Building The Future Of Golf: Alexis Ohanian’s LAGC Joins in the Revival Project at Maggie Hathaway GC
Alexis Ohanian sounds a bit sheepish in admitting it, but he’s far from apologetic. The millionaire cofounder of Reddit and husband of tennis icon Serena Williams is 40 years old, and at the time of a Zoom interview with FORE Magazine in mid-December 2023, he’d never played a round of golf in his life. Ohanian said he had an outing coming up before the end of the year and admitted with a grin, “Our instructor says my six-year-old is still better than me. I’ve warned my buddy it’s not going to be good.”
The truth is that Ohanian — once counting himself firmly against and intimidated by golf’s old-school establishment — reveled in the fact that he was likely among the most well-known entrepreneurs in American business who didn’t play the game. Indeed, he wore it as a badge of honor, even as he was the sole non-golfer to serve on the board of Tiger Woods’ TGR Foundation. Given Woods’ standing in the game, Ohanian realizes how absurd that sounds.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and descended from grandparents who fled to the United States to escape the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s, Ohanian never had golf on his radar.
“I really felt like the sport wasn’t for me,” he recalled while sitting at a desk in his Florida home, surrounded by sports and entertainment memorabilia. “I grew up a middle-class white kid, and I realized when I started diving into the golf community that if I felt this way, then, my God, there must be a whole hell of a lot of people who do as well.”
By purpose and happenstance, that perception has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. First, a friend gifted Alexis and Serena’s daughter, Olympia, a set of clubs, and dad dutifully took her to the driving range as her “daddy caddie.” The girl took an instant liking to this ball-and-stick sport. “All right, I’ll give this a shot,” Ohanian said.
Then there was the path-changing call from Tiger, who asked Ohanian if he’d be interested in investing in a new high-tech televised golf league dubbed TGL. It would include many of the best golfers in the world playing on massive simulators in a packed arena. Providing the financial seeds for promising tech startups is Ohanian’s passion now, but something in golf?
“Of course I was going to take his pitch, but I was skeptical,” Ohanian said. “I took the pitch, and I was smitten by it — this idea of bringing golf to a much larger community and creating a nice, fan-friendly environment for a couple of hours … the players are mic’d, it’s action-packed. It felt more like the NFL or NBA courtside experience that I know and love.”
It’s Ohanian’s nature to go all in once his enthusiasm is stoked, and he, along with the Williams sisters and former Reddit executive Neal Hubman, prevailed in a competitive bidding process that made them the first owners in TGL with the founding of Los Angeles Golf Club (LAGC), one of six teams that will play in the league’s inaugural season in 2025. (TGL was set to start in early 2024, but a mishap with the domed venue forced the league to push the launch back a year.)
Ultimately, the impact of Ohanian’s involvement stands to go well beyond nighttime televised golf in the winter. As the lead investor of the popular Angel City FC (ACFC) women’s pro soccer team in Los Angeles, Ohanian and partners such as actress Natalie Portman committed to invest 10 percent of the club’s revenue back into the community, and in September 2023, ACFC announced that since 2021 it had distributed more than one million meals to 66,000 people with its partner DoorDash.
For golf, LAGC wanted to make the same commitment of 10 percent of its revenue from TGL, but the feeling was that it had to be more specific to the needs of inner-city kids and potential golfers who had few places to learn and play the game. Ohanian and Serena Williams are strong advocates in all corners of social justice, and it was Ohanian who resigned from the Reddit board in 2020, successfully fulfilling his desire to have a person of color replace him. In other words, access and equality matter deeply to the couple.
That’s where a confluence of inspiration and good fortune met. Enter PGA Tour star Collin Morikawa, the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation and the Maggie Hathaway GC, a county facility in south Los Angeles. Morikawa, an L.A. native, enthusiastically signed up to be the honorary chairman of the SCGA and The Los Angeles Country Club’s Community Legacy campaign leading up to the 2023 U.S. Open. The goal is to raise $15 million for a full rejuvenation of the nine-hole, par-3 Hathaway facility and fund long-term impactful youth development programming. The course overhaul will be led by renowned architect Gil Hanse.
“When it comes down to it, it’s just really seeing how golf will progress in Los Angeles,” Morikawa said during the campaign. “We’re a city of millions of people with not a lot of space, but that doesn’t mean that nine-hole or short courses can’t be the home of the future of golf, which is our juniors.”
As it happened, Morikawa also was the first player signed by LAGC (L.A. native Sahith Theegala was the second), and the two-time major winner and his agent, Andrew Kipper, were so enamored with the Hathaway project that they encouraged Ohanian to take a look at throwing support to it.
Understand, the Maggie Hathaway course is only a 15-minute drive from where Serena and Venus Williams grew up in Compton. And between that and little Olympia getting involved in golf, the project seemingly had Ohanian at “hello.”
“It’s great to do a million meals with DoorDash, but this came to be something that has a very clear message,” Ohanian said. “Maggie Hathaway is part of the L.A. golf community, and the better the facility gets and the better the resources are, we can draw a clean line that in 15 to 20 years, there will be more people, more Angelenos, who will have a golf story that starts at Maggie Hathaway.
“That through-line gets me so excited,” he added. “That is the storytelling that really shows this long-term investment and commitment, not only to the sport of golf, but to real Angelenos. It’s creating more space and opportunities, which is a ladder into more things. It’s the perfect union.”
To say the SCGA is thrilled with the partnership would be a massive understatement. Executive Director of the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation, Kevin Gigax, lauded the commitment of Morikawa, who in turn sparked the interest by Ohanian, Hubman and Kayla Green, a global marketer who worked on the launch of Angel City and now LAGC. Gigax recalled with a laugh that the group had lunch, and the next day Green spent three hours at the SCGA office diving into the project.
“The commitment has been second to none,” Gigax said. “Our value in developing golfers and having a big impact on kids, it’s a deep investment. You don’t just do this in a few hours. If you want to change a kid’s life, you have to keep showing up day after day. What Kayla and Neal heard from us and how deeply committed we are, it made them say ‘we want to do this.’”
With the SCGA, LACC, Los Angeles County government, American Golf, Western States Golf Association and now LAGC working together, the goal is to break ground on the Maggie Hathaway project by the second half of 2024. All of the parties are critical, but it sure doesn’t hurt that LAGC is going to give the SCGA street cred it’s probably never had.
“Our biggest weakness is that nobody knows about the work we do,” Gigax said of the SCGA Junior Golf Foundation’s mission. “And as powerful as the dollars [from LAGC] are going to be, getting our voice out there is maybe bigger. I’m optimistic that the brand awareness and ‘cool factor’ in the game of golf will come through to inspire more kids to play and more people to get involved.”