SouthPark sit-down: Adam Sperling

Cuisine People Sports

April 30, 2024

Headshot of Adam Sperling

Settling down in a southern state of mind: Quail Hollow Club’s director of golf bets on Charlotte.

by Natalie Dick | photographs by Richard Israel

It’s a brisk pre-spring morning when Adam Sperling and I meet at Rhino Market & Deli to catch up over breakfast. A little over a year into his new gig as Quail Hollow Club’s director of professional golf, Sperling spent the previous five years planning and promoting the 2022 Presidents Cup. It took a bit of convincing to get him to share his story. While his job requires networking with big-time athletes, corporate sponsors and community leaders, Sperling prefers to be more low-key in his personal life. 

“I love this place,” Sperling tells me as we discuss Rhino’s eclectic vibe. “You look around and there are so many different types of people, the menu has great diversity in offerings — it’s like a reflection of Charlotte.” His analysis is fitting and ironic. When I was considering who to interview this month, Sperling quickly came to mind for much the same reason. A relatively recent transplant, he is the epitome of today’s Charlottean. A great job opportunity brought Sperling and his family here; the qualities that make Charlotte, Charlotte, convinced them to stay. 

An unexpected path

Originally from a small town in upstate New York, Sperling graduated from Ithaca College with a sports management degree. An avid baseball fan, he dreamed of working for the Yankees, but a college internship led him down a different path. 

“I had to have an internship to graduate, and the PGA Championship was coming through Rochester. It was an internship that paid, which was great for a college kid. I had played baseball growing up and didn’t even own clubs,” he says. “I’m fortunate playing golf was never part of any interview process!”

Before he knew it, Sperling was hooked on the adrenaline that planning and managing professional golf tournaments brings. His tenacious work ethic combined with keen people skills led to a career jump from operations manager for the PGA Tour to operations director of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, where he oversaw plans for both the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Walmart First Tee Open (now the PURE Insurance Championship). In 2009, he moved to Las Vegas to lead the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, where he remained for nearly nine years.  

“Golf tournaments provide this blank canvas — it’s this portrait that the people who are a part of it get to paint,” Sperling says. “I fell in love with the opportunity to create with a bunch of important constituencies and develop a product collectively. I enjoy working with a lot of different people, and I just wanted more and more responsibility.” 

Sperling admits he’s not a very patient person. “When challenges become harder to identify, I get restless and find myself searching for more. I need something big to go after. I’m not one to settle into a typical daily routine.” 

Career goals realized

That was the case in 2018, when his wife, Erin, encouraged him to accept the role as executive director of the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Club. He’d contemplated leaving the pro golf industry and settling down in the San Francisco Bay area but then changed his mind. 

“It was what I spent my whole career pursuing. I thought, if you’re going to say ‘no,’ after 15 years, to the Presidents Cup — at Quail Hollow, in Charlotte — then why did you get in the industry to begin with?” he asks with a wry smile. 

Sperling hit the ground running, immersing himself in all things Charlotte. While he was familiar with Quail Hollow’s stellar reputation in the golf world as host of the Wells Fargo Championship and the 2017 PGA Championship, he wanted to understand the people and the needs of the community. What Sperling didn’t expect was the generosity and warm embrace he, his wife and their children would receive in return, and so quickly.  

“I have never been somewhere so welcoming. The first week or so in our new home, one neighbor brought a bird feeder, another a bottle of wine, and another homemade barbecue. The community here is really special. It’s true southern hospitality.” 

He found that same level of support from business and civic leaders who were dedicated to making the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow the most successful yet, even after the pandemic pushed it back a year.

“The ‘can-do spirit’ you hear talked about here is real,” Sperling says. The extra 365 days provided more time to strategize and coordinate with local businesses, vendors and partners. The results of the six-day event in September 2022 were staggering, with some 200,000 fans attending and previous ticket, hospitality and sponsorship sales records smashed. Charlotte was front and center on the international stage, while the event raised $2 million benefiting dozens of nonprofit organizations, most of them Charlotte-based.  

