In the era of prodigious purses and savvy strategic thinking, pro golfers are making it their business to be in business outside of their sport, while show-biz stalwarts and superstar athletes like Steph Curry, Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick are discovering that the smart money is in golf itself. In our Golf & Business package (which you can also find in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of GOLF Magazine) we’ll go inside their wallets.
Pro golfers and celebrities have been ham-and-egging it since the days of Bing Crosby and his Clambake. But they aren’t just pairing up in pro-ams anymore. There’s real business at hand — mixed with legit camaraderie. Witness the scene on this sun-kissed afternoon in Beverly Hills, where Abraham Ancer and Mark Wahlberg are whacking pitching wedges on the sprawling grounds behind Wahlberg’s home.
Even in street clothes, there’s no mistaking Ancer, the bantam-built 30-year-old Tour pro whose face has become a fixture on Sunday broadcasts. Wahlberg, for his part, would stand out anywhere, a Hollywood star, still ripped at 50, his box-office biceps straining the sleeves of his T-shirt. True to reputation, an entourage surrounds him, including several handlers and an HBO film crew. With the cameras whirring, Wahlberg cedes the stage to Ancer.
Or, rather, the tee.
“Let’s see it, pro,” Wahlberg says.
Blanketed in artificial turf, the elevated perch where their group has gathered doubles as the launchpad for a short par-3 that plays across the back edge of the actor’s estate. Wahlberg had the hole installed five years ago, part of a tricked-out backyard that, in addition to a pro-level skate park and hoops court, includes a chipping area and multiple practice greens. Its grounds ripple with dramatic undulations. Its fake grass looks Augusta-real.
Club in hand, Ancer steps up, waggles, swings. The shot takes off with the oomph of perfect impact.
“That’s such a great sound,” Wahlberg says, as Ancer’s ball covers the pin.
The get-together has the makings of a casual practice session. But, even as they take turns lining up shots, Wahlberg and Ancer are also talking shop. More than playing partners, they are business partners, an A-list golfer and a golf-obsessed A-lister whose overlapping interests make them emblematic of a larger trend.
Long gone are the days when the game’s best players limited their off-course ventures to architecture and one-dimensional endorsement deals. Though it’s tough to pinpoint when the groundswell started, it’s fair to say that it was underway by the late 1990s, when Ernie Els opened a winery and Greg Norman started selling everything from steaks to investment funds.
In the decades since, it has only picked up pace. The trail blazed by the business-minded likes of Norman, a former world-number-one-turned-one-man-conglomerate, is trod today by a long parade of Tour-pro entrepreneurs, their side hustles and holdings spanning from brewpubs and bourbon labels to putt-putt venues.
Over the same period, athletes and entertainers who once turned to golf as a privileged escape, if they bothered with it at all, have deepened their investment in the game. What they have invested isn’t just their time.
This intermingling of opportunities and interests has given rise to an eclectic mix of golf-celebrity enterprises, so that we now live in a world where Peyton Manning is part owner of a cult-favorite nine-hole course, Steph Curry’s production company has a content deal with NBC/Golf Channel and Bubba Watson owns a candy shop.
In this expanding ecosystem, Ancer and Wahlberg have grown close, a bond they formalized into a business deal in August of this year when Wahlberg bought in on Flecha Azul, the top-shelf tequila company that Ancer cofounded. The brand speaks to each man in different ways.
For Ancer, who was educated in the United States but raised just across the border in Reynosa, Mexico, traditional tequila is a cap tip to his heritage and an antidote to the cut-rate stuff that masquerades widely as the real thing. “I take pride and responsibility in showing people how good tequila can actually be,” he says.
For Wahlberg, a former brawler from South Boston, Flecha Azul fits the clean-sipping lifestyle of the person he’s become. He was also taken by the backstory of the brand and its cofounders.
“They’re self-made guys,” Wahlberg says of Ancer and his Flecha Azul partner, Aron Marquez. “I don’t knock anyone for coming from wealth or privilege. But I do have an appreciation for people who have created their own destiny, like Abe and Aron.”
The culture of tequila is as pure as it gets. You have to go to the right places and then find people who do it right.
As Ancer tells it, the Flecha Azul concept was almost preordained. It started taking shape on the day he first met Marquez, the CEO of Wildcat Oil Tools, at the 2018 Fort Worth Invitational, where the two were partnered in a pro-am. Barely finished with first-tee introductions, Marquez pointed to Ancer’s bag and noted the Mexican flag emblazoned on it.
“That was it. We were off and running,” Ancer says. “The more we talked, the more we realized how much we had in common.”
Not only did they share a nationality, portions of their childhoods also had overlapped. Both were born to families of modest means and grew up border-straddling, supported by parents who patched together jobs to make ends meet. During summer breaks from high school, in Odessa, Texas, Marquez picked onions, pooling money he would use to help put himself through college. Ancer knew Odessa. It was where he starred in junior college, an undersized overachiever who’d been bypassed by all the big Division I schools.
