"Aspirational" is the word often used to describe the pattern when tour players make the move to flying via private aviation. One of the first business decisions Hudson Swafford's team made in January after the CareerBuilder Challenge, his first PGA Tour victory, was to call NetsJets, where Todd Goldstein is the director of golf. Russell Knox made the same type of crossover after winning the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Soon after returning to the United States, the Scotsman who lives in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., had his team on the phone with Wheels Up, where Kenny Dichter is the founder and CEO.
Goldstein and Dichter have been the most identifiable men in the business. Dichter was representing MarquisJets 12 years ago when Jim Furyk was the first tour player to start buying hours versus owning his jet, as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Nick Price did. NetJets, the largest private aviation fleet in the world—larger than many commercial airlines—has 50 to 60 tour players with active hours, including Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.
NetJets also has a fleet based in Europe that caters to Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Danny Willett signed up last year after he won the Masters. For across-the-Atlantic trips, the Gulfstream IV or the Global 5000 are the jets of choice.
Goldstein estimates that his players invest $30,000 and up, knowing as independent contractors it's a tax-deductible business expense.
With Wheels Up, Dichter found a more economical niche by focusing on shorter legs of three hours or less within the United States in the Beechcraft King Air 350i. Rickie Fowler was his first ambassador on the Wheels Up team that includes 35 players and personalities in golf.