Stephen Hennessey: Golf Digest Deputy Managing Editor

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. On today’s episode, we have Deputy Managing Editor of Golf Digest, Stephen Hennessy. Stephen oversees the publication’s 100 greatest course panel, Play, and bedding coverage. He is also the host of Golf Digest’s Be Right podcast. Welcome, Stephen.

 

Stephen Hennessey  00:45

Angela, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

 

Angela Tuell  00:47

Yeah, so you’re the first sports reporter you’ve had on the podcast. I’m very excited to talk with you.

 

Stephen Hennessey  00:52

Gosh, well, you know, I wish it was someone a little more famous, like a, you know, I don’t know, a Peter King or someone from ESPN. But I’m happy to be on with you and discuss, you know, some of the stuff that I do on a regular basis. And, you know, I’m a huge media follower and in all trends and stuff. So, you know, your podcast is, is one that’s right up my alley. So I’m excited to be here.

 

Angela Tuell  01:17

Great. Thank you. And I’m sure you’re busy and sleep-deprived with a new baby at home, right?

 

Stephen Hennessey  01:22

A little bit. We’ve been very lucky. She’s eight weeks now. But she’s been sleeping, you know, like five or six hours consistently straight through the night, and then another two or three hours also. So we are very lucky. I, you know, speak to parents who, you know, still their kids are almost one year old, and they’re not doing that. So, we are very lucky. We cannot complain about sleep right now.

 

Angela Tuell  01:49

You might have to stop at one then because the next one might not be as lucky.

 

Stephen Hennessey  01:52

I know it. And, um, we’re waiting for to regress, but so far, so good.

 

Angela Tuell  01:57

Well, good. And you know, you say you’ve learned most of your life lessons from the 90s. So did any of those prepare you for fatherhood so far?

 

Stephen Hennessey  02:05

It’s that’s a great question. I feel like yeah, on a daily basis, I’ll go back with my wife will watch some, like Rugrats skit that, you know, somehow it, you know, brings us back to our childhood what we’re doing with our, with our baby currently. So, so yeah, I think slowly, but surely we’re using the lessons, of our childhood and using that with our baby. And, yeah, I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken away is just how, you know, I did not appreciate what my parents did for me until being a parent. It’s such a sacrifice. And, yeah, I’m sure that’s a similar journey for anyone who’s had kids, it’s, you know, it’s such an undertaking, and you just can’t believe that your parents did the same for you and all your siblings. So it is. It’s a very enlightening experience, that’s for sure.

 

Angela Tuell  03:00

It really is. And I’m sure you haven’t gotten to golf as much in the last eight weeks.

 

Stephen Hennessey  03:04

Unfortunately, I have not picked up a club. And that’s the this is by far the longest I’ve gone without picking up a club. I would say, you know, before this stretch, you know, I did not go two weeks without at least going on the range here in the Northeast in the winter, you know, obviously gets tough, but I would always make a trip or two, you know, down south. So yeah, this is almost nine weeks of not even touching a golf club. And the crazy thing is, there hasn’t been that desire, like oh my god I haven’t played it’s, it’s just so great to spend time with the little ones. So yeah, it’s funny how the mindset changes so quickly because before this, and before our baby was here, I was playing as much golf as I could before she got here knowing that my golf time would be pretty limited these days. But I don’t even mind that it is and that if you would have told me that before she was born, I wouldn’t have believed you. So.

 

Angela Tuell  04:02

Awe, that’s great. Well, going back to talk a little bit about your professional world. Did you always want to be a sports reporter?

