Josh Kemp, the owner and CEO of Ozark Technology, has always been goal-oriented, so after the 46-year-old stepped out of an office role in 2021 at the company he’d built since 2004, the Batesville and Little Rock native turned his attention to golf and travel.
By: Chris Werner
USGA P.J. Boatwright Jr. Intern
January 31, 2024
At the tail end of 2022, having read A Course Called America by well-known golf author and writer for The Golfer’s Journal Tom Coyne, Arkansas resident and recently retired CEO Josh Kemp knew he needed a 2023 goal that “required some stretch.”
Having fallen back in love with golf during the COVID-19 pandemic and with more time on his hands than he knew what to do with, Kemp, a self-described workaholic, who, before he retired, had built up Ozark Technology since 2004, decided to set a lofty goal.
In its initial stages, the objective had been to play each course in his native Arkansas, but the Pleasant Valley and Eagle Mountain member ultimately decided to cast a wider net.
In the name of new places and new friends, Kemp, who said he has always had an affinity for wandering, decided to attempt to play 100 courses he had never teed it up at before.
The ASGA chatted with Kemp about his journey around the globe in mid-January, discussing the highs, lows, triumphs, and takeaways from his trek which put 30,000 road miles on his odometer and included somewhere around 200 rounds at 147 courses — 125 of which were novel — in 25 states and seven countries.
Read the Q&A Below
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Arkansas State Golf Association: How would you describe your connection to Arkansas? I know you have a couple of residences here now and used to live here in your younger days. I heard you learned to play at Burns Park if I remember correctly.
Josh Kemp: My family moved to Arkansas in ‘91. My dad got a job as the IT Director of what was then Arkansas College, now Lyon, and originally I’m from Fort Worth, Texas. My wife Tanya is from right near Batesville, and Arkansas is home. I love it. I love to travel but we don't have any plans to move anywhere else, just roam around and come back to Arkansas. And I still have my business here. I’m retired but I still own the business.
ASGA: Had you started playing golf in Fort Worth, or did you pick it up when you got to Arkansas?
JK: No, further down the line. I picked it up I believe in 2001 in my early 20s. I had a new job and my boss told me I was playing in a client appreciation tournament that Saturday. I don’t even remember where I… maybe I bummed some clubs off somebody, probably my grandpa’s old clubs or something, and, man, I just absolutely fell immediately in love with it and went nuts.
ASGA: And Burns Park was where you learned to play, right?
JK: Yeah, I worked out at the Alcoa plant in Benton, so it was right near the house on the way back every day. And it kind of became the one. I probably played 90 percent of my golf there.
ASGA: Did you ever think that golf could play this big of a role in your life? You know, starting from, ‘Hey, you're playing this weekend, you better learn’ to driving down to the PGA Show and having this Instagram where you played 125 courses in a year.
JK: No, I didn't have the slightest clue. But, I’ve essentially — I had my first employees selling baseball cards when I was 12 years old — I’ve turned pretty much every hobby I’ve had into some kind of business, so it’s not shocking where it ended up. But the golf life I live now is not something that I could have never even imagined. But my wife knows I go crazy into whatever it is I do.
ASGA: I know golf for you is maybe more about the relationships than the actual golf, so do you have a story that comes to mind when you think about the people you met over the past year?
JK: One of the clearest examples I can give you is that, in the last year, I was put up by people in their homes in three different countries. They've never seen me in some cases. One guy, retired a little after me, we probably played 20 rounds last year, all over the country. An example of how quickly this stuff gets out of control, I'm sitting in a cart with a guy, never met him, we hit it off. He's like, ‘Man you gotta come to my place and play Valhalla. I said ‘Man, that's super generous.’ He said ‘By the way,’ I’m going to put you in with a buddy by the Quaker Ridge. You're gonna love it. And while you're playing with him, he'll take you over to Winged Foot.'
It's just that kind of thing. And so one of the deals for me is I make a point of not chasing the top courses. I will take the invites, I love it. But having said that, I ended up playing 19 of the Golf Digest ‘23-24 America's Top 100 last year, and I don't go for them. So what I have found is that golfers in general tend to be a very generous group of people who love sharing the experiences and blessings they've been given. And it's just an incredible community. If somebody finds out you're a golfer another golfer wants you to meet, there's this almost baked-in friendship before you ever meet.
ASGA: Were there any points in the last year where you didn't think the goal of 100 courses was attainable? What were some hardships you encountered?
JK: There were. Early on I played a couple of rounds just to get additional courses in. I was in Louisiana and played Northwood Country Club or something. It was pretty rough. It was a GolfNow round. And I was early in the year and I was thinking, ‘Man, I just cannot afford to get behind,’ because I knew I needed to get between eight and nine rounds a month. And I assumed that I was gonna run into bad weather. As it turns out, I just chased good weather all year, but I was paranoid about that. I got some arthritis in the fingers of my right hand now, I dig when I hit the ball, I create a lot of impact injury there. Feet hurt, fingers, everything hurt all the time.
