Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confluence City goes PGA Tour, with sketchbook

It's not every day I wait for a shuttle van next to a sign advertising plans for homes starting a few K above a cool million. Welcome to the PGA tour.

The title sponsor for the PGA event my wife and I attended today was BMW. There was a lot of sponsoring and branding going on out there. I'm more often in the company of people who wear quirky band T-shirts; when a corporate brand is brandished, the presentation tends to be ironic, like the mayonaisse jar tattooed on my friend Ray Brewer's biceps.

Out on the PGA tour, the vibe is straight corporate, and people fly their brands proud, like their flags.

I brought a sketchbook, just in case. I've never been one for golf, as player or spectator, and sometimes, when I am in a corporate crowd, everyone is happiest if I keep my yap shut. I was prepared to shut up and draw.

But it turned out to be pretty cool. Karley and I saw Tony Thompson of Kwame Building Group walking into the event, and he took us under his strong black wing. Corporate America looks cut down to size, a little bit, in the company of a strong black entrepreneur.

The last person we saw out at Bellerive was Zelema Harris, the newish chancellor of the St. Louis Community College system, also African-American. I profiled Zelema on the front page of the St. Louis American when she was new to town and instantly adopted her. We have met her daughters; her granddaughter has kicked it with our kid. We've got a family thing going on.

I never expected a deep human connection in the VIP section of a PGA tour event. Talk about Confluence City!

Our host for the day was Dan Brungard, who is (as he joked) "vice president in charge of special projects, as needed" for McEagle. Dan and I clicked back when he drove me around NorthPark, the development McEagle is doing in partnership with Clayco, out near the airport. I did a story on their minority inclusion numbers at NorthPark, which are good, according to an independent consultant (and the evidence of my own eyes).

The McEagle hospitality tent at Bellerive faced one of the greens, but it was too crowded out on the deck to see anything live. So we munched off the snack tray and I sucked down two Michelobs and we watched the action on TV.

I had to admire one putt, by some young South American guy who looks like a male model. When he bent over to size up one putt, there was a whoosh sound outside on the deck; someone later came into the tent to report that was the sound of the women sizing up the South American guy's butt as he sized up his putt.

I now understand the male model guy is named Camilo Villegas and that he earned the first win of his PGA Tour career today. I'd say the PGA has found its mediagenic go-to guy for when Tiger decides he doesn't want to walk around golf courses every weekend anymore.

McEagle principal Paul McKee Jr. was in the house, or tent. He struck my wife as a down-to-earth guy. "He doesn't seem like any big, rich guy," my wife said. I agreed completely.

I met Paul when he presented to the St. Louis American editorial board regarding the land assemblage tax credit. That legislation and McKee's land holdings in North St. Louis have become hopelessly politicized, and this is not the place to get into all that. I will say Paul doesn't have any horns on his head, nor does he smell of brimstone.

The things he said about Winghaven in St. Charles County to Washington University Magazine in 2002 were exactly what he said to the St. Louis American about North St. Louis in 2007. There is a consistent philosophy of community and development there - and it does, indeed, deserve the honorific descriptor of "philosophy," whether or not one embraces it.

We arrived late in the day and had a child to retrieve from friends in North County, so we weren't long for the McEagle tent. Walking back toward the shuttle stop, we stopped at the green on the 9th hole, where a putt was in progress. I hurriedly made a crappy sketch, now posted on my MySpace page, just because.

The sketch of the signage for the absurdly pricey Bellerive development, I am sorry to say, is also from my shakey hand.

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