 

Stephen Hennessey  04:10

I did. Yeah. In high school. I remember. You know, having a meeting with my guidance counselor in high school, it must have been my sophomore year. And we were, you know, discussing college and what I might want to do. And she’s and I really had no idea and she said, Well, you know, you’re good at a couple of things. You’re very knowledgeable about sports, which I was. I learned how to read from the back of baseball cards when I was, you know, one, one year old and we’d watch you know, video VHS videos of the New York Giants Super Bowl run in 1990. And that, you know, I memorize every word of it. And that’s kind of how I really had my, first words were Phil Simms and Pepper Johnson. You know, so, so yeah, she said, you know, you’re great. You’re obviously knowledgeable about sports and you’re a good writer. I had good writing, I had good grades and in all my writing classes, so she’s like, Have you thought about sports journalism? I was like, I don’t even really know what that is. But I read the newspaper every day. So I kind of knew what it was I just didn’t really put a title to it. So I took a journalism class in high school, and I ended up being editor-in-chief of our high school newspaper. And yeah, I pursued colleges with really good print journalism programs. And Penn State University, where I went, has a Sports Journalism School, which you know, is a little rare. And their sports journalism program is phenomenal. So yeah, I would say from very early on, from when I was about 15, or 16 years old, I knew I wanted to do some sort of sports journalism, whether I think early on, I probably had my sights on being you know, like a broadcaster on TV, calling baseball games or something like that. But, you know, that has evolved as I’ve gotten more experience through college, and then landed my current job into where I am today.

 

Angela Tuell  06:12

And were you a golfer at the time before going to Golf Digest?

 

Stephen Hennessey  06:16

You know, a little bit. So I had been playing I was a baseball player in high school basketball also. But So up till high school, I had never really played golf. So that’s pretty atypical, honestly of the typical Golf Digest editor. Most of my colleagues, you know, they played in college, or if not in college than they were on their high school golf teams, but I was more into other sports. But until I graduated high school, my buddies and I were looking for other things to do, and we picked golf like so many others do. And I got really into it. Over, you know, my college years, really, and, yeah, so when it came time to try to find a job, you know, golf all of a sudden was this big thing in my life. And, you know, just kind of perusing Golf Digest magazine, which I was as a college student, I, I literally came across some names in the, in the magazine and found some phone numbers and just started cold calling them and that’s kind of how, how I gained, you know, how I got a contact at Golf Digest. And I did that I finally got in contact with my first boss at the magazine. Four months later, he returned my call and said, You know, I don’t know if you’re still looking for an internship, but we’re now looking for one. So yeah, definitely an atypical path to Golf Digest. But now, you know, I’m as avid a, as a golfer as anyone on staff.

 

Angela Tuell  07:49

So yeah, and you started there right after college, right?

 

Stephen Hennessey  07:52

I did the week after I graduated. I showed up at my cubicle in Wilton, Connecticut. Yeah, and I haven’t left.

 

Angela Tuell  08:00

So you must like it.

 

Stephen Hennessey  08:03

It is my dream job. Um, I’m so lucky, you know, to work in golf. As you know, Angela is a lot of fun. And yeah, you know, I’m fortunate every day for what I get to do. So,

 

Angela Tuell  08:17

When you do something you love as a living, does it become less of something you enjoy in your free time?

 

Stephen Hennessey  08:21

Yeah. As Deputy Managing Editor, what do you focus on? What are all of your roles? It’s a great question. It hasn’t – No. You know, golf is still, you know, my number one hobby. You know, before having a child, obviously, I was playing at least once a week, most times, twice a week with friends, colleagues, you know, getting to travel all over and getting to play these great golf courses. It felt, you know, it’s amazing being able to do that. So, even though there’s really no escaping golf, I really have no desire to. It’s, it is such a huge part of my life. But it’s, you know, right after your family and friends. You know, I’d probably put it third. It’s kind of three prongs I guess, I oversee all of our, Play content at Golf Digest. So we call that our What to  Play, so equipment, How to Play – instruction, and Where to Play – golf courses. So those have been the three pillars of Golf Digest for decades and decades. And so I oversee all the content for our website. So you know, we’re producing content, kind of separate from the magazine also taking what we do in the print magazine and optimizing it for the web. So that’s, that’s about a third of what I do. I also oversee our gambling content at Golf Digest, which has really taken off over the last couple of years since the legalization of it. So that’s a lot of fun. As you mentioned, I have my own podcast so that’s fun as well and then I also oversee our 100 Great rankings, our course rankings. We have a panel of over 1900, avid golfers who contribute scores that determine our 100 greatest rankings, which are, you know, seen as probably the most prestigious in the industry. They’re the oldest in golf. And, yeah, so there’s a lot that goes into that in terms of being a liaison between our course raters, and the golf courses themselves wanting to ask questions and wanting to know how they stand in our rankings, what they could do to improve. I have a lot of varied tasks, I would say, there, I get a bunch of different emails, a lot of which get lost in my inbox, just because of the sheer volume. But then I’m also, you know, editing content, conceiving of it, you know, in the ideation stage, actually writing content myself, like we did last week at the Ryder Cup. And yeah, and then producing audio, podcast, too. So what people always say at Golf Digest is all my, all my colleagues. And, you know, it’s interesting that so many people at Golf Digest are like me, they, they come and they, they don’t want to leave, because it’s such a great job. But what they often say is, you will, you will touch so many different parts of our industry at Golf Digest, because, you know, we kind of do it all. And, you know, it teaches you such a very, like, I have such a varied skill set because of it. And I’m so fortunate because of that. They’re all things that I enjoy, but it also teaches you things that maybe you’re not so great at, and you need to improve that. So. Yeah, it’s definitely a varied day-to-day and no one day is the same. That’s for sure.