In a single season at Odessa, Ancer made such a splash — nabbing medalist honors in six events and winning the Jack Nicklaus Award for best junior college player in the country — that he was snatched up the next year by golf powerhouse Oklahoma. To top off the connections, Oklahoma was where Marquez studied business before building a successful company from scratch.
Both men had come a long way. But what struck them as their round unfolded was how close they felt to their beginnings.
“We were just spitballing back and forth, talking tacos, tequila, all the things we loved about Mexican food and culture,” Ancer says. “It was maybe a few holes in when Aron goes, ‘You know, we should start something together.’”
Within months, they did.
The tequila Ancer and Marquez had in mind was not the kind you slug and regret later. It had to be the real deal, made from 100 percent blue agave in one of the five regions of Mexico that qualify for the “tequila” designation.
“It’s not like you can just say, ‘Okay, let’s buy land and start distilling,’” Ancer says. “The plants take years to grow, and the process itself takes time. The culture of tequila is as pure as it gets. You have to go to the right places and then find people who do it right.”
Ancer’s childhood friend made a gentle introduction to a family in Jalisco who had been producing tequila for nearly 100 years. The family wasn’t big on working with outsiders. But, in time, a friendship formed. Recipe testing followed. In March 2020, more than two years after they’d hatched the concept, Ancer and Marquez popped the top on their first bottle of Flecha Azul. They chose the name in part for its simplicity (“We wanted words that were easy for everyone to pronounce,” Ancer says) but also for its symbolism: Flecha is the Spanish word for “arrow,” a projectile that only flies forward after being pulled back. The idea is that there’s power and value in the past — in humble roots, in tequila made according to tradition. Keep the product pure. No extra sugar. No additives at all.
“There’s a reason everybody has a bad tequila story,” Ancer says. “That’s because there’s a lot of bad tequila out there.”
Wahlberg could tell a few of those stories. But they’re from a past life. For years now, he’s been known as a fitness fiend, even by aerobicized Hollywood standards. His commitment to the gym is matched by his energy for entrepreneurship. Wahlberg’s business interests — which include a burger chain, a clothing company and a cluster of car dealerships — are myriad enough to have inspired an HBO docuseries, Wahl Street.
In the throes of a pandemic that battered a couple of his ventures, Wahlberg says he wasn’t looking for another investment. But then a business colleague dropped off a sample of Flecha Azul. Wahlberg is not a monk. He likes to unwind, but without the morning-after repercussions. He would drink more wine, he says, if it didn’t mean “consuming a lot of fluids and a lot of sugar.”
“Then I tried the tequila,” he says. “It’s elegant. You’re sipping it. You enjoy it. And then I feel fantastic the next day when I wake up.”
Usually, that’s before the roosters. A father of four with a full slate of business obligations, Wahlberg isn’t one for wasting daylight. That means predawn workouts and sunrise rounds. He used to be a regular presence on the celebrity pro-am circuit, but six hours of hit-and-giggle are more than he can take. Around L.A., at two of the premier clubs where he is a member, he’s famous for sprinting through 18 in half the time it takes to watch one of his movies.
“Unfortunately, unlike Abe, I cannot make a living playing golf,” Wahlberg says. “And I have a lot I want to get done so I can get back to my wife and kids.”
Early speed-golf outings are not conducive to cocktails on the course, but Wahlberg says he wouldn’t want them anyway.
“I’ve seen guys who are fall-down drunk winning local tournaments, but I don’t see them winning on national TV,” he says. “So those aren’t really the examples for me.”
Ancer, on the other hand, makes a fine role model, and on this sun-kissed afternoon at Wahlberg’s estate, the actor is watching the pro in admiration. The two have played a handful of rounds together, though never quite at Wahlberg’s preferred frenzied pace.
“That’s just crazy,” Ancer says.
Today’s laid-back get-together is more his speed — a chance to smack some balls but also talk some business, a task that Ancer enjoys as a cerebral balance to his go-go life on Tour.
“I love the creative challenge,” he says. “You’re always bouncing around ideas, trying to work out problems.”
Flecha Azul is not the only outlet for Ancer’s entrepreneurial drive. In addition to having ties to Black Quail Apparel and a distribution deal with equipment-maker Miura, he is also the co-owner of a driving range in San Antonio. But the tequila is the one that flows most freely from his life outside of golf. And it’s about to start spilling forth in much greater volume. Currently available in just a handful of states, Flecha Azul is set to roll out nationally over the next few months. This means work lies ahead.
At the moment, though, it’s all about relaxation. Ancer whacks a few more wedges, then gives the tee to Wahlberg, who hits left-handed with a solid, compact swing.
“That’s right on plane,” Ancer says. “There’s not much to fix than to get more chance to practice.”
On it goes like this, the two men taking turns, chatting, laughing. Wahlberg proposes playing closest to the pin. A friendly contest breaks out between a couple of guys who thrive on competition. It’s not hard to envision their tequila taking off. But, judging from the arc and dispersion of their shots, neither the Hollywood stalwart nor the soaring Tour pro will want to quit his day job soon.