falter a bit in the late going of the last century. They would show, not win or place, we predicted. (And in the 1998 golf industry slump, Callaway, like many companies, indeed had a rough year.)
Ely saw this and, Im told, began to steam at the ears. During the show, he found me and the poor Golfweek sales rep who handled the Callaway account and took us up to a private room at the Orange County Convention Center with a couple of his executives.
He then proceeded to lay into me for 30 full minutes with a campaign of invective and accusation that fell like a rain of bricks. I was incompetent. I was reckless. Who did I think I was? Did I have any idea how powerful his company was? Did I have a single notion how my prediction (my byline was on the story) contradicted what he saw as the clearest of evidence?
In deference to the sales rep, who had her own problems to repair, I sat and took it. I defended the story quietly when appropriate. He made his points. We parted.
And after that, all was well. I had passed some test. He seemed to respect my conviction (I simply did what any reporter worth his salt would do), even as he disagreed with me.
And in the years that followed, we disagreed often. But always with respect. I held my ground; he held his. We did the eternal dance of source and reporter.
Ely Callaway stepped it better than most. I will miss him.
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