five famous golfers who pivoted to investing and entrepreneurship
Skills on the green can easily transfer to raking in the green. Unlike most other sports, golf is largely a game of finesse. The top athletes in other pro sports must dedicate their game to brute strength, lightning reflexes, and bullish levels of endurance. Golfers, however, rely instead on patience, precision, and grace on the green.
For pro golfers, those skills translate seamlessly into the world of business, which is full of wild unpredictabilities. From launching products to overseeing the development of pristine golf courses, golfers regularly embrace (and thrive at) entrepreneurship outside the 18 holes.
This list explores some of golf’s most legendary figures and their financial successes off the green. The game’s champs make pretty pennies from winning competitions, but most of their wealth comes from other business ventures, namely endorsement deals. For that reason, we’ll look at their investments and entrepreneurial endeavors beyond just endorsements.
Annika Sörenstam: Lux Lines of Clothing, Wine, and a Perfume
Estimated Net Worth: $40 million
One of the top female golfers to ever play, Sörenstam is also one of the only golfers ever to win the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of America’s highest civilian awards. She currently holds a record eight Player of the Year titles on the LPGA and is currently the wealthiest pro female golfer in the world.
Sörenstam put her championship earnings to good use, too. In 2005, she told Golf magazine she invested part of her first LGPA winnings check in stocks.
“I have a good memory, so I remember numbers,” she said. She even provided some ominous stock advice in that same interview, which took place just a few years before one of the biggest price crashes in modern history.
When asked to provide a stock tip to Golf, she replied, “Right now, I would keep my money in cash. I think the market may take a little downturn.”
Since 2004, Sörenstam has designed her own clothing line, The ANNIKA Collection, through Cutter & Buck. In 2009, she launched her own branded perfume known simply as “Annika,” and a red-blended wine through Wente Vineyards called 59 Red (both of which have been discontinued).
Jack Nicklaus: Course Designer Extraordinaire
Estimated Net Worth: $320 million
Every golfer on this list has designed at least one golf course. That’s just, well, par for the course with famous golfers. But one stands out among the others, simply because he’s designed more golf courses than any other pro golfer to make a winning swing.
To date, Jack Nicklaus has, according to the Nicklaus Company, designed “over 420 courses worldwide” across 45 countries in all but two continents. This includes the most expensive golf course ever built, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, which cost $269 million. (Ironically, Nicklaus and Sörenstam, mentioned above, together experienced one of golf’s most infamous design rejections in 2012, after they offered to design the Olympic course in Rio for free — to no avail.)
It’s important to note that although Nicklaus’s wealth was largely built on building golf courses, he’s been modest about his contributions, too. In a 1993 interview for the Orlando Sentinel regarding who actually designed the Bay Hill course, Nicklaus said:
A golf course is the culmination of a lot of different ideas, a lot of different people with different talents meshing them together… It eventually will have only one man's name on it. But it requires the work of many, many people. No one person does a golf course.
Phil Mickelson: Ballin’ on Beverages
Estimated Net Worth: $400 million
It’s pretty common for pro golfers to invest in, or launch, their own booze brands. Considered the oldest champ still in the game, Phil Mickelson does hold a stake in Amstel Light beer. But unlike other pros, he’s also got his own brand of herb-infused coffee, too. (Not to mention his
This ain’t no regular cup o’ joe, either. Mickelson’s Coffee for Wellness claims to be both a stimulant and a superfood. Among its ingredients include L-theanine (found in green tea) for focus, Himalayan pink salt for electrolytes, cinnamon for joint relief, collagen for the skin (gotta look good on the green, after all), and MCT for an extra boost of energy.
Coffee for Wellness launched last summer, and its first shipments went out September 2020. The company is not publicly listed, its coffee pods and beans can only be purchased through its website, and ships to all 50 US states, as well as the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and Mexico.
Although sales figures for Mickelson’s super-coffee aren’t publicly available, the brand has a sizable social media following. On Twitter, Coffee for Wellness has 12,000 fans. On Instagram, 23,000. Not bad for an old-timer’s first foray into café, eh?
