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Personnel Fle - March 2008: Sports

Kym Hougham, Director
Wachovia Championship, Charlotte

Kym Hougham announced his arrival with 32 bottles of Dom Perignon. It was 2003, and he had just been hired as director of the fledgling Wachovia Championship. He needed to draw top players — a tournament’s success hinges on its field. So he flew to Hawaii, where players had gathered for the Mercedes Championship and left the bubbly in their lockers with a note inviting them to play in Charlotte.

The stunt, plus the top-notch course at Quail Hollow Club and plenty of prize money, worked. The first year, he got most of the top pros and then, in the second, hit a hole-in-one when Tiger Woods agreed to play. “We all know Tiger’s the main draw. If he’s in, a tournament’s elevated.” Like a pro golfer, Hougham — pronounced Huff-um — obsesses over details. He takes his staff to the Masters each year. “A lot of people around here belong to Augusta National. We know what we’re being judged against.” He hands out thousands of surveys to Wachovia Championship attendees.

Hougham, 54, played college golf at University of Illinois, then started selling insurance, taking over his family’s agency in Iowa after his dad had a stroke. On the side, he organized charity golf tournaments. Liking that better than peddling policies, he took a 25% pay cut in 1996 to head the slumping John Deere Classic in nearby Moline, Ill. Its turnaround caught the attention of the Wachovia’s organizers, who had landed a plum date in May, between the Masters and the U.S. Open. These days, he rarely gets to swing a club — his handicap has crept from scratch to 6 — but calls the trade-off worthwhile: “When I play now, I get to play great courses.”