With his intimate knowledge of the game and its players and his incisive commentary, Notah Begay has become one of the most recognizable analysts on NBC Sports and Golf Channel broadcasts. From his debut as a part-time commentator in 2010 to his full-time position in 2013 to his current celebrity status, Notah has distinguished himself both with his passion for the game and his passion for the improvement of American Indian communities.
A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a full-blooded American Indian, Notah hopped the fence at Ladera Golf Course at the age of five and convinced the head pro to give him a job and teach him the game. He became one of the best junior players in the country and earned a golf scholarship to Stanford in 1990 where he graduated in 1995 with a degree in Economics—“still the most important thing I will ever accomplish in my career” he says on his website—and led the Cardinal golfers to the 1994 NCAA Championship, shooting a 62 in the second round, still the record-low score in the event..
The three-time All-American, who won the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett CC in 1995, began his close friendship with Tiger Woods in the fall of 1994 when Tiger was a freshman, and then Notah turned pro shortly after graduation. He shot a 59 in the 1998 NIKE Dominion Open and earned his PGA TOUR card in 1999, winning two tournaments in both his rookie and second years on TOUR. Paired with Tiger in the Presidents Cup in 2000, Notah went 3-2 and helped the U.S. claim victory.
In 2001, his professional career came to an abrupt halt when he tore a disk in his back and was not pain free for seven years. During this time, he started his Notah Begay, III Foundation (NB3F) to serve American Indian youth and raise their standard of living. To date, he has raised millions of dollars to fund scholarships and other educational and wellness programs, and his foundation has served thousands of children and their families. In 2012, Notah received the Golf Writers Association of America’s Charlie Bartlett Award for his “unselfish contributions to the betterment of society.”
Notah also owns a golf course development company, NB3 Consulting, and works with American Indian communities to develop world-class properties. I first met Notah in 2013 at the grand opening of his Sewailo Golf Course at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona, one of the area’s most delightful and scenic courses and one of the most popular casinos. I interviewed Notah in September at the Deutsch Bank Championship.
NEGM: Why did you choose Stanford?
NB: I chose it for the academics. The golf program at the time wasn’t great, and the team had not made the NCAA championship for almost 20 years. I knew that a great education would serve me for a lifetime. I didn’t know when I arrived what a great school it was. Twenty years later I realize that a Stanford degree can really open up a lot of options.
NEGM: What did you enjoy most about playing professional golf?
NB: The friendships are what I enjoyed most. Plus, the travel included so many excellent venues. But first and foremost, I cherish all of the friends that I made around the world on both the U.S. Tour and the European Tour. And those places in Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South America, and all parts of the United States were an education in themselves. I will never forget the historical traditions of those places. So, it was sort of like taking a world history class while playing golf, seeing how these places have evolved through exploration, religion, government, and economically.
NEGM: Your back injury forced you off the Tour. How did you get into broadcasting?
NB: NBC Sports and Golf Channel Producer Tommy Roy. I got invited to do a couple of shows for “Live from the U.S. Open” and “Live from the Masters.” There were some opportunities opening up, and Tommy Roy thought I might be able to fill one. I got a tryout at the “Tiger World Challenge at Sherwood,” and I’m still here. Apparently something went right!
NEGM: What is the best part of the job?
NB: Being close to golf. Giving a first-hand accounting based upon all of my personal experiences as a player and trying to impart to the viewers what’s actually happening. We’re right there within an arm’s reach of the players. We have the unique opportunity to really describe what the players are dealing with. And then at some point, we can teach the viewers, and give them a piece of information that can help their own game. I think that’s a big part of what we do. One of the most interesting things about our viewers, or golf fans I should say, is that the vast majority of them play the game.
NEGM: What events do you especially like to cover?
NB: All the majors, of course, and the other big events like the WGC tournaments, but the Ryder Cup is at the top of the list. I never had the chance to play in one. I did play in the Presidents Cup. The Ryder Cup is the pinnacle of pressure; it is the pinnacle of competition. You really see players that rise to the occasion or get crushed by the circumstances.
NEGM: Why have you become so involved with education and health advocacy for American Indians and, as a result, have created the NB3F?
NB: Those are two really big failures to the overall well being of the American Indian community. The communities across America suffer extremely low rates of high school graduations, and they suffer extremely high rates of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. My background and my career have given me the opportunity and the platform upon which to voice my concerns and ideas about how to address the issues.
NB: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The design component of my role in the projects isn’t that large. My role is to work on behalf of the tribe to help them realize their overall economic model. All properties that we work with have a unique set of circumstances with regard to the population that they serve, how revenue is being driven, and how can golf, which is a huge asset for tribal nations, can help them be more productive and be more successful. With the unique design and environment that their golf courses can be built in, these tribal owned properties can offer golfers incredibly beautiful country—adding to the pristine nature of the experience for the individual golfer—along with creatively planned layouts.
NEGM: Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
NB: My brother Clint, Tiger, and Jim Thorpe.
Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet, and Jack Nicklaus—because of what they have meant to U.S. golf.
NEGM: Why should every New England golfer visit New Mexico?
NB: Wonderful golf courses, naturally! And great value, exceptional regional traditions and cuisine, and marvelous diversity. You’ve got flatter, more links-type courses, you’ve got hilly, more elevated venues, and you’ve got superb vistas where you can see 400 miles off into the distance. I love the intrigue of the different designs. On top of all that, such a trip would provide a matchless cultural experience when not on the golf course.
NEGM: What goals or ambitions do you have for the future?
NB: To continue to improve in my role as a golf analyst. To continue to be an advocate for the American Indian people in rebuilding our communities.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?