Inspired by the ongoing trend in global entrepreneurship, our team had the fortunate opportunity to meet Mac Todd and capture his journey on how he started UGP to train golfers to become better. Todd brings a holistic approach and his ethos speaks volumes on what he’s done to transform the facility. UGP has expanded and opened their 2nd location in Orange County with a new monthly membership program. They are taking golfing to new heights. We asked Mac to share his story.
Enter Mac Todd:
“UGP started with the intention of developing golfers in a more interesting, entertaining and dynamic way. It all started with my background in the game of golf and what my experience was like in my life. It’s not just what golf was but it was also about the life that I was raised with. My dad is a public health doctor. He has clinics with radiologists, public health doctors, pediatricians, administrators and nurses. Patients go through a dynamic experience where if they want to get a visa, they have to go through different facets. It was really interesting growing up and watching the public health process of immigrants getting visas and how that works, seeing and working with different kinds of doctors from different departments.
They have hundreds of applicants a day, and you’d see these different families with different experiences when you watch their stories. That’s what a lot of it ended up boiling down to; what’s the doctor’s story and what’s the patient’s story. They try to provide the best patient experience even with all this complexity, turning that into concrete material that would be shared with the government where they handle the rest of the visa process legally. It was an interesting family business. I grew up running around in the office, seeing my dad go in public to speak in different developing countries about how we were doing it here with the US and Mexico relationship, which is one of the most transited borders in the world, and how that could then translate to how public health operates in countries like Africa or the Middle East. Seeing that was probably one of the biggest experiences for me.
My mom is an artist, and she was a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur when she was 19 or 20. She sold her restaurant when my parents got together and moved for my father to go to medical school. At that time she was 21, she had started and sold a restaurant. She’s an iron welder and sculptor. Snacks while watching TV were not like Cheez-its. She’d like to throw down and we’d have an experience watching TV; we’d have an experience having dinner. There was always music playing with a vibe in the house. It was interesting growing up on an acre next to the Rio Grande, walking along seeing all the different kinds of plants, learning a lot about ecosystems as a kid. That’s the kind of talk I had as a kid. If you don’t have anything interesting to say, don’t even speak. I would come home from school complaining, and she’d say “tell me a good story, I don’t want to hear your complaining.” It was interesting having that experience.
With my father and mother, that synergy, growing up on the border, seeing different cultures, dealing with immense poverty on the border then immense wealth is like LA in El Paso/Juarez. There are two to three million people on the Juarez side and there are a million people on the El Paso, Texas side. Seeing those cultures in that interchange, that diversity and disparity in wealth were really interesting. It’s melded into this concept where it’s not necessarily just about golf. Like most successful businesses, there’s a much bigger human identity behind it all. I think that’s why people have adopted the culture and that’s why Blake Mycoskie (founder of Toms Shoes) invested. He felt that it was an identity worth cultivating and it has a personality and an essence in the brand itself. That’s really the core and the foundation.
At 16, I went to IMG Academy in Florida and trained with some of the best instructors and trainers in the world. The David Leadbetter Academy, he was my instructor that I worked with. There’s Gary Gilchrist who at the time, was working with Michael Campbell who had just won the US Open. So I was working with a guy who was training major champions and I also had junior golfers around me at IMG that were winning some of the best tournaments in golf and going to the best universities.
I felt like I needed to go there when I was 16 because in El Paso I felt limited. But looking back on the experience, I didn’t realize what I had back in El Paso, which was a community of mentors- a very organic experience in getting good at golf. Bubba Watson from Baghdad, Florida; Tiger Woods is from Cypress, California. These are small places that made them successful. Tiger was surrounded by these military guys, and his dad surrounded him with some good instructors that knew the game and the real essence of it. It wasn’t formulated. It wasn’t ultra-scientific but he had the community of mentors that taught him more than just the game, and that’s what I had from these guys in El Paso. My mentors played on tours and knew the game. They were men of faith too, so they taught you about how golf relates to your life and your growth as a young man. That’s really what builds champions. We all build our own swing identity as long as we’re trying to get physically fit; we’re trying to build our hand-eye coordination; we’re trying to build our resilience and our efficiency on the golf course.
It’s going to come out of wanting it and not of being motivated to do it. So I had that exposure and I went to Leadbetter to go find this more scientific process because that’s was in vogue in the early 2000s. I had the means with my dad’s cash to do that. So I went to IMG and I was already a really good player. I was being looked at by some schools already at 16. I went to IMG with the intention of leveling up and committing more fully to it. Maria Sharapova was in my chemistry class there. The US soccer team trains there and since then, IMG’s grown a lot. Being surrounded by elite athletes and elite sports performance, I thought that’s what I needed to do.
When I got there, the community of mentors went away. You were around a system of approach that was a business. In El Paso, they weren’t looking at me as a business but as a kid from the community that they needed to cultivate. I was just a number and it was tough. I lost my passion for golf. They were technical on my golf swing. They were running a method, not an experience. In order to play college golf, you have to hit a high fade. I grew up in West Texas where hitting low draws was very comfortable for me. The next thing you know, I’m doing all this mirror work and being super technical with my golf swing.
I have all this self-doubt, and my passion for the game started to dissipate. I was there for a year and I didn’t know if I wanted to play golf anymore so I moved back to El Paso. Back in El Paso all my friends that I grew up playing golf with were like “you’re really talented, we want to have you on the team, you need to start playing again.” Then I fell in love with it again back there. I started practicing to build myself up again and I ended up walking on to the University of Colorado at Boulder. And a lot of the damage was done at Ledbetter and every time when golf got serious it would instigate that feeling of like “this is working, it’s not fun.”