Tiger Woods: The Brand, The Myth, The Legend
Estimated Net Worth: $800 million
In the early 2000s, Mickelson once noted that an up-and-coming Tiger Woods was breaking records with “inferior equipment” (which Mickelson later clarified was a compliment). Woods, who made golf cool to the millennial generation, would later upgrade his gear to the joy of his multinational corporate sponsors. Today, he’s become his own powerhouse brand with TGR, an umbrella company that manages his private and non-profit ventures.
On the non-profit side, the TGR Foundation helps kids get an education. The foundation provides resources for various disciplines, from photography to engineering, as well as online courses and programs to help high school students get into their dream colleges. While the foundation may strike some business folks as a liability rather than an asset, think of it as Woods’ biggest investment: An investment into an entire economy and its future consumers and business leaders.
But on the profit side, Woods’ TGR has its fingers plugged into virtually every aspect of the golf world, from course design and clothing to gear. Additionally, TGR owns and manages a sports bar and restaurant franchise along with a string of family golf courses under a partnership with PopStroke.
Although TGR’s earnings and expenses aren’t publicly available, the TGR Foundation’s financials are. Its recent non-profit filing provides a glimpse into the TGR organization as a whole, though it’s by no means comprehensive.
According to Cause IQ, the non-profit TGR Foundation made $10 million in 2019, mostly from grants, private investments, and some swag sales. That same year, TGR awarded $2 million to government and educational organizations, and donated an additional $200,000 to private individuals for their education expenses. Overall, the TGR Foundation controls roughly $106 million in total assets.
Arnold Palmer: The Original King of Golf’s Bling
Estimated Net Worth Before Passing: $700 million
Back to beverages again, Arnold Palmer lives on today as an Arizona-branded ice tea drink mixed with lemonade. In other words, he’s remembered for investing in a non-alcoholic drink, unlike his peers (e.g. a John Daly, which is an Arnold Palmer plus vodka).. But aside from being one of the greatest — if not the greatest — golfers of all time, he’s also the guy credited for turning pro sports into an incredibly lucrative enterprise for the athletes themselves. This is the guy who made sports endorsements, for all sports, not just golf, and their subsequent empires a multi-billion-dollar industry.
This all started in 1960, when Palmer co-founded IMG, the first big sports management firm. Golf described IMG’s founding as “the handshake that started the modern sports industry.” According to Case Western Reserve University, Palmer’s annual income jumped from $59,000 in 1959 to “nearly $500,000” in 1962, almost a ten-fold increase in just three years — all thanks to IMG’s excellent management. He’s still considered one of the highest paid athletes of all time, having raked in over $870 million (or well over $1 billion, adjusting for inflation) before his passing in 2016.
So, why does Palmer top the list, even though Tiger Woods commands greater wealth today than Palmer did? Because Palmer established the business model followed by everyone else mentioned here. As his life-long friend Howdy Giles once said, for Palmer, it was always “business first, golf second.”
Besides building his own golfing empire, Palmer is partially responsible for turning Orlando into a global tourist spot, and largely responsible for making it one of the world’s golf capitals. His real estate firm, Arnold Palmer Properties, long managed and designed the golf courses for Orlando’s most famous tourist destination, Disney World Resorts.
Plus, in 1995, he co-founded the Golf Channel TV network (which was headquartered in Orlando until last year, when it relocated to Connecticut). His name is also synonymous in Florida for great (and lucrative) healthcare, having founded the Arnold Palmer Medical Center, a children’s hospital, and the Winnie Palmer Hospital (named after his wife).
Peter Lynch: Honorable Mention
Net Worth Before Passing: $325 million
Although he never golfed in the pro leagues, one of the world’s most iconic investors got his start in golf. Well, specifically, he got his start as a caddie.
Peter Lynch, known for successfully managing billions in assets, particularly during the glut of the Reagan years, became interested in Wall Street while on the green. According to the legend, he first learned about stocks while caddying as an 11-year-old.
After getting his degrees in business, he got a coveted gig as a metals analyst for Fidelity at the age of 25. He’s credited with turning Fidelity’s $18 million fund into a whopping $14 billion in just over a decade. How’d he get in, to begin with? He once caddied for Fidelity’s then-president. The rest, as they say, is history.
By 2006, Lynch’s net worth hovered around $325 million. He retired in 1990 at the age of 45, thanks to golf.