Russ Miller grew up about 45 minutes from one of golf’s most revered sites, Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina.
The Broadmoor hotel’s director of golf embraced the game early and, when playing professionally didn’t work out (“I liked eating three times a day,” Miller said) he pursued a golf management degree at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. At the time, it was the only university in the country that offered the marketing degree with a golf emphasis.
“It was the first, and now there are 21,” Miller said.
Having bounced from club to club following graduation, Miller, who has been with The Broadmoor for 20 years, seems to have found the sweet spot.
He spoke with the Business Journal this week about the upcoming U.S. Senior Open (June 27-July 1), golf’s evolution and stewarding the game at the century-old resort.
What do you do here?
I have responsibility for all golf operations, golf retail, our membership and championships. The championships come around every six to 10 years and take about three to four years each to organize.
That’s probably my favorite thing to do — the championships.
What’s your career progression looked like?
Out of college I started working in Winter Park, Fla., at Interlocken, an 18-hole, very exclusive club. From there I went to Ridglea Country Club in Fort Worth (Texas), then back to North Carolina. Those were all assistant pro jobs. At 25, I got my first head professional job at Benvenue Country Club in Rocky Mount, N.C.
From there I went to the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. That was my first director of golf position. I was there nine years before I moved here. I have been here 20 years.
Why have you stayed here so long?
I just love this place — the beauty, the history, having the combination of private membership and a resort, being able to do the championships. We do some big things here and that’s what gets my blood flowing. I was getting a little bored at some of my previous jobs, to be honest. But I love the activity here. It never stops. Every day is go, go, go and I enjoy that.
Why is The Broadmoor different?
It’s known all over the world versus known within your own state. I don’t get caught up in all that stuff, but we have visitors from all over the world come here.
To be able to do eight [United States Golf Association] championships, that’s pretty special. And we’ll do more in the future. The other clubs, being private, couldn’t support the events we do here. They didn’t have the resources or the room or the golf course quality — all of those things.
What’s the scope of this operation?
We’re very seasonal. Our busy season is May through October. Golf operations in the winter has about eight employees. During the season we have about 125.
We go from zero to 100 really quick, but hiring seasonal staff is tougher and tougher. We have a visa program we work with in Jamaica. That’s helpful. At the same time, having downtime in the winter is good because you can plan and prepare for the future. In North Carolina, it was busy 12 months a year because of the weather.
Is the golf staff selected from The Broadmoor staff or do you hire for the season?
We mainly hire for the season. We also have a lot of college interns from all over the country. We get them from Mississippi State, Penn State, Clemson, from Idaho — all over. These are kids who want to be in golf operations or golf retail and they’ll come and do three- or six–month internships.
Why is seasonal hiring tougher?
It seems like the school schedules have less off time. When I grew up, I had a good three months off in the summer. Now they can’t get here until very late May and have to leave by early August.
Is The Broadmoor involved with the UCCS golf management program?
I was on the advisory committee when the golf program came to UCCS. I was involved early on and we do a lot of recruiting from UCCS and speak with their classes throughout the year. Since it’s so close, they’re a great resource to have.
Talk about the upcoming U.S. Senior Open.
One of the biggest things you have to look at when we have an Open come to the Springs is the economic impact. It’s about a $22 million economic impact for the city, county and state. … One thing we could never pay for is we’ll be on worldwide TV for the championship. That’s not just The Broadmoor and the golf course, but the city and state. That coverage brings visitors. I’ve heard people say they saw the championship on TV and it looked beautiful so they vacationed here.
How involved is your position in securing those championships?
Very. I work directly with the USGA. They have a guy whose responsibility is to oversee all the opens — U.S., Senior, Women’s — there are 13 total USGA championships. His job is to select sites and do the contracting. I don’t have a law degree, but I get really involved in the contract side of the championships because I’ve done them. There are so many things you have to cover in the contracts, just making sure everything is in place.
An example: We need 11,000 hotel rooms within 30 miles of the golf course. We obviously need the city, city council and the county to want this thing to come here. If we had a city council that said they didn’t want anything to do with it, that’s a bad relationship with USGA. Thankfully, all those entities love these and one reason is the financial aspect.
How busy are you during that week?
We have 2,300 volunteers and that’s huge. They’re from 48 states from around the country — and from a couple different countries. It takes a lot of chiefs to run this village that week.
Any interesting storylines this year?
The field is fantastic. You have the younger guys like Steve Stricker and John Daly. Then you have the old guard — Hale Irwin, who’s 72; Tom Watson, who’s in his late 60s. Soon, those guys are going to say, ‘I’m not going to play anymore.’
Hale, he went to the University of Colorado where he played football and golf. To have him in the state for what could be his last championship — we’ll really celebrate that.
But maybe the biggest thing that week is, it’s the hotel’s 100th anniversary. We’re doing things every day of the week to celebrate golf and the centennial.
The game had seen a steady decline in participants. What’s the state of golf today?
I think it’s kind of leveled off, but we have to think totally differently. A younger person — and I have daughters who are 27 and 28 — they’re not going to take five hours and go do something. They don’t have the attention span. They may take two hours. … it’s different.
Will that change the game?
Yes. I think our industry has to make golf easier. We have to make golf faster. We have to make it more enjoyable. Golf is a very hard game. Our obligation to our juniors is to start it easy and fun so they don’t get frustrated and quit.
How many holes do you play a week?
I rarely play anymore. I try to play once a week, but that hardly ever happens — and that’s OK. To be honest, I’m 55 and have done all the tournament stuff. But I love my job, and it takes a lot of time. I still love the game of golf, but it’s not a priority.
Is there something else you love to do?
I’m a big fisherman and a rancher. I have 40 acres and a barn and a cabin in Teller County. … I go out when I can. Whenever I have some time off I go fish and ride tractors and ranch.