The billionaire Bob Parsons carries a big stick, but he isn’t a walk softly kind of guy.
As the founder of GoDaddy, the online domain-name giant, Parsons has a knack for attracting attention, a skill he demonstrated widely in 2005 with the first installation of his company’s risque Super Bowl ads.
In 2011, Parsons, an ex-Marine, went from irking Puritans to angering PETA (and many others) when he shot and killed an elephant in Zimbabwe, then spread word of his feat in a graphic video. While Parsons pegged the hunt as a humanitarian expedition, some observers sensed less altruistic motives; the video, after all, contained a plug for GoDaddy and was partly set to an AC/DC tune.
In more recent years, Parsons, 63, has struck a slightly lower profile (his company’s Super Bowl spots this year, starring Danica Patrick, were practically G-rated by GoDaddy standards).
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t still make news.
Witness the stories in the press of late surrounding Parson’s purchase of a private golf club in Scottsdale, Ariz., a high-end retreat with a pint-sized membership and a well-regarded Jay Moorish design.
Before the deal went through last fall, the club, which opened in 2003, was called Scottsdale Golf Club. Parsons renamed it Scottsdale National.
And he made it clear that other alterations were in store.
In a December letter to the club’s 170-some-odd members posted online by GeoffShackelford.com, Parsons outlined a $35 million redevelopment plan, including a proposed overhaul of the course and clubhouse, and he pledged a slate of policy changes to help pay for the upgrades.
“Currently our members who use the club the most support the club the least,” he wrote. “In fact, many members who are at the club each and every day spend nothing and do not support the club at all. This will not continue.”
True to his promise, Parsons placed a $100 service fee on members for every day they played the course. He raised guest fees from $100 to $200. He also limited to 30 the number of rounds members could play per year without bringing a guest.
Parsons’ goal, he wrote, was “to balance the scales here, so that members support the club in proportion to the degree in which they use it.”
Parsons made no bones about it. He knew some members would be unhappy, “particularly those who play the course the most and spend the least.” And so, in compensation, he offered a full refund on initiation fees, which ranged from $25,000 to $110,000.
Sixty-five members took him up on his offer.
In public, at least, there wasn’t much complaining.
But then, shortly after accepting those resignations, Parsons announced that he was lowering fees for the club’s remaining 109 members and retracting the limit on number of rounds per year.
That turn-about enraged some who felt that Parsons had pulled a bait-and-switch.
“The way he came in here and did this underhandedly,” Rob Seymour, a former member, told the Arizona Republic. “He promised one thing and did something else.”
Before resigning, Seymour played roughly 70 rounds a year, the paper reported.
An attempt to reach Parsons drew a polite rebuff from a representative at Scottsdale National, who said that Parsons was unavailable for comment.
But as some see it, his actions speak loudly enough.
“This is speculation,” said one former member, who spoke with the understanding that his name not be used. “But it all has the whiff of a guy who really wanted to join Augusta but wasn’t able to get in, so he’s trying to create his own Augusta out here.”
It’s not just Parson’s appropriation of the “National” label, the former member said. The Augustan aspirations come through in his plans, which call, among other things, for the construction of a par-3 course, a new manned guard house at the entrance, and, as Parson’s put it in his letter, “an incredibly exclusive national golf club,” its membership given over largely to out-of-staters who bring guests when they play.
Pending city approval, Parsons wrote that he hoped to start the overhaul this summer, at which point the club would shut down for six months.
“I will be very selective with regard to who I invite to be members,” he added.
Rich and powerful people, without a doubt. But as long as they’re in Scottsdale, you won’t have to ask who’s their GoDaddy. Parsons has made that very clear.