Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the product of a middle-class upbringing, Herson took up the game of golf at ten and was scratch as a teenager. He was good enough to play for the national team and was even pursued by a number of American universities offering golf scholarships while completing his own studies at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, where he earned a masters in finance in 1976. (Herson turned down the scholarships when he realized it meant he would have to start college all over again.) A few years later, while traveling in America, he had the good fortune to shoot sixty-six at Squires Golf Club outside Philadelphia while playing with George Fazio, runner-up to Ben Hogan at the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion's East course (#14; Ardmore, Pennsylvania) and the uncle of famed course designer Tom Fazio. George Fazio and some friends decided to give Herson an opportunity to see if he might want to pursue a career as a professional golfer. They put him up at a condo near Jupiter Hills Golf Club in Tequesta, Florida, and let him have at it. "I got to spend ten hours a day finding out just how good I really was," Herson says. In the end, however, it was his desire that gave out. He was twenty-two, away from his home country and with no support system. "I was emotionally immature at the time," recalls Herson, an open book on this subject. "After about seven months I just went brain-dead."
That may have been true regarding golf, but in his business pursuits Herson has shown nothing but resolve. In order to complete a quest like this, one has to be enormously driven, and Herson is. A self-described "serial entrepreneur" who specializes in business restructuring, he has headed a number of successful companies over the years and is founder and chief executive of the Windsor Park Group, a restructuring and investment firm. His work, plus successful investments, gave him the resources necessary to pursue his golf dream. He began playing the top 100 courses on Golf's 1995 list, but subsequent additions and subtractions to the list meant that by the time he putted out at Kauri Cliffs, he had played 118 courses altogether.
Just what motivated Herson to take on this goal?Obviously a golf fanatic (he's one of those guys who always practices with clubs laid at his feet for proper alignment), there was much more to it than a mere love of the game. In 1985 in Los Angeles he was the victim of a brutal carjacking. The culprits trailed his red Porsche Carrera Cabriolet to his home. "They got me in the garage, pulled me out of the car and beat me senseless. I was sure they were going to kill me," he says. Herson came out of that horrific experience a changed man. It made him more determined than ever to work hard and play hard to follow his dreams.
Ironically this dream began in 1995 with an inexpensive promotional gift from a client: a plaque listing the world's top 100 courses. When Herson started placing plastic pins in the plaque to denote where he'd been, he realized he had already played about thirty of the top 100. "I am a goal-oriented person," he says. "I would have enjoyed playing the courses without a list, but then it all came together with a purpose. It became a quantifiable objective."
One of the common characteristics of such successful people is that they make what they do well seem effortless. To hear Herson describe his quest, it sounds pretty simple. But dig a little deeper and the reality of the challenge takes hold. It's no easy task to get on courses such as Shinnecock Hills (#4; Southampton, New York), Seminole (#22; North Palm Beach, Florida) or Muirfield (#3; Gullane, Scotland).
But let's be honest: What we really want to know is how this guy managed to get on Augusta (#5; Augusta, Georgia). Tell people about Herson's quest and while some might be in awe and others will roll their eyes, everyone—and I mean everyone—wants to know how he got on Augusta. Here's the lowdown: Herson's tour of the track Bobby Jones made famous fell from the sky. While doing some advisory work for a large communications company in New York, Herson was summoned to the office of one of the top executives. He thought he was in trouble, but the guy asked Herson to do him a favor—take his place in a group that was scheduled to play Augusta.
If only they could have all been that easy. Sometimes arranging rounds at top courses was not that difficult for Herson and the rounds were thoroughly enjoyable. Actor Dennis Hopper (another Riviera member) got him on Cypress Point (#2; Pebble Beach, California) through his pal Clint Eastwood, and Herson promptly broke par. Thanks to Ric Kayne, a friend (and fellow Riviera member) with a private plane, Herson achieved the extraordinary feat of playing two top-100 courses in one day: the Honors course (#96; Ooltewah, Tennessee) in the morning and Prairie Dunes (#23; Hutchinson, Kansas) in the afternoon.
At other times the rounds themselves were difficult. At Lahinch (#73; County Clare, Ireland), Herson was forced to play in 40 m.p.h. winds and the temperature never exceeded thirty-eight degrees. At Naruo Golf Club (#75; Osaka, Japan), the members he played with did not speak English. Using frequent-flyer miles, he squeezed in his round at the European Club by making the exhausting flights from North America to Ireland and back over one Labor Day weekend. But the commitment he made to himself was simple: Play every hole of every course from the back tees and never stop once a round has commenced.