“The team and the community took advantage of that extra time. The stars were all aligned,” Sperling explains. “Had it been anywhere else at any other time, I don’t know that it would have been what it was. 

“Community is at the core of golf [tournaments] — it is purpose-driven,” he continues. “The Tour started many years ago with civic-minded leaders, and the same is true of golf in Charlotte. It’s not just about the leaderboard. It’s about what is given back to the community that is so important, that [many find] so fulfilling.”

Welcome home

Sperling is a self-described planner, so it came as somewhat of a surprise when he found himself settling down for good in Charlotte rather than moving on to Chicago, where the next U.S.-hosted Presidents Cup will be held in 2026. Looking back, he says subtle signs were there. 

“The girls were loving school. They had friends. We got so lucky with our neighborhood! We had built a life here.” They’d even begun to adopt southern traits like saying “y’all” and developed an affinity for grits and eastern North Carolina barbecue.

“It was a moment of internal honesty. I had been in the industry for 20 years and asked myself, what’s important for the next 20 years? It’s about what matters most: your family, and where and what kind of life you want for them. We decided to focus on the life we’ve built here rather than the industry, the circuit.”

While Sperling no longer works directly for the PGA Tour, golf is still very much a part of his life, and the PGA remains a central part of his new job. His position was created by Quail Hollow to continue to grow the club’s presence in the professional golf world. That includes working with the PGA of America to prepare for the 2025 PGA Championship in Charlotte and this month’s Wells Fargo Championship.  

“It marks spring in Charlotte. It’s a tradition,” Sperling says of the Wells Fargo Championship, which has an uncertain future when this year’s tournament ends on May 12. “We in Charlotte have been incredibly fortunate to have had consistency in the title sponsor for over 20 years. That’s not typical,” he says. But the event can continue to be a tradition, he assures me. “Not everything is player-related these days,” Sperling says, referencing the fan experience, partnerships and nonprofit aspect of the Quail Hollow tournament. “Those things won’t change. Those things are present no matter who’s playing or what they’re playing for.” 

At press time, there are rumblings that a potential new title deal is in the works. Let’s hope that’s true. I know Sperling can’t say much publicly about what’s going on behind the scenes, but he makes it clear he’s confident, even bullish, on the future of professional golf at Quail Hollow. 

“If you take the unknown and layer that with the evolving landscape of golf, that begs the question of what’s next? If you are going to bet on a city, are you betting on Charlotte? Absolutely. Are you going to bet on Quail Hollow? Absolutely. 

“Quail Hollow is a special place. There are courses in the U.S. that are as good as Quail for hosting a professional golf event — not many, but there are some. And there are cities out there that are as passionate about supporting golf as Charlotte — not many, but there are some. I don’t know any that put the club and the city together like Quail Hollow and Charlotte. It’s right at the top, and that’s a testament to everybody in Charlotte, the Carolinas and the club.”  SP

WATCH: Sperling shares how Quail Hollow’s motto, “Good to better, better to best,” aligns with his personal brand, and elaborates on why Oregon’s Bandon Dunes may be his most comfortable spot to play “bad” golf.

WATCH: Adam Sperling interview


Comments have been edited for length.

Favorite course other than Quail Hollow: It’s well established that I’m not a good golfer. I’ve been to Bandon Dunes in Oregon several times. It’s one place where I can have a great day on the course while playing horrible golf. 

Handicap: Mostly my mental state on the course. That’s No. 1. No. 2 is that I swing too hard. I play so infrequently that I like to say I probably have the highest vanity handicap in the golf industry.  

Favorite quote:  [Quail Hollow Club President] Johnny Harris shared one that really resonates. It was told to him by Arnold Palmer: “Greatness is always under construction.” 

Biggest influence: I grew up watching my great-grandfather, grandfather and dad work hard to provide for their families while also serving their communities. My grandfather used to say, “Autograph your work with quality, because every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it.” 

Most frequented SouthPark spot: As a family, probably SouthPark Mall. I have three girls aged 12, 10 and 7. We were there recently for a double ear-piercing — and I can find my way to Sephora with my eyes closed!


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