Rodney Green, 46, took over as director of golf at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club on Dec. 15. He replaces longtime director Jay Overton, who has moved to the position of host professional. Green oversees the resort's four golf courses, merchandising for three golf shops, golf instruction, operating budgets and the Transitions Championship PGA Tour event in March. A former collegiate golfer, minitour player and self-described "golf hustler,'' Green has been spending long hours familiarizing himself with his new home. "I'm trying to get my feet under me right now, doing a lot of meet-and-greets,'' Green said. "I'm trying to see how all the different lines of businesses line up. I have a lot of responsibility. It's kind of like I have all these different bands, and I want to see if they're all playing the same music.''
Green, who is single, is the first African-American director of golf at Innisbrook. He is working for pioneering businesswoman Sheila Johnson, whose company, Salamander Hospitality, bought Innisbrook in July 2007. He comes from a golfing family in Maryland and isn't surprised that he ended up with a career in golf.
Hot dogs and baked beans
Like most golf professionals, Green found the game early. His uncle Al and his father, Skip, ran the Eisenhower Golf Course when he was growing up in nearby Annapolis, Md. Al Green was an accomplished professional who played in three U.S. Opens and was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. Skip Green was the assistant pro at Eisenhower.
But Rodney also excelled in basketball. He played in high school and had scholarship offers to small schools including Bowie State, Towson University and Chesapeake College.
"I could shoot,'' Green said. "I didn't play any D, but I might score 50. I got tired of going to practice and running the bleachers and doing suicides. I really had no aspirations of playing pro basketball or anything. I was always going to play golf.''
So he took a scholarship to South Carolina State and became one of the school's best golfers. He was good enough that he tried to make a living on the course. That meant minitours and small motels.
"I tried to play pro golf,'' he said. "I played in satellite tours and lived in my truck and ate hot dogs and baked beans, and that's when I was playing good. It was bologna and cheese if I was playing bad.
"But that's what you did then. You lived with a crew of guys and traveled around. If you weren't playing a tournament, then you were gambling or hustling. I wouldn't trade those days in for a million dollars.''
What did he want to do?
There came a time when Green had to trade in those days. In his early 30s, after years of banging around small tournaments in the South and Mideast, he had a chat with his father about his future.
"He asked me what I wanted to do,'' Green said. "All I had in my pocket was $120, and I was trying to parlay that into $200 with some bets on the golf course. I knew that I wanted to do something in golf, so I went to work to make that happen.''
Green went to PGA Business School. He got his Class A teaching license in 1991. After a few years as an assistant pro at various clubs, cleaning golf carts and picking up range balls, Green took a job with Reebok as a salesman. Then a job as director of instruction opened at Disney World.
He was in charge of customer relations, instruction and operations, among other things, and also oversaw the PGA Tour Children's Miracle Network Classic. Green was at the Disney complex for 12 years before deciding to apply for the job at Innisbrook.
"I don't think anybody should go some place and die there,'' Green said. "Disney was a great opportunity for me, but I was there for 12 years. In that 12 years, I had four opportunities for other jobs, but when I did some research on Salamander, I thought that this was a company that could really do some things. Most national companies just buy golf courses to flip them. That's absolutely not the case here.''
'I've always heard of Innisbrook'
Green said even though he was in the Orlando area, he never had the chance to visit Innisbrook. That's not to say he didn't know about the resort.
"I'm from Maryland, and I've always heard of Innisbrook,'' Green said. "It's a brand. You would always hear about Innisbrook.''
Another thing Green likes about being at Innisbrook is that golf courses are the main attraction. The resort relies on golf packages, where people stay on site and play one or each of the resort's four courses. At Disney, the courses are just a small part of its package.
"Not saying this in a bad way, but there were people who would come on the property (at Disney) and not even know there were golf courses,'' Green said. "There were five golf courses, but when you think of Disney, you think of theme parks and resorts. The park's made billions, but the golf courses only made a couple million. If we make a couple million dollars this year (at Innisbrook), trust me, we'll be dancing on the ceiling.''
That's one thing Green faces in his first year: trying to make the resort profitable in a bad economy.
"We're all anxious to see how this year is going to go,'' he said. "Our goals financially are realistic. Golf takes disposable income. So what happens is, people who come to a resort like ours maybe two or three times a year might not come this year and try to come next year. It's like that all over — Pinehurst, Doral, Disney, doesn't matter.''
Another thing to consider about Green at Innisbrook: During his days at Disney, he got to know Tiger Woods when Woods played PGA events in the Orlando area. Woods has not played at Innisbrook since it had a mixed-team event in 1996. But if the stars align just right, and if Woods is healthy enough after knee surgery and wants to play in a tournament before the Masters in April, the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, March 16-22, is in a pretty good spot on the calendar.
Green keeps his relationship with Woods personal, but he understands having him at Innisbrook would be a coup.
"I've learned that the less you say about Tiger Woods, the better off you'll be,'' Green said. "He knows everything, he reads everything, he hears everything. My relationship with Tiger Woods is private and personal. … But I will say that he knows I'm here.
"But I've had the pleasure of hosting a tournament Tiger has been in, and I can tell you it's a whole different world. You have no idea. The event we have here every year, it won't be the same event if Tiger Woods was here. This cat moves the needle.''