 

Angela Tuell  11:49

I’m sure. So as you mentioned, how busy you are and your inbox so full, how do PR professionals get your attention with information for you know, golf courses, clients, and products? And how can we help you do your job?

 

Stephen Hennessey  12:01

Yeah, I feel bad. Oftentimes, when PR folks, you know, reach out with something and it gets lost. I think a huge thing is when I have a connection with somebody, so you know, now that you and I have made a connection, Angela, you know, I don’t think we’ll lose emails back and forth between us. And that’s kind of the same for, you know, the dozens of other PR folks who have gotten to meet and establish a personal connection with in the past if I see an email from them, I kind of prioritize it over someone who maybe I haven’t, you know, spoken to in the past. And that might not be fair, to be honest. But you know, if I see a familiar name, I’m more likely to open that. But in terms of like maybe a sort of a cold pitch that, you know, is from someone whom I haven’t talked to, I wouldn’t say like a personalized email that’s kind of well researched and speaks to their level of understanding of what we do at Golf Digest that, that really always catches my eye rather than someone who, you know, obviously, like it’s a copy and paste situation. And, you know, they mentioned things that Golf Digest doesn’t, either we don’t cover or doesn’t really fit into what we do, like those instances are kind of obvious to, you know, to sneak out. And, you know, though, those are easier to ignore, but honestly, so, yeah, making that personal connection, I think is huge. And the knowledge of knowing, you know, what the publication is doing and how whatever the pitch is kind of fits into that content scheme that always catches my attention.

 

Angela Tuell  13:50

That’s great advice. So has the Golf Digest audience changed over the years? And how has the publication evolved with it?

 

Stephen Hennessey  13:57

when I started, which was in 2011, so that, you know, that was a long time ago. It seems like yesterday, but I know. Yeah, it’s so I was in I was hired to it’s, it’s funny when I say this, I was hired to edit the iPad app of Golf Digest magazine. So as I say now that’s such an archaic thing. We don’t even have that anymore. But through time Golf Digest has ramped up its website presence. I think when I started, you know, we had a strong website, I would say we’re probably like fifth or sixth in golf. But now, you know, we’re kind of the undisputed number one website in golf and we’re in partnership with the PGA tour through Golf TV. So kind of putting those two together, you know, is kind of, a huge entity within golf. So, and with, you know, the way that our content is kind of evolved and changed over the years, our audience has definitely changed quite a bit. I would say our print audience is still, you know, kind of that avid golfer, older in age, mostly male, unfortunately. But, you know, our audience on all of our digital platforms is really a lot younger. And, you know, whenever we do sort of research into who, you know, who’s clicking our articles, all that stuff, you know, it keeps on trending younger. And I think that’s a reflection of golf kind of continuing to be seen as this kind of cooler sport. That’s, you know, not necessarily the country club guy. It’s, it’s become, you know, more of a fun lifestyle that, you know, people want to learn more about and, you know, there’s more opportunities to get in the door. It’s not as much of an elitist sport. It is still in a lot of ways, but there are just more opportunities to get into the door. So as those things have evolved, I think we’ve done a pretty good job at growing our audience to adapt to those folks.

