By Jeff Barr
Overbearing parents seeking vicarious glory are a malady in the world of sport, but there is a story in Sacramento, Calif., where the opposite is true. This story involves the golf business, rather than competition, and the nurturing parent’s sons pleasantly surprised him after they were grown.
Ken Morton Sr., who recently was named Golfweek’s 2004 Father of the Year, said he was stunned when his two sons, Ken Jr., and Tom, approached him after graduating from college and said they wanted to continue the family business at Morton Golf LLC, which operates 81 holes of golf for the city of Sacramento.
“It forced me to take a different look at my retirement plans, but I was flattered and I did what I could do to make their entry into the business as smooth as possible,” said Morton, 63, the 22nd recipient of Golfweek’s Father of the Year honor. “Imagine my surprise when my sons came to me and said, ‘Dad, what you’ve done here is great. We’d love to keep it going.’ ”
Ken Jr., 32, is the director of retail for Morton Golf, and Tom, 29, is the head pro at 27-hole Bing Maloney Golf Course, one of three facilities run by the family (along with 36-hole Haggin Oaks and 18-hole Bartley Cavanaugh).
“Dad has set a very high bar for us to try to raise,” Ken Jr. said. “One thing he has always taught us is to try to enrich people’s lives through the game. That has been his No. 1 goal, and the rest – the business success, or whatever else – will naturally follow.”
Morton has won countless awards since he became the PGA professional at Haggin Oaks in 1971, 13 years after beginning as a starter at the club and then repairing clubs. In ’71, he was co-head professional with Sacramento legend Tommy LoPresti, until LoPresti scaled back in 1985 and retired in 1996. LoPresti won the PGA Golf Professional of Year Award in 1963, and when Morton duplicated the feat in 1998, it made Haggin Oaks the only club in the country to have its pro win the award twice.
But Morton is about much more than awards. He has instituted a set of core values for his business that was initiated by employees when he asked them what they wanted to experience when they came to work every day. The Morton Golf core values are as follows: Honesty, trust, integrity, caring and positive attitude, commitment to excellence, respect of others and making work fun.
“We are here for a bigger reason than just the game of golf,” Morton said. “Our philosophy is that golf is a vehicle for life improvement. If you look at it that way, you can’t help but succeed.”
Morton’s value system has been instrumental to others besides Ken Jr. and Tom, including his wife, Kathy, and two daughters, Amy Barr, 41, and Wendy Michaels, 38, who “don’t golf but aren’t loved any less.”
Morton also has been a leading figure in the community, creating Sacramento Area Youth Golf (SAY-Golf) in 1983. It was designed to save high school golf programs in danger of falling victim to budget cuts, but evolved into a massive junior golf program and later a chapter of the First Tee – which today has a 30-year lease to manage and operate Sacramento’s nine-hole William Land Golf Course. SAY-Golf “grads” include 2004 NCAA individual women’s champion Sarah Huarte (University of California), as well as top college players Kimberly Welch (Washington State), Jason Hartwick (University of Texas) and Tom Johnson (Northwestern).
When SAY-Golf held a Ken Morton Appreciation Day to honor its creator, Judy Bell, past president of the U.S. Golf Association, had this to say: “Ken is truly one of golf’s heroes and a champion for kids. He represents everything good about the game.”
(Ken Morton Sr. will be presented with the 2004 Golfweek’s Father of the Year Award June 19, the day
before Father’s Day. He will be honored at Golfweek’s Father-Son Open at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.)