PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh believes in leaving a room better than how you found it. His philanthropic efforts are a testament to this adage guiding his life’s work, including his most recent endeavor: The Park in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“It’s a municipal golf course a mile south of Palm Beach International Airport that includes 190 acres of land. It’s a laboratory for all the good that can come out of the game,” Waugh explained of his current project during a lecture to the upper school in Benjamin Hall.
Waugh, whose resume includes leading Deutsche Bank in the aftermath of 9/11, was named the Stanton Leadership Lecture Series speaker for the 2023 school year. He joined Chairman of the Board of Trustees Darren Lowe in conversation on stage in Benjamin Hall the afternoon of February 28.
Waugh explained that as a municipality, there were monetary concerns for the city when it came to reinvigorating the swath of land that is now The Park in West Palm.
“How many books would this be for our kids or ambulances for our hospitals,” Waugh said of the financial questions the city had to grapple with.
Waugh approached the Mayor and suggested a public/private partnership. He would raise the money to rebuild the land and create a not-for-profit foundation to maintain it. And with a handshake deal and a 60 day deadline, Waugh went to work.
He credited another former Benjamin family with serving as “the bank” for the park’s financing along with private citizens, including some Benjamin families, who donated their time and put financial skin in the game.
All told, Waugh was able to raise $55 million dollars in 60 days.
“This amazing group of people came together organically,” he said.
Waugh explained that the park is municipal land that carries no debt, no taxes, and no water costs.
“We can dividend a whole lot of money back to West Palm. That trust the Mayor showed in me, and in us, is going to be repaid,” he said.
The Park will host STEM and art classes at night, and Waugh envisions it as a place for the people of West Palm to enjoy whether they play golf or not. The ultimate hope is that it will also help diversify and democratize the sport.
“I have this abiding belief that if we can make the game of golf, which it historically is not, more like the rest of the world that maybe the rest of the world will behave more like the game,” he said.
“This is my home. I had an opportunity to try and leave it better than I found it and we did. Philanthropy is in your soul and you do it because you can. You want to make the room better than how you found it. There are so many different forms of philanthropy - my parents were teachers and that’s what they did, they made lives better,” he said.
Waugh said the easy part of the project - raising capital - is over. Now, it’s about fulfilling all its promise.
“How many lives can we ultimately change and impact?”
Waugh also offered his perspective on the following:
“I learned a lot about mourning [in the wake of 9/11], which includes celebrating the time you have with someone instead of what you got robbed of.”
“It’s really about how you treat your fellow human beings that’s going to define you.
Every time you make a big decision, imagine it’s on the front of The Wall Street Journal and what would your mother think. I think that’s kind of what it’s all about, being on the right side of history. Doing the right thing is always the right thing particularly when it’s hard.”
“Grit was the number one determinant of success. The 'never give up' part of things, which is hugely important . . . I fear that societally we are replacing gratitude with entitlement. Worry about what you have, and what you can do in life instead of worrying about what somebody else has.”
On A Liberal Arts Education:
“I’m a big believer in liberal arts. College is kind of about getting wide - figuring out what you want to do. Take art classes if you’re a math person and vice versa. Ultimately, the real innovation that goes on in the world tends to be not so much going vertically into a subject but going horizontally and connecting something you are learning in English class with something you learned in math.”
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO SETH WAUGH'S LEADERSHIP LECTURE
The Stanton Leadership Speaker Series was founded in 2009 by Mr. Dan Stanton, Chairman of The Benjamin School Board of Trustees at that time. The program committee hosts a wide variety of high-caliber speakers who have excelled in their given fields and who will appeal to a wide variety of students.