 

Angela Tuell  16:07

Yeah. Which is amazing. What are some of your most memorable stories or projects?

 

Stephen Hennessey  16:12

Well, some of my most memorable moments are, you know, getting to interview some famous individuals and be on photo shoots and video shoots with whether they’re PGA Tour players like Jordan Spieth, we had a great photo and video shoot, I think it was 2014. And we’ve done many shoots with him in the, you know, beyond that, but, you know, I’m recalling one, which was a lot of fun. One of my favorites was getting to be with Steph Curry. He was on our cover of Golf Digest back in, I think it was 2014, again, a long time ago, but he was named one of our golfers who give back and we did a video photoshoot at Basketball City in Manhattan. And kind of in between shoots. Steph was just kind of shooting around at one of the hoops. And everyone was just kind of watching him. So I went up and started rebounding for him. And he missed a couple in a row. And I kept passing it back to him. He’s like, Nah, man, you shoot, your turn, you go. And yeah, so I took the ball out, I’m in work clothes, but as you know, sank, like a 12-foot jump shot. Wow. All my colleagues and, and stuff is like, there you go. That, you know, that’s, that’s why I’m giving you courtesy. So that was a lot of fun. I also got to interview the individual who won a million dollars Tiger Woods winning the Masters in 2019, that was a lot of fun. And kind of a substantial article to write it got a lot of pickups, which kind of speaks to the legalization of gambling that, you know, something like that would have been seen as kind of faux pas in the past. But that was probably one that’s at the top of the list in terms of articles I’ve gotten to actually write and kind of a meaty piece of journalism, profiling, the individual James Adducci, from Wisconsin, reporting it out, etc. So yeah, I think those are the things that really stand out. Everyone wants to ask me, you know, Have you gotten to interview Tiger Woods? I haven’t. You know, now that Tiger was one of our Golf Digest and Discovery golf partners. So you know, a lot of my colleagues have gotten to spend time with Tiger. I personally haven’t. So that’s obviously, a goal of mine. But other than Tiger, you know, I’ve gotten to interview pretty much every other golfer on the PGA Tour, which is pretty cool.

 

Angela Tuell  18:51

Wow. So since you’ve played a ton of courses, I don’t know if this will be too hard of a question to even answer. But what are some of your favorites?

 

Stephen Hennessey  19:00

Yeah, I get this question quite a bit. And it’s always difficult to answer for me, I always stumble through it for a couple of reasons. As you know, the guy who oversees our course rankings, you know, I have to be unbiased mostly. The nice thing though, is that I actually don’t evaluate the courses for Golf Digest. It’s all our course raters. So you know, it’s their scores. It has nothing to do with any of the editors at Golf Digest who determine which courses you know, make our ranking so I can be a little opinionated in this area. My answer, my stock answers – I have a top three. I’ve been very fortunate to have played 32 of our current 100 greatest courses, which is good for someone who’s age 32 I know how lucky that is. But so I mean, some of my favorites are Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, Oakmont Country Club, outside Pittsburg, Pebble Beach, which I got to play with my brother who’s kind of like our first big golf trip a couple of years back, and we…A cool thing about Pebble Beach is that they let you. they let a family member, even if they’re not playing, get to walk with you also, so we had my niece, his daughter, walk with us and she had her GoPro out, like taking pictures the entire time. And she had a shot at the iconic seven pole. Even though she was only like 13 years old at the time and didn’t want to do it. We forced her to we said, you know, this is going to be a moment, you’ll always remember. So that is up there in terms of, you know, memorable rounds and Bandon dunes. You know, every course there’s amazing Streamsong in Florida. Sand Valley is phenomenal. So yeah. And you know, I’m leaving a couple out, too, Chicago Golf Club is like is one of the best experiences in golf. So, in Baltus Rob, where I now live kind of down the street from Baltusrol, that’s one of my favorites, I got to walk it with the architect who redesigned it, Gil Hanse, a couple of months ago. So that’s one of my, you know, coolest experiences in golf. So yeah, as I’m, as I continue to ramble on Angela, continue to struggle to answer that question because, as I said, I’ve been very lucky. And I know how fortunate I am, as you know, someone listening to this, who’s a golfer is like, Oh, my God and I haven’t even mentioned walking with Bill Coore at some of the courses he designed. So the amount of great golf that I’ve gotten to play makes that question a lot harder to answer.