I had a few random 20-round 20-day kind of streaks. Some of those were a lot of repeats. So at one point, I realized, I was over in Europe, I played 19 and a half rounds and 20 days in four countries, and that includes all travel days. Golf felt like work. And I didn't want to get up and go play golf. Three days after the last round, I was back to practicing my swing in the elevator again. It's so addictive. But yes, I hit, not exactly burnout, but getting to the point where it felt like an obligation rather than a joy. Not much, and it was only at the tail end of a couple of trips, and I recognized that and just kind of moved on, gave myself a little break, and then jumped right back into it.
ASGA: How'd you come upon the 100 new courses in the year? Was that something you set out before the year began, or was it something where you decided you wanted to travel and then you said, ‘Oh, let's throw this number on it to make it a goal? And then also, why did you decide to do it? I know, from listening to the Thousand Greens Podcast, you’re a big proponent of spontaneous travel and getting out and experiencing the world.
JK: No, no, I’m a travel buff, so I set the goal at the end of ‘22 and I did it for a couple of reasons. 1: My first 40-hour-per-week summer job was when I was 12 years old. So, for the first time since I was 11, I had no external pressure. And I was sitting around, I wasn't doing as much. I just didn't have anything to keep me pushing and I didn't have a goal and I've always been goal-oriented. So I said ‘Ok, I’ve got to give myself a goal.’ And there was definitely some Tom Coyne influence in there, reading A Course Called America was very energizing, I’ve since read the Ireland and Scotland books so I knew I needed to create a goal that was real and required some stretch.
I didn't overanalyze it. The raw numbers don't really tell you how much of an ordeal it was going to be. Now I could have gone, I'm gonna say there's something like, if I remember correctly, maybe 240 courses in Arkansas, I've lost track. (There are 205 courses in the state according to GolfPass) but I could have filled it by just bouncing around Arkansas. And I thought about that early on. But for me, a lot of it was making new friends in new places and being able to be in good weather. Arkansas has some amazing weather. It just doesn't have a ton of it in a row. And I like to walk and this year walking in the summer and Arkansas was not the best thing in the world. So yeah, I just wanted to give myself a stretch goal, that would force me to actually maintain discipline about it, not something I could just sort of cruise through. It turns out I was kind of able to cruise through, but it was more about building momentum.
One point I'd like to make to folks is when you retire, something to think about is more than likely, if you retire time of good health and a reasonable financial situation, you're going to want to budget significantly more, minimum of 25 percent more for your hobby than you would think. Reason is, freedom of time creates incredible opportunity. I told my wife, ‘I'm saying no to things that I never thought I'd get the chance to say yes to.’ I get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity about every three weeks now. And so when you get those incredible opportunities that pop up, it's hard to say no to them, and at first, you tend to over-consume, because you think, ‘Well, this is an aberration, I'm not going to get this level of opportunity long term.’ But if you have the get-out-there-and-network personality, and you have the freedom of time, then the opportunities start accelerating, not decelerating.
ASGA: What are the benefits of spontaneous travel? And what can people gain from doing what you did, just hitting the road and seeing where the journey took you?
JK: A variety of things. Number 1 would probably be perspective. There's nothing like seeing the world through a lot of other people's eyes, seeing different parts of the world. Golf brings a lot of different people together. I played mostly private, but a fair amount of public. And you run into people from all walks of life that would never meet except for this crazy sport.
Also, with travel, my wife is more of a tour guide person and I'm more of a just show up and roam, I just spent time roaming around Amsterdam and Lisbon. I love this going around seeing different architectures seeing how people dress differently, what they're into. Talking to barbers in other countries. Getting my hair cut by a guy from Iran at a Turkish barber shop in Campbeltown, Scotland, that guy has fascinating stories. So seeing how other people live their lives. Even just driving on the other side of the road. You look at everything differently. It's very interesting.
For me, that also helps you figure out what you want to do. You can put yourself out there and make yourself available to new experiences. Even if it's a matter of something as simple as trying foods you wouldn't normally try at home, right? You're gonna learn more about what you actually like, what you're interested in. And you know, I thought early on when I retired, I would probably get a place in Europe or something, live part of the year fairly cheaply. And I realized I don't like maintaining properties, I don’t particularly want to own stuff. I'd rather rent and leave at this stage. So there are just so many benefits.
ASGA: Do you have any superlatives, maybe the best round the worst round, any things like that from your travels?