In college, I played for two different teams, but I got the D1 college experience. In all of this process of bouncing around in high school golf, going to IMG, coming back and playing high school golf, then going to Colorado, then going to the University of Texas El Paso, that process of bouncing and never being on a team as talented as I was at golf made me really want a team. I think the feeling of loneliness in the game and wanting a team and seeing the experiences that I had growing up and what it really takes to get good at golf, then going through the uninspirational experience at IMG — all that stuff with how I grew up in my parents old background led to what this [UGP] is, more or less.
That’s really the foundation and the essence behind the company and why it exists. I wanted to provide a different experience to the consumer that wasn’t in the marketplace, something that was like how I grew up learning the game but then using all the modern technology, taking some of the stuff from IMG, taking some of the stuff from my mom’s vibe and putting it into the place. You can feel it when you’re here. Cultivating that and learning, studying where it’s headed. I got my degree in psychology and neurobiology. For me, to study brain science and how people learn, think and grow that’s really what it’s about. It’s not so much what your swing looks like because every golf swing is different – everybody is different. It’s really about how people process information and how they grow. How do they handle adversity? How do they handle injury? How do they handle success? How do they handle failure? How do you cultivate intrinsic motivation? How do you then leverage that for performance growth or performance enhancement?
That’s when golf performance is at the best level. As far as the actual inception of the company, it comes down to just survival. When it came down to me getting the concept off the ground, I had a lot of ideas as a kid through college golf. After college, I got admitted to medical school and I didn’t go. I was waiting and playing a little professional golf. In my early 20’s, I was just lost. I got with this girl who had a lot of things going on in her life. She had some family stuff going on but we fell in love and I took on the responsibility of us and that’s when shit got real. I started to take things more seriously. I wasn’t waiting: should I be a golfer or should I be a doctor?
I told myself, “dude you’re broke.” You got a girl that you love; you want to have a family; you need to put this all together now, and I started to put it all together little by little. I mean literally being on welfare with her being pregnant. We were on social assistance just for medical bills for her pregnancy. I was working a hundred hours a week and she was finishing school. Every dollar I had if she didn’t know this, I was spending on education. I was getting my certifications and all the different things I needed to be an elite golf professional, not a good player because it’s different. I kind of leveraged my university education in psychology with a bunch of certifications within the industry and then started cultivating experiences as a technical instructor.
Then I found some holes and some openings and was able to then start my business with less than 50 grand inside of someone else’s operation. I tried to partner with them which didn’t work out. So I leased some old scrappy space on Sepulveda, transformed it dollar by dollar and every time we got money, we reinvested it. That went on for four years. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Tom’s Shoes, came in as a customer and he said: “this place is sweet I love it.” He met me after being here for two months. He loved the owner mentality of everybody who was here, which was cultivated through this story. Then he was like “hey man let me mentor you. I’d love to meet you at my office at Tom’s and we’ll talk.” So I went down to go meet him and it was like a Shark Tank meeting. I thought it was going to be like a mentorship session but ended up being an investment meeting. At the end of it, he was like “I like the way you think. Let’s make something work.”
I didn’t know I was going to get an investment, but we worked out a deal. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my professional career – doing a deal with someone like that. It felt very aggressive and very much like a private equity firm investing because he didn’t do the work. He brought his team in to do it. Then after three or four months of dealing with that, I was exhausted, burnt out, but the deal was done, and I felt like I kind of lost a piece of myself. He said let’s go grab some coffee. Then he sent me down and said “I just want you to know that all of my investment, all future profits are going to go to The First Tee, which is a nonprofit organization that teaches golf in inner cities and teaches kids core values that would otherwise not have those mentors and that mentorship community.
Nearly 40% of all of our profits are going to go to The First Tee. I knew the gravity of that. I understood what The First Tee is, what it does for kids and the number of people that it impacts. We all started crying. He then gave me a hug and said: “this is one of the top two entrepreneurial moments of my life.” Coming from someone who’s built companies like he has and has had the giving trips he’s had putting shoes on over ten million kids. I realized the gravity of that and for the last year since he invested and as we’ve figured out our next steps expanding into more markets, I feel that weight and that pressure. It’s like “every day’s day one” like Jeff Bezos says. That’s kind of the way that I feel. I’m not really complacent or apathetic. I don’t feel like I made it. Every morning I wake up I feel like it’s going to fall apart and because of that, it just continues to fortify and get stronger.
I think that I would have to look at the investment much differently. We’re fighting over one percent, two percent of the company, so I think he wanted to give me that experience of “you know this is what it’s like to get an investment.” But I think that if it would’ve been like “here’s this money, you’ve done a great job, congratulations, it’s one of The First Tees,” I don’t know if I would have had the same sentiment going into the investment as I did when it felt very much like Shark Tank. I thought he was a nice guy and he just wanted to see my true character. I think that if he would have been like “here I’m doing this for The First Tee,” it would’ve felt soft and loving and just warm and open and trusting. I think for it to feel sort of impersonal, he got to see my true colors. He saw me getting upset; he saw me getting defensive, and he saw me fighting for what I’ve built. I think I wouldn’t have fought as hard if he would have told me that it was going towards The First Tee. I would have probably given more equity away and he would have gotten a much better deal for himself. That just says a lot about the kind of businessman that he is. He’s a pretty awesome guy.”
All photos are courtesy of UGP.