 

Angela Tuell  21:38

Sure. I know you also cover innovations in golf, what’s on the horizon in 2022?

 

Stephen Hennessey  21:44

I think – interesting to me – will be the evolving media, landscape and broadcast media. So you know, like I’m, I’m so captivated by the Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. Yes, kind of second screen experience on ESPN2. And I wonder, you know, if we’ll have a similar thing in golf, and I think golf really lends itself to that. So, and, particularly because I’m, you know, I cover the gambling space, that that’s prime territory, for anyone who bets on golf, but any sport is watching a second screen within Barstool Sports does very well, in terms of, you know, content geared towards someone who has money on the sporting event that you’re watching, I think, you know, this is just such a new space in media that it’ll be fascinating to watch how it continues to, to evolve over the next couple of years. I know like NFL Network is starting to show odds on their, on their shows, and they have some shows that you know, are talking about gambling, which is huge, because the NFL was so anti-gambling in the past. So that’s one area, water conservation in terms of golf course maintenance, I’m fascinated by and how the golf industry uses things like artificial intelligence to, you know, kind of really innovate on what have been some more traditional practices, like we just wrote a story about a new golf course in Wisconsin at Sand Valley, using robotic bulldozers to build their new course. So they’ve been able to program the plans from the architects and, you know, take the topographical maps of the land that the course will be built on and program these bulldozers to move the earth based on the architect’s plans in housing. Yeah, it is. And to just think about that, and then see it actually start to happen is fascinating. So I can’t wait to see more of those types of projects and, and hit more parts of our industry even more.

 

Angela Tuell  23:50

Yeah. And he has, I was really intrigued to learn more about golf betting and it wasn’t a sport I typically thought of as betting. You know, as you said, it was recently that it was legalized. And that’s the topic of your podcast. And that must be fun to work on as well.

 

Stephen Hennessey  24:06

Oh, a ton of fun. And now the PGA Tour pretty much has a tournament each week. So you know, there’s really no offseason. You know, it used to be like January through the Tour Championship in September. And then there’d be a nice offseason of a couple of months. But, you know, we had an episode this week, there are PGA tour events through November, so there’s only a few weeks off. So, you know, it’s fascinating at all points. And yeah, golf, you know, in and of itself lends itself to, gambling and it always has in terms of, you know, masses and betting amongst your friends. So I think it’s such a natural sport and golf is great too, because it gives you for days, you know, worth of action if you put some money on a golfer in some capacity whereas you know if you bet on an NFL game or another sport like it’s only a couple hours. So, I think golf, golf is, is great. And it’s really become such a popular sport amongst people who play daily fantasy sports and who just bet on sports. And probably unexpectedly because when sports betting was legalized in 2018 golf game golf betting was very low on that totem pole. It was maybe the seventh or eighth most popular bet on sport, but now it’s, it’s in the top three of most played DFS contests on DraftKings and FanDuel. So I think people are starting to see how much fun it is, you know, to track the PGA Tour once you have a little money involved.

 

Angela Tuell  25:39

Yeah. And for our listeners, you can find Be Right podcasts anywhere you get your podcasts. Thank you so much for joining us today, Stephen.

 

Stephen Hennessey  25:47

So much fun. Thanks for having me, Angela.

 

Angela Tuell  25:48

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show; we’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Deputy Managing Editor at Golf Digest, Stephen Hennessey, talks about becoming a dad, his journey into sports journalism, finding his dream job right out of college, his favorite golf courses and the future of golf with Angela in today’s episode.  Stephen also oversees the 100 Greatest Course panel, Play; betting coverage and is the host of Golf Digest’s Be Right podcast (BE RIGHT pod).

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