U.S. Senior Open

How Terry Francona got sweet golf deals when Michael Jordan played minor-league baseball


Terry Francona, shown playing in Michael Jordan's celebrity golf event in 2012.

Marcel Thomas

NEWPORT, R.I. — Terry Francona won two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox and was American League Manager of the Year on three occasions, all with the Cleveland Guardians. He can play golf just about anywhere he wants, but he still doesn’t enjoy the privileges he had when he was the manager of the Class AA Birmingham Barons in 1994.

A golfer since he was 16 years old, Francona happened to be at the helm of the Barons when NBA star Michael Jordan made his brief foray into professional baseball. With golf as a common interest, the two men got along swimmingly in between those long Southern League bus trips by finding just the right places to play. Jordan always took care of the arrangements.

“I went from playing public courses to really nice country clubs,” Francona said recently during a press conference promoting this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Newport Country Club in Newport, R.I. “There wasn’t a course we didn’t play.”

Francona, 65, remembers driving with Jordan to play the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and asked his famous outfielder, “What time is our tee time?” Jordan just shrugged, saying. “Whenever time we get there.”


Terry Francona coaches Michael Jordan in 1994 while they were part fo the Birmingham Barons.

Patrick Murphy-Racey

“Yeah, I was sorry to see him go back to basketball,” Francona told Golf Digest later, smiling. “The quality of golf courses really fell off after that.”

Francona, who retired in 2023 after 23 seasons in the majors, was asked to serve as honorary chairman of the 44th U.S. Senior Open because of his strong ties to the New England area after guiding the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and ’07. On their way to the ’04 title, the Red Sox became the first team to rally from an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series when they stunned the New York Yankees to capture the AL Pennant.

The U.S. Senior Open was scheduled to be played at Newport CC in 2000 until it was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Francona began to play golf after his father Tito, who played 15 years in the majors, bought him a set of clubs rather than allow him to play high school football. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘What is wrong with you? You’re going to get killed,’” Francona said. “He went and got some left-handed golf clubs, and I joined the golf team. … I’ve been playing ever since.”

Francona played nine seasons in the majors, but over the years the wear and tear from playing and managing has led to myriad injuries. He’s had both knees, both hips and a shoulder replaced, and the shoulder he just had done last fall. “It’s a wonder I can swing a club at all,” he said. “But I had the shoulder done just so I could play golf.”

That is exactly how he spends much of his retirement time residing in the Tucson area. When the Cologuard Classic was played in March at La Paloma Country Club, Francona hosted Rhode Island natives Billy Andrade and Brett Quigley. Last month he teed it up at a charity event in Boston hosted by former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

A few years ago Francona got his first and only hole-in-one. It came at Clearwater Country Club on the 17th hole. The left-hander hooked a utility club onto the green and the ball disappeared into the cup, sending his opponent, former major league outfielder Lenny Dykstra, into a rage.

“It was starting to get expensive, if you know Lenny,” Francona said. “And on 17 I got a hole-in-one. I mean, you wouldn’t have believed where I started this thing and then it just hooked back, and everybody went crazy. Lenny threw his club; he was so pissed.”

“I’m an avid, passionate golfer,” Francona said. “I wish I could say that translates into being better—that's not the case. But I absolutely love it. It’s just nice to have something to get the blood flowing, give you a little rush. As you get older, as long as you’re healthy enough to do it, there’s nothing that more fun. I especially like finding new places to play.”

Even if he doesn’t have MJ helping him.