When people think of golf in Ohio, International Management Group (IMG) typically comes to mind. The Cleveland-based company effectively pioneered the art and science of golf marketing with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player leading a dominant stable of major tournament winners under its oversight. Tiger Woods would follow as an IMG client. While most attention rightfully focused on founder Mark McCormack, one of its golf department leaders was John Simpson.
Club + Resort Business is headquartered in Cleveland. Occasionally, we feature hometown golf stories our audience will enjoy. Here’s one that’s patriotic:
When people think of golf in Ohio, International Management Group (IMG) typically comes to mind. The Cleveland-based company effectively pioneered the art and science of golf marketing with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player leading a dominant stable of major tournament winners under its oversight. Tiger Woods would follow as an IMG client.
While most attention rightfully focused on founder Mark McCormack, one of its golf-department leaders was John Simpson. To say his story isn’t the coolest of cool would be an understatement.
- At the age of two, Simpson was stricken with polio that he carries with him today, wearing a caliper on this left leg that’s rendered useless.
- Other youthful exposures include his father as a distinguished Spitfire and Hurricane fighter pilot for Britain in the second World War and an uncle shot down at Arnhem.
- Simpson was introduced to golf by one of his father’s friends who had an amputation below the knee but didn’t complain despite physical pain Simpson similarly felt.
- Smitten by the golf bug, he figured out on his own that sport was going to be the business of the future because people have considerable time on their hands and athletics were growing with immensely talented and entertaining players.
- In 1978, Simpson wrote a letter to McCormack jokingly saying he didn’t think the icon could grow his business without the 20-something – after a three-month trial, Simpson went full-time.
- He persevered to become a longtime executive with IMG where he managed business affairs for Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and other Tour players. In total, Simpson contributed to the careers of 17 major golf tournament winners.
- From his home office in London and frequently from IMG Center on 9th Street in Cleveland, he successfully connected hundreds of corporations with the PGA TOUR players he represented to endorse their brands.
Simpson’s life turned to philanthropy in 2008. That’s when he visited Headley Court rehabilitation center in the U.K. and saw a high number of injured young service members there. They were despondent about their lives.
“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Simpson, now 70 years young, said. “Why can’t I marry a love for golf with my ability to overcome a personal disability while paying homage my dad’s and uncle’s military careers?”
Two years later, On Course Foundation was born. In short, the organization uses golf to help wounded, injured and sick military veterans with their physical and mental recoveries, and harvest newfound confidence into careers in golf. Most “members” (it’s free to them) were first introduced to golf by On Course Foundation where they learned playing skills, overcoming lost limbs, mobility and mental acuity, and other physical and psychological debilitations.
Then there’s the organization’s Simpson Cup that pits 13-person teams from the U.S. and U.K. against one another in Ryder Cup-style matches with competitors amazingly sporting single-digit handicaps.
In addition to exposure to myriad facets involved in playing golf, On Course Foundation provides golf-business educational programs in 15 markets across America. It prepares and helps place members in full- and part-time jobs with the likes of Dormie Network, Golf Pride, Invited, Landscapes Unlimited, Marriott Golf, TaylorMade Golf, Topgolf Callaway Brands, TPC Network and Troon, as well as at golf courses, country clubs and resorts coast to coast. Simpson humbly submits the only complaints On Course Foundation receives from these employers is that its members work too hard.
“Our members have become good golfers and, with our organization’s help, have secured meaningful employment in the game,” says Simpson with utmost pride. “Many members went through extremely grim times, post-military, assimilating back into society. These turnarounds are amazing for everyone involved.”
There are nearly four million wounded American veterans and, horrifically, a staggering 22 of them commit suicide every day. It’s On Course Foundation’s goal to consistently get wounded veterans out of the house and focused on golf as a mental and physical rehabilitation tool. Enhancing family relationships and financial security are also common outcomes.
“It’s not just single-, double- and triple-amputees,” says Simpson. “Many don’t have physical wounds, but come out their military deployments with invisible hardships like anxiety, depression and all that come with post-traumatic stress disorder are prevalent beyond words.”
To think, Simpson changing and saving lives all started with a letter to the world’s foremost golf marketing icon in the heart of Cleveland.