David Frost's career is often overlooked, including his status as golf's original winemaker
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- It's a business cliché that in order to be successful, you need to be first, best or cheapest.
David Frost was first. In 1994 he bought a 300-acre vineyard in his home country of South Africa and got into the wine business with his brother, Michael.
A professional golfer in the wine business? It was unheard of back then. Frost was a forward-thinking pioneer, it turned out.
Many other pro golfers have followed in Frost's cabernet-flavored footsteps. In fact, it's almost gotten crowded, what with the likes of Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Mike Weir, Cristie Kerr, Retief Goosen and Luke Donald. Annika Sorenstam, Nick Faldo and the PGA Tour itself have taken brief stabs at the wine market, too.
Frost never minded the competition. He harbors no, well, grapes of wrath. He just likes wine.
"I think there's room for everybody," Frost said Thursday after he'd shot 64 and shared the lead with Doug Garwood and Joe Durant after the morning half of the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
"Wine is my passion," Frost said. "I can talk the wine. I understand the vineyards and the different wine regions of the world. It's a nice hobby for me. It's something I'd like to be able to do after golf -- entertain the wholesalers, do wine dinners at country clubs. That would be my goal."
It's not as if Frost ever needed a backup position for his day job. He was a very good player who had a very good career. He racked up 10 victories, including a few at respected courses such as Firestone, Westchester and Colonial. He may be best-known still for his win in New Orleans when he holed an unlikely shot from a bunker on the 72nd hole to snatch the win out of Norman's hands, adding to The Shark's reputation for being unlucky.
Frost was the kind of player you figured would win a major. He plodded along hitting fairways and greens, nothing flashy, and was a very good putter. It was the kind of game that seemed made for the U.S. Open, yet he never had a top-10 finish there. His best finish in a major was fifth in a Masters. He had a sixth and a couple of sevenths but he never quite reached that plateau where he was seriously in contention on the final nine on a regular basis. He was quiet, didn't draw a lot of attention and didn't have those annoying never-won-a-major stories written about him. He simply went about his job in workmanlike fashion and enjoyed a very good, very much better-than-average PGA Tour career. He also did well internationally, winning the Million Dollar Challenge, a South African-based off-season event, three times.
His foray into wine has been in a similar style. The wine business isn't cut-and-dried like the golf business, where you shoot the best score and you win. In wine, it's first about producing a good product, second about getting good distribution and third about being able to create sufficient volume.
Wine connoisseurs don't care about the last two, they just care about how the wine tastes. And Frost, 54, is probably classified more in that group.
"Greg Norman piggy-backed his brand with Beringer, which got him good distribution," Frost said. "I haven't had that kind of success. I haven't had the help I wanted, the big importer I was looking for. And I didn't have that kind of volume. Now I do."
He has formed a partnership with a South African businessman and Frost said he would like to get his wines -- see FrostWine.com -- into bigger stores such as Publix and Kroger, to name a few.
Unlike most of his fellow golfers-turned winemakers, Frost learned the business from the ground up. Ben Hogan's famous line about the secrets being in the dirt are true for wine, too, and Frost didn't just sell his name for marketing purposes (as some have), he learned the business from the ground up. He'd like to build a great business, and he has, but he really likes to create great wine.
"I was more of a boutique wine guy," Frost said. "I wanted to control the quality and understand what was going on, so my win hasn't been as commercially successful as some other guys. But I get good reviews. People are always commenting to me, I enjoy the wine. That in itself is satisfying to me."
Frost's great moments in golf include wins at great courses such as Colonial, Firestone and Westchester. His greatest moment in winemaking so far, he said, was a 2003 blend when he combined five different grapes -- cabernet, sauvignon merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec -- into a spicy French bourdeaux-style blend. "We got a good rating with Wine Spectator," Frost said, grinning. "It turned out well. I have saved about 10 cases of it for the day when it's all gone."
Someday, he said, he'd like to retire from golf and spend all of his time making wine. Of course, that day may still be a ways off. He's playing far too well to give up golf. He has won five times on the Champions Tour and he's contending this week in one of the tour's designated five major championships.
"I'm working hard on my golf," he said, having explained that a recent change in shafts ignited a return to his old form.
He laughed softly and joked, "I like to think my wine's better than my golf."
Let's drink to that, then.