As the president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Jack Williams has transformed what millions of vacationers think of when they think of cruise ships. He's helped launch more than a dozen new vessels, many with golf practice ranges and putting greens, some of which travel specifically to premier golf destinations. Here, Williams talks about the future of cruising, the teaching tool he invented and playing with Fuzzy.
How did a guy who once said that cruises were for the "newly wed, overfed and nearly dead" end up as the president of Royal Caribbean?
Easy answer: I was wrong. There are so many myths out there about cruising. And the advertising six or seven years ago wasn't destroying those myths—it was supporting them. I was with American Airlines for twenty-three years prior to this job. I took my first cruise after I became president of Royal Caribbean. Our mission since then has been to shatter the myths. I think we've done it, and in the process we've gone from eight ships seven years ago to twenty-nine now, and business is better than ever. We had one million first-time cruisers last year—95 percent of them rate it better than or equal to their best vacation ever. Chocolate doesn't get that good a rating.
Golf has become an interesting selling point for your ships.
Many of our ships now have nine-hole miniature golf courses and simulators where you can play the great golf courses of the world. They are very popular and add to the overall vacation experience. We also have cruise packages where you can play certain courses at certain ports—Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, say, or some of the incredible courses in San Juan, Puerto Rico; or St. Thomas. I always take my clubs when we cruise, and so does my wife.
Bob Hope used to hit balls off the back of the Queen Mary. You ever try that?
No. For environmental reasons, nothing goes off our ships.
How has cruising gotten cooler?
We've introduced leading-edge ships. We have ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, basketball courts, state-of-the-art fitness centers, full spas. Everything's on board—and then we take you to the most glamorous places in the world.
Royal Caribbean was a Champions Tour sponsor for years. Ever play with the pros?
I've played with many. Dave Stockton and I have been friends for years. Lee Trevino is as fun as you'd think. Mark O'Meara is a gentleman. One of the best times I ever had was with Arnold Palmer. We were out at Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles and had a great round. There had to be 2,000 people waiting for us at the first tee. It felt like 300,000 to me. Arnie hit it right down the middle. I got up with a three-wood just hoping to hit a good shot and get away from the crowd. We started walking and we got to our balls and I turned around and the crowd was following us. They were with us all day long. I wanted to ask them to go watch some other group.
Ever get any good advice from a Tour pro?
Fuzzy Zoeller is the best guy in the world. Whenever we play, he never stops talking. He walks up to the ball and hits and never breaks a sentence. He told me to find the balance in my swing. Stay balanced, and everything else will fall into place.
What's your best golf memory?
I played Augusta National once. By the way, if anyone reading this wants to invite me again, I'm all for it. I parred Amen Corner. I parred twelve out of the back bunker, which was awesome. I almost holed the shot for birdie. My final score was eighty-four.
Rumor has it that you're something of an inventor. . . .
I have a patent on a golf device called EarthGrip. Nine out of ten amateurs make the mistake of lifting their left foot when they swing if they are righthanded. I made a device that you take to the range to keep your foot down. I was just thinking about it one day and I applied for the patent. When I retire, I'm going to sell the thing.
Scorecard JACK WILLIAMS
MEMBERSHIPS Westview Country Club and the Club at Doral, both in Miami
FAVORITE COURSES Augusta National; TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
EQUIPMENT All TaylorMade (including 510TP driver)
BEST SHOT Up and down out of a bunker on number 12 at Augusta National