Talking Golf and LSD With GoDaddy Founder Bob Parsons
"I did a few mushrooms ... The next day I went on the golf course. Never putted so good in my life."
Bob Parsons is not quite what we could call an eccentric. But he is a billionaire, which means he pretty much gets to do whatever the hell he wants. If Parsons has a wild hair to murder out a Rolls Royce and slap a Chevy badge on the hood, he can, and did. If he has second thoughts and decides to change it back a scant week later, no problem (also a thing that happened).
So when the billionaire founder of GoDaddy, who also happens to be an obsessive golfer, decided he wanted to manufacture his own brand of golf clubs a few years back, he did. Few thought Parsons Xtreme Golf would last. The company launched charging triple what other brands did. But Parsons has managed to develop a serious foothold in a tough market, and this month, PXG is poised to drop its third generation of irons.
Parsons, who resigned from the GoDaddy board last year to focus on his other businesses and his philanthropic endeavors, says he owes everything he is today to his service in the Marine Corps. A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, was honored late last year as “A Marine for Life” by Manhattan’s only Marine Corps Ball.
InsideHook sat down with Parsons over glasses of single malt at the Whitby Hotel in New York City the night after the ceremony, for a wide-ranging rap about his passion for golf, politics, philanthropy, lessons he learned from the Corps and where he wants to go from here.
A little while back you were honored as Marine for Life. Congratulations!
Well, I was worried I was going to tear up too much during the acceptance speech. I teared up, I mean, I choked up just a little bit, but I got past it. I served in the Vietnam War as a rifleman. Went in when I was 17, was in combat by the time I was 18 and I came home. PTSD didn’t really hit until 1990. Took that long, and it buckled me at the knees, brother. So I went through a period of time, where if anybody even asked me if I was there, I’d start crying … You start crying when people talk to you, pretty soon they stop talking to you. I just went to bottom, and then, a while back, I went through this Neurofeedback thing and also LSD and I’m pretty well past it now.
You took LSD to get over PTSD?
LSD, what it does, is it gives you a reset. It used to be that LSD was very successfully used to treat alcohol addiction and drug addiction and it went well that way, up through about the ’60s, when Timothy Leary went a little berserk with it — scared the country, and the country made it illegal. But in a book called How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, he really steps through it. Exactly what happens neurologically, I can’t begin to tell you. But I can tell you, I was a different guy afterwards. In a very good way.
Did you have multiple experiences?
A time or two, and it was supervised with people that understand it, and I’m glad I did it. But, I’m a different guy so I can talk about it. I’m pretty good. I still have PTSD a little bit maybe. Nothing like it used to be. So I mean, for me, it was 48 years and I finally came home.
Can you describe your trips?
You know, I did not hallucinate. It was like, all your senses, for me, was exaggerated. Everybody’s different, I understand, and there was nothing negative. I was there with somebody who was trained and we just had this dialogue, this ongoing dialogue for hours. The emotions were more intense. You could feel them (in a different way). I mean, I don’t know how else to verbalize it.
Did you try psilocybin as well?
I did a few mushrooms over a one-week period, and after the psilocybin, the next day I went on the golf course … never putted so good in my life. I was able to read breaks like I never have been able to.
How do you think golf on LSD would be?
I don’t know I’ve never done it.
So, you were a Marine in the late-’60s, which means you enlisted at the height of the Vietnam War?
Yeah. You know, before, when I was a kid in school, I was terrible. I failed the fifth grade, but because of a fluke, I didn’t have to repeat it. I was able to move right into the sixth grade with fourth-grade skills. Nobody can ever take that away from me. And every year after that I wasn’t much better. In the 12th grade, I was failing everything except gym. So I thought I wasn’t going to graduate. This is in 1968. I had two buddies come over and talk to me in gym class and they go “We’re going down to talk to the Marine Corps recruiter. You want to go with us?” And we all enlisted. I showed all my teachers my orders when I got them, and they all passed me. A few of them teared up because they knew the war was raging. So I went over there. Got wounded. Came out and I went to college, graduated magna cum laude. People that knew me could not believe it. I passed CPA exams first time. Anything I’ve ever accomplished I owe to the Marine Corps.
What did your experience in the Marines teach you?
Well it taught me a number of things. First, that many things are indeed black and white, especially if you’re in combat. One of the things they always said that always sticks with me is pretty clean is dirty. I always remember that.