JK: Yeah, I'll say first, sort of my overarching philosophy affects all this. I jokingly call it ‘Josh World.’ I'm a raving optimist. I expect good things and tend to find them and so you know, one of the ‘Josh World’ things was the weather was incredible for me all year. I played 13 rounds in Scotland and Ireland, got sprinkled on two holes. Pebble and Bandon in 70 degrees with 3-5-mile-an-hour winds. It's just been nuts all year. I mean, I can visualize it when you were saying it, there are those days where you’re playing with the right person, the right weather, the right course, and the reality is I had so many of those.
I’d say Cal Club, Merion, and Peachtree would be the three I’d go back to the fastest in the U.S. this year. I had those magical days so many times. Banff Springs, great people, the mountain is just in your face, it was unbelievable. Noordwijkse in the Netherlands, sort of a half links, half parkland. Very Interesting course, hosted by a great guy.
And I didn't have any bad experiences with anybody I played with. Worst case was where maybe somebody was on their phone too much or kind of off in a different headspace. But I didn’t play with anybody I wouldn't play with again.
ASGA: Did you keep track of any things that are now totaled up for your year? Maybe not steps, but anything that shows the volume of, what you accomplished last year. And the other question would be did you collect anything from every course or anything like that?
JK: That's one of my more common questions and the answer's no. I started doing the math and if I just bought a shirt at every new course alone, it would have been around $20,000 and I could never afford to lose weight again. I’m an XL to an L, so that would have been tragic. So I played 125 courses that I’d never played before, I want to say 147 total courses and around 200 rounds for the year. I had practice rounds, or some courses you can’t enter into GHIN. Handicap kind of averaged out across the year to the middle 11s. I drove somewhere around 30,000 miles for golf.
Played in seven countries, 25 states, played 19 of the current Golf Digest Top 100, joined two courses, of the 125 new courses, 96 were private, seven semi-private, and 22 were public. There were a few just random ‘Hey, it’s a GolfNow deal, let me use my $10 coupon’ kind of thing, but a lot of the publics were like Bandon and that sort of thing.
ASGA: I’m curious to hear how your wife Tanya handled all of this.
JK: She said that I hit my 30th night in our home and Batesville on October 10. True story, I haven't done anything with it yet, but I own the domain mywifeisasaint.com because for the last 25 years of our marriage, I’ve heard, ‘Your wife must be a saint.’ So she's really cool. She doesn't like being gone as much as I do. And the dog doesn't like traveling as much. But she's been on more guys' golf trips than most guys have. She's gotten the cottages, she'll help take care of the guys. She is really fun to be around. Very different. So I got her playing golf a little bit. But she can take out our Big Green Egg, grill a ribeye. She'll run my big zero-turn mower and go mow the office and the house, weed-eat. She wanted a big backpack blower for a present. She's a rabid sports fan. I have to remind her when we’re in our condo during a Hogs game she cannot jump up and down.
… So if it gets to be that I'm on the road too long, I’ll either fly home or I'll fly her out to where I am. And we'll hang out and I'll just continue on the trip. We don’t have kids. Early in my career in I.T., I traveled heavily so it was kind of a theme throughout a fair amount of our marriage that I was on the road a pretty decent amount. But she's been very understanding and I definitely could not pull this kind of thing off without her being able to support me in that way.
ASGA: To kind of put a bow on this is, can you take me back to either when you holed out your last putt on your 100th new course, or your 125th new course when the year was over, how did it feel?
JK: No, my brain doesn't really work that way. I will say number 100 was Tacoma Golf and Country Club. When I set a goal, I tend to achieve it. So in my mind, that's sort of a foregone conclusion. So I don't get as big of a kick from the accomplishment. My brain goes, ‘Okay, that's checked, what's next?’ I don't celebrate wins well, I don't need that. But I have to be cognizant because other people value that highly. For me, the box is checked. And I'm forward-thinking and immediately on to the next thing. My overarching takeaway from the year is that I ended the year with a deeper sense of gratitude for people and for the opportunities out there.
One thing that I recommend to a lot of people is a book called The Go-Giver by Bob Burg. And I just encourage people, when you have a blessing of whatever sort, whether it be access to a golf course, or whatever it might be, share with others. Your joy ends up being compounded when you think of people first, in my experience, and look for opportunities to create opportunities for others who don't have the benefits you've gotten yet.
As for Kemp's 2024 adventure, he is in the acquisition phase of purchasing the Eighty Club, the golf society arm of Breaking Eighty.
According to the Breaking Eighty website, the Eighty Club is a golf society for people that fit three main criteria: “1. You are a member of a private club and take great pride and joy in showing off and sharing your club with friends. 2. You like to travel to study and experience other golf courses. 3. Most importantly, you're passionate about the game of golf and truly enjoy talking with and meeting other like-minded individuals.”
“A golf society is such an incredible way to have a real golf community that lets you do things all over and people connect with each other,” Kemp said.
Kemp also noted he wants to host some small-scale golf events this year where between 4-16 people get to play an awesome course and have a great time.
If you made it all the way down here, thank you and congratulations. Now, go play some golf.