As co-head of mergers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the world's leading acquisitions advisor, David Baum had a coveted Wall Street job. Now he's trying to become a role model for escaping the endless hours by making a go of it as a golf reviewer.
He used the several million dollars he says he received from Goldman's 1999 initial public offering to quit in 2003 and to buy and combine last year two newsletters, the Golf Insider and the monthly Golf Odyssey.
Baum is keeping the Golf Odyssey title and redesigning the eight-page publication that reviews the world's best golf courses and resorts. He's counting on former Wall Street contacts to help increase subscriptions beyond 1,500 to turn a profit, and he says he will accept no advertising to avoid becoming beholden to the industry.
"Right now, I'm burning through the cash," said Baum, 41, who spent 17 years at New York-based Goldman. "We certainly have visions to make money at some point. I have an extensive Rolodex."
Subscribers include Julian Robertson, who built New York-based Tiger Management into the world's largest hedge fund in the 1990s; Chairman George Needham of investment banking firm Needham & Co. in New York; and David Katz, a partner at New York law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
Robertson, who spends the North American winter traversing fairways in New Zealand, said he had used the publication to plan excursions to countries such as Ireland.
"If you're going to take a golf trip, they really tell you how to do it," said Robertson, 73, who has an 18 handicap. "You know how much it's going to cost you and what kind of service you're going to get."
Baum, who produces the newsletter with four employees near his house in Short Hills, N.J., is trying to persuade companies and money managers to give the $98 annual subscriptions as corporate gifts. He said an automaker that he declined to name had agreed to provide the newsletter to clients at the 2006 U.S. Open. The subscription is less than the maximum $100 the NASD, formerly the National Assn. of Securities Dealers, allows for corporate gifts.
Although Robertson praises the content, he is skeptical of Baum's plans to increase the publication's subscription base by relying on contacts.
"I don't see how one person could know enough people to make it successful," Robertson said. "In the real world, it takes more than your acquaintances."
At $98 each, Baum's 1,500 subscriptions work out to $147,000 a year in revenue. As Golf Odyssey attempts to expand, Baum may face challenges meeting circulation demands without advertising, said Dave Seanor, editor of Golfweek magazine in Orlando, Fla., a 160,000-circulation publication that charges $59.40 for 45 issues a year -- representing $9.5 million annually. Golfweek accepts advertising.
Baum, a native of Columbus, Ohio, received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Indiana University in 1986.
Starting at Goldman as an investment banking analyst, Baum became managing director in 1996 and became a partner at 34 in 1998. In 2002, he advised satellite maker TRW Inc. on a $10.7-billion takeover by Century City-based defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. He helped Taubman Centers Inc. fight off a takeover in 2003 by mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. and Westfield America Inc.
Months of on-and-off living in a Cleveland hotel for the TRW deal made Baum realize that he had spent his life after college "doing effectively the same thing at a very intense pace."
He decided to call it quits to help raise his three children, all under age 13. The hardest part of the transition was deciding what to do next for work.
"I loved working at Goldman; I just needed to do something different," said Baum, a 12 handicap. Looking through a Golf Odyssey issue about a year ago, he found his next challenge. His initial purchase offer was rejected by founder Terence Y. Sieg, who published the first issue of the Charlottesville, Va.-based newsletter in 1992.
Baum was undeterred. He sent Sieg a two-page letter of plans for the newsletter and insisted on a meeting. Sieg relented in April, selling for an undisclosed sum.
In October, Baum bought San Francisco-based Golf Insider, which appeared eight times a year, adding its 400 subscribers as he merged it into Golf Odyssey. The combined publication has reviewed about 1,000 courses and 500 resorts in more than 30 countries, giving Baum what he says is the largest proprietary collection of course and resort reviews.
He plans to offer the reviews on the Internet for a fee, perhaps $25 a month, and increase subscriptions to 10,000 within three years, partly by adhering to the publication's key principles: accepting no advertising or free accommodations and keeping reviewers' identities anonymous to ensure objectivity.
Baum, who writes an occasional review, started playing golf in his 20s and has dropped his handicap 10 strokes since leaving Goldman. Among his favorite courses are California's Cypress Point and Pebble Beach and New York's Shinnecock Hills.
The reviews don't pull punches. In a May review of the Oak Bridge Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., now called the Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club at Sawgrass, Golf Odyssey complained about the golf cart paths: "The bumps and potholes were so jarring, we wished we could exchange our golf caps for crash helmets."
Tommy Aycock, the club's head professional, said the club was making extensive path repairs.
The criticism doesn't end at the 18th hole. The November issue awarded Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Lodge in Orlando the "worst furniture" award. "Only the most die-hard Arnold Palmer fans could claim to like the drab, old rooms," the review stated.
The room review was accurate, said Leigh Anne Mace, Bay Hill's marketing manager, adding that the club expected to complete a $7-million room renovation by September.
Although Golf Odyssey has given positive reviews to Robertson-developed New Zealand courses Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, Robertson said he was ready for the day when that wouldn't be the case.
"They have written some pretty rough stuff, and that's kind of neat to read," he said. "It's real smart for them to take some potshots."