Publish date:

Eric Hilcoff The guy who gets the Tour's players from event to event is not your average travel agent

It's Friday morning in the luxurious, timber-framed locker room
at Castle Pines Golf Club outside Denver, the Tour is in town for
the International, and Eric (Pitchfork) Hilcoff is ready for
another hyperactive workday. Hilcoff, the Tour's 38-year-old
travel agent, is setting up his mobile office--a cell phone and a
laptop equipped with Worldspan travel agent software--and already
his clients are swarming around him. Billy Andrade wants a cheap
ticket for a friend from Atlanta to Providence so he can pick up
Andrade's Chevy Suburban and drive it back to Atlanta. Craig
Stadler needs a flight to Buenos Aires for a pro-am, and Neal
Lancaster can't decide if he should detour to see his girlfriend
in New Orleans on the way to the Buick Open in Flint, Mich. Steve
Jones pulls up a chair. "Hey, Eric, get me four seats from
Minneapolis to Winnipeg," says Jones, who's planning his annual
moose-hunting expedition.

Meanwhile, Ben Bates is crowing about Hilcoff's latest bit of
gossip--the fledgling romance between Hank Kuehne and Paula
Abdul--and Joe Ogilvie is watching CNBC on a TV behind Hilcoff and
lamenting the sour investment that he, Bates and Hilcoff made in
a company called Futurelink. "Eric is an invaluable part of our
lives, and we'd be lost without him," says Mark O'Meara. "His
genius is that he understands all our personalities and has a
relationship with everybody."

Hilcoff, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., is one of 17 staffers at the
Tour's in-house travel agency. However, Hilcoff is the only agent
who works on-site at Tour events--he's in the locker room from
Thursday to Sunday almost every week. "Eric understands how vital
travel is to us because he lives our life," says Brian Henninger,
who like most players averages 60,000 air miles a year (at a cost
of about $50,000). Still, Hilcoff's role extends far beyond that
of a typical travel agent. "Eric is our psychologist, financial
consultant and trusted confidant," says Mike Reid.

Nobody, not even commissioner Tim Finchem, is friendlier with
more Tour players than Hilcoff, whose clients shower him with
gifts, advice and brotherly love. Greg Norman lent Hilcoff his
beach house, the one former President Clinton stayed in in 1