The most powerful woman in golf is sitting at a table in the
dining room at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.,
choosing between the seared salmon and the grilled chicken, when
a man in a dark suit interrupts. He is an executive from
PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Just wanted to come over and say
thanks," he says, extending a hand. "Good job. Can't wait to do
Donna Orender jumps from her chair, grabs the man's hand and
flashes a wide smile. As the PGA Tour's senior vice president of
television, productions and new media, the 42-year-old Orender
sees to it that the Tour's sponsors are happy. "Wow, this is
exciting," she says. "I'm thrilled. [The Fall Finish] worked out
great, didn't it?"
Neither Orender nor the man from PricewaterhouseCoopers mentions
Tiger Woods, who only days before had criticized the Tour for
allowing PricewaterhouseCoopers to use his image in ads
congratulating him on winning the Fall Finish, a Tour-conceived
promotion. (Woods is reportedly paid $6 million a year to endorse
a competing financial-services company, American Express.) After
the executive has left, Orender is asked about the dispute. The
smile vanishes. No comment. It is not her job to add to the
unhappiness of the Tour's most prominent player.
In her 11 years at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach,
Orender's role has grown exponentially. In 1989 she produced
Inside the PGA Tour, a half-hour highlights show. Today she heads
a multimedia department of about 100 people, the third-largest
production staff in sports, after those of NFL Films and NBA
Entertainment. Orender brokered the deal that guarantees the
Senior tour 198 hours of airtime on CNBC for the next four years,
sold packaged programs to 150 countries, brought golf to radio
and outlined the Tour's Internet partnership with GolfWeb. In
1997 she negotiated the Tour's four-year, $400 million TV
contract with the networks, the deal--a 100% increase over the
Tour's previous agreement--that established her as a major player
in golf. This spring Orender will be the person the Tour will
entrust to bring in even greater riches as talks begin on a new
TV contract, one that goes into effect in 2003 and might be worth
in excess of $500 million.
December 4, 2000
Among colleagues Orender is lauded for her high energy level.
Adversaries are less polite. "They don't call her Madonna for
nothing," says one longtime network employee. However, no one
denies that she has helped push the Tour into the spotlight. When
the Tour began negotiating TV contracts in the mid-1970s, the
networks had all the leverage. The power shifted in the '90s,
when the Tour began heavily promoting its brand. Former
commissioner Deane Beman credits Orender for that push. Says Sean
McManus, the president of CBS Sports, who will sit across the
table from Orender this spring, "She's very tough and effective,
but a fair negotiator. Her persona is well suited toward being
friends one moment and being cutthroat the next."
Such praise makes Orender nervous. She prefers to share the
credit and is quick to stress the support she receives from her
husband, Morgan Guy (M.G.) Orender, the president of Hampton
Golf, Inc., who was recently elected vice president of the PGA of
America. There is, however, no mistaking who is the majority
partner in this relationship. "Donna's the president," says the
6'3", 320-pound M.G. "I'm the greatest corporate spouse on the
He says that by the time Donna walks through the front door of
their Jacksonville Beach home--still doing business on her cell
phone--he has fed their three-year-old twin sons, Jacob and
Zachary, put them to bed and has dinner waiting.
Golf was not always a passion for Orender. Her father, the
president of an industrial-coating company, and mother, an art
broker, had three daughters. Donna was the oldest. She grew up in
suburban New York City playing stickball with the neighborhood
boys, rooting for the Knicks and the Mets, and worshiping Phil
Orender showed her business savvy early on. After graduating in
1979 with a degree in psychology from Queens College, where she
was a 5'7" point guard on the basketball team, she was drafted by
the New York Stars of the now defunct Women's Pro Basketball
League. Only 21, she showed up for a meeting with the team's
owner with a lawyer friend and negotiated the second-highest
contract on the team. "I would have been the highest-paid player,
but the team really needed a center," she says proudly. Three
years and two trades later, the league folded and Orender took a
job as a production assistant for ABC Sports. After a stint at
Sports Channel and two years of running her own marketing company
(Primo Donna Productions), she took over Inside the PGA Tour.
Despite a limited knowledge of the game--it took her 100 hours to
edit and produce her first show--Orender quickly made her mark.
"She's an inventive thinker," says Terry Jastrow, president of
Gaylord Event Television, which produces eight events sanctioned
by the Tour. "She was always thinking outside of the box, which
is what propelled her along."
That a woman from New York who never even played the game until
her late 20s (she's now a 20 handicapper) has reached such a
lofty level speaks more to Orender's ability than to any
overarching trends in the sport. "The golf culture is a different
type of business," says Michael O'Connell, who joined PGA Tour
Productions in 1991. "You've got a bunch of blue-coat types. It's
a men's club, and here comes this powerful, New York Jewish woman
telling them what to do. She has had to fight harder than anybody
else." Pointing to the $1.5 million studio the Tour built in '97,
he says, "A lot of Donna's will made this possible."
That will is part of Tour lore. In May 1997 Orender, Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem and Ed Moorhouse, the Tour's chief legal
officer, met with network execs in New York City to close the
biggest TV deal in golf history. Orender, 8 1/2 months pregnant,
sat on Finchem's right in a reclining chair brought in specially
for her. Before the three-day negotiations began, Finchem leaned
over and said, "Gee, Donna, shouldn't you be at a hospital or
"I'm not going anywhere," she said. M.G. made sure a doctor was
on call because, he says, "she would have had the kids right
there on the conference table if they hadn't gotten the deal
Back at Tour headquarters, lunch is over and Orender is back in
her office. She's upbeat, going on about the "tremendous buzz and
healthy state of the game." In the span of 10 minutes she shoots
an e-mail to an executive at ESPN, requests an oral report from
one of her employees and plans a trip to Buenos Aires for the
upcoming World Cup. "You need Rollerblades to keep up with her,"
says one Tour official.
A moment later she's up and out of the office chasing Finchem,
and another project, down the hallway.
Most golf insiders agree that Donna Orender is the most powerful
woman in the game. Here are the next nine most influential women
in golf, including Nancy Lopez (above).
2. Judy Rankin, ABC Sports commentator. An LPGA Hall of Famer
critically acclaimed for her television work, she captained two
victorious U.S. Solheim Cup teams and is trusted by all in the
3. Mary Lou Bohn, vice president of advertising and
communications for Titleist and Cobra. A seven handicapper from a
golfing family, she directs the largest advertising budget in the
4. Alice Dye, course architect. An Indiana Amateur champion
(seven times) like her husband, Pete, she was the first woman to
join the American Society of Golf Course Architects, in 1982.
5. Kendra Beard Graham, USGA director of women's competition. She
oversees eight USGA championships, including the U.S. Women's
Open and the Women's Amateur. A rules aficionada, she also
officiates at the Masters and the British Open.
6. Crystal Fricker, president of Pure-Seed Testing, Inc. A plant
breeder, her grass-seed company in Canby, Ore., serves as the
golf industry's leading biotech research facility.
7. Nancy Lopez, LPGA member. Often called the Arnold Palmer of
women's golf, the Hall of Famer remains, at 43, one of the most
popular players in the game.
8. Peggy Kirk Bell, teaching pro. A former LPGA player, she owns
Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., host of
the 1996 and 2001 U.S. Women's Opens.
9. Jan Beljan, course architect. A senior associate at Fazio Golf
Course Designers, she assisted on the design of more than 30
courses, including the PGA Golf Club at the Reserve in Port St.
Lucie, Fla., and PGA National in West Palm Beach.
10. Judy Bell, former USGA president. The first woman on the
powerful executive committee, she now serves on the $50 million
For the Good of the Game grants committee.