Discipline. In the form of if you had a job to do, you didn’t have to like it, you just had to do it. A perfect example of, we all had to carry ammunition for the M-60 machine gun, a big, bulky can that weighs 19 pounds and has a metal strap on it. I weighed 150 pounds back then. To carry that, I mean, it got heavy so quick. And the metal strap would cut into your hands and your shoulder. Your arm felt like it was coming out of your socket. The pain was excruciating, but everybody did it without complaint. I would just think about the next step. One more, one more, one more. So you teach yourself to be able to do that, other stuff doesn’t seem so difficult. That’s discipline.
Responsibility. When I have a responsibility — to the man on my left or right — the commitment is sacred. I do whatever I can to honor it.
The experience also taught me that I had a right to be proud. That I could do things and believe in myself. I came away with all that from the Marine Corps.
How did you come to the game of golf?
Well, my father was a golfer when I was a kid, and he used to take me and my brother to Clifton Park in Baltimore. There were rabbits there then. So we used to chase rabbits mostly and once in a while we’d hit balls. After that, because life got in the way, I would just work. But in my 30s when I became successful in my first business, me and some guys I worked with, we all took it up together again. None of us were very good, but we got better together. And then we became, for lack of a better word, addicted.
Obviously you’re an obsessed gear head, and legend has it you were spending jaw dropping amounts of money on on golf clubs, but how do actually spend $200-$300K dollars on golf equipment in a year? How is that possible?
Oh, it’s incredibly possible. First, if you buy most clubs that come out and you go to a custom fitter. In doing that, you have different shafts, and change the shafts … and that’s where it gets expensive. All that, and then change them again, and change them again. Trust me, it’s easy. I quit counting at $350K.
That’s a lot of cheddar.
Well, I’m going to tell you what, you start your own golf club company, that 350 seems like a deal, so …
Then why start your own golf company?
You know, because the product was more interesting to me than the actual money. I was a rabid aficionado and I knew a significant amount about what clubs work, which didn’t. I knew what gives them forgiveness. I understood ballistics a little bit, aerodynamics a little bit, you know, little bit about metallurgy. So, I knew enough to be totally dangerous.
It’s interesting to know you also bought your own country club. Why’d you want to do that?
I know you need an answer. When I did that, I was successful with GoDaddy, and made some money there. I thought it’d be kind of cool to own a football team … or a golf course. And I found this golf course, which became Scottsdale National, and I fell in love with it, it was ideal. Right now, it’s one of the most exceptional properties in the country. I’ve put $300 million into it … This is my place, baby! I’ll tell you what, I always get treated a little better there than I do any other place.
What mark do you want to leave on the game of golf?
You know, I never think about it that way. I would like PXG to be known as the innovative company that has been so far, and continues to be. We’re all about innovation and doing it right. That’s what we stand for, and I believe that’s why so many people rally around it so much. Our number-one concern is making a club that performs. We pay no attention to what it costs, as long as what we’re doing makes sense. I mean, we don’t put gold in it, we’re not that pinheaded. So it’s a very different philosophy, and the performance is there and I love just looking at the expression on our customer’s faces when they hit ‘em. So I hope the mark that I leave on the game of golf is that we started the movement to really make something special.
If gold helped, would you use it?
Looked at it. Doesn’t make a difference.
Did you really?
Yeah, platinum wouldn’t either. Now, we’d have used it if it made a difference.
Tell me about your best round ever.
My best round ever was in the Cedar Rapids City Amateur. It was the first round. It was an Open, so anybody could enter it if you paid the fee. I did and my son caddied for me. I think he was 15 then, which would have made it in ’76. I was a 15 handicap. I shot 71 and my friends and my buddies thought it was a misprint in the newspaper (Cedar Rapids Gazette). It was one of those magical days where everything worked. I had a shot behind some trees. I hit a draw right onto the green, around the trees, had about a 12-foot curler, made the putt. I mean, it went on and on, and it was like yes! The next day, reality set in, but that one day, I will always have that memory and the very special thing was my son caddied for me, during that day. It was a Tin Cup kind of thing.
The second round I was in the ’80s. And the third day … a sad, sad morning.
What’s the secret to your success?
Well, I work hard, and I’m always very optimistic. Doing something new, first I usually think about it until I have it right in my head where it makes sense. You know, I try not to run into too many machine guns. So when I go into something new, I usually don’t do it right to begin with, but I keep fixing it, I keep fixing it, I keep fixing it, and eventually I’ll get it right, and then the people I’m competing with eventually, I’ll blow right by them.
What’s your worst habit?
[Holds up a now empty whiskey glass.]
If you could only play one more round of golf, where would you play and with whom?
Well, it’ll be at Scottsdale National on The Other Course with my son, my father and Ben Hogan. That’s who it would be. I think it’d be cool just to hang around with his gnarly ass.