Cary Cozby proud to join father Jerry in South Central Section Hall of Fame

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By Ken MacLeod

Cary Cozby is joining his late father Jerry in the PGA South Central Section Hall of Fame Sunday, but the 55-year-old Director of Golf at Southern Hills Country Club plans many more years of full-speed-ahead stewardship of the game at one of the nation’s most prestigious clubs.

Cozby will be inducted along with Dawn Darter of Sherwood, Ark., at the section’s annual awards dinner Sunday in Broken Arrow. The Section Hall of Fame was founded in 2000 with 10 inductees and Jerry Cozby, the director of golf at Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville for 41 years, was an inaugural inductee.

It won’t be the first time that Cary –- the eldest of Jerry’s three sons who all turned out to be golf industry leaders – has followed in his father’s footsteps in being honored. They are the only father and son to each be named national PGA Golf Professional of the Year, Jerry in 1985 and Cary in 2015. Jerry was Section Professional of the Year in 1973 and 1985 and Cary in 2003, 2009, 2019 and 2015.

“It’s a weird feeling to think of being 55. I still feel like a kid,” Cozby said. “I like being around the game and the older you get, the more you appreciate it. It’s a great industry to be in. . . . When you think about it, every golfer who comes to the course, whether it’s Southern Hills or a public course, has their own pile of junk that they’re dealing with. For us to be able to give them a four-hour respite, or even to just hit balls for an hour, is great.”

Left to right, Cary, Jerry and Karole Cozby.

The service side of the industry was drilled into Cary by Jerry and it’s a large part of his job today, not only being around in person for the membership but in training his staff. At an operation the size of Southern Hills, that consists of eight assistants, a director of instruction, a merchandise coordinator, golf shop administrator, three managers, outside service coordinator and up to 30 others in the summer running carts, bag room and other duties.

To that end, Cozby is ever questioning and demanding of himself and his team. He reminds them ad nauseam that they should treat every day as if they are interviewing for a job. He hires top pros from around the country to fly into Tulsa and spend a few days examining his operation for potential flaws or ways to improve.

He was on a panel of professionals at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando when he told that story to other pros who were incredulous that he would go to that length.

“I said hey, I would rather hear it from another pro than from a member,” Cozby said.

That again comes from Jerry. When Cary was the Director of Golf at Wichita Country Club from 2000 to 2015, Jerry and Karole would come up for visits. Karole went straight for the hug while Jerry would march up to Cary’s assistants and start quizzing them on all manner of golf shop operations.

“He was always learning,” Cary said. “And I want to keep getting better. Whether it’s tournaments, instruction, daily play, guests, pro shop, the service component is the cornerstone of what we do.”

The Cozby brothers, left to right, Chance, Cary and Craig.

Growing up, Cary and brothers Craig and Chance, were all obsessed with golf and all went on to play collegiately at the University of Oklahoma. Cary remembers he was 15 when he finally bested Jerry in a match. It didn’t take that long for his son Banks, a freshman golfer at Cascia Hall, who took down dad at the age of 14. And one of the coolest things about Cary’s job is the experiences he’s been able to share with Banks, largely by virtue of Southern Hills having been host to the 2022 PGA Championship.

Cary Cozby with Tiger Woods.

Banks joined his dad as they caddied for Tiger Woods and his business partner Rob McNamara when Woods played a practice round at Southern Hills on April 28, 2022. Banks later played in the same group with Charlie Woods and enjoyed more banter with Tiger at a Notah Begay junior tournament.

A proud papa, Cary snaps a photo of son Banks following Tiger up the fairway.

Also prior to the PGA Championship, Cary was asked by Jon Rahm to walk with him and provide some insight into Southern Hills, which resulted in the two Cozbys enjoying lunch with Rahm and his caddie at Queenies in Utica Square.

“Rahm when he was here was very cool, very thoughtful, the most inquisitive golfer I’ve met behind Tiger,” Cozby said. “He told Banks at lunch to ask him anything he wanted to. When he went to LIV it was a little surprising to me because of how vocal he had been about it. But I think he was betting on the come that the tours would get together.”

And pocketing a reported $400 million or more in the process. The incredible popularity of golf at the local level stands in stark contrast to the fractured and divisive professional game at the moment and Cozby said it’s a constant topic of conversation at Southern Hills. Not surprisingly, his alliances are more in line with the PGA Tour and he has little sympathy for the complaints of LIV golfers about access to major championships.

Cary with son Banks.

“I don’t think anyone begrudges them leaving but they took the money and now they’re trying to stir the pot,” he said. “The OWGR has rules and 54-hole events with no pathway to join the tour and no qualifying are not in line. Those are invitational events. If they want OWGR points, they re going to have to be humble, play 72 holes and have a real Q school and Monday qualifying.

“I think Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson misled a lot of guys and promised them a bill of goods that they couldn’t deliver.”

“The team golf aspect, nobody cares about that. It’s fun in college, but in a pro event I want to see the leaders come down the stretch battling head to head.”

Cozby is also disappointed and a little concerned that the recent announcement of the infusion of up to $3 billion from Strategic Sports Group into the PGA Tour did not immediately help take the pressure off of embattled title sponsors, particularly for the elevated events. He pointed out that for $10 million a company could get naming rights on a football or basketball stadium for a decade but for $25 million it gets one week of publicity.

“It would be really cool if SSG and the PGA Tour and their presenting sponsors can figure out a model to elevate events for the playes and also have great impact on their communities,” Cozby said. “The PGA Tour has always been about great support of communities and charities and has done more charitable giving than any other sport.”

Looking ahead, Cozby said he and some of his best friends and contemporaries in the industry have no plans to slow down. If Southern Hills is to land a ninth major championship in the early 2030s, as seems likely, he wants to be there. With the recent retirements of general manager Nick Sidorakis and superintendent Russ Myers, his is the name that everyone still recognizes at the iconic club, though he says they will all soon get to know new GM Jay Johnson and superintendent Bryant Evans as excellent replacements.

“I want to sprint to the finish line,” Cozby said. “Arnold Palmer said something about the allure of golf is you’re always chasing that perfect shot. I was hitting shots at sunset yesterday and you could barely see the ball, but when you hit it correctly you know it’s right. I think golf is a great microcosm of life in that regard. It’s just such an awesome game. You’re not trying to beat the guy across the net; you’re trying to see what you can do on this course on this day. That’s a lot like life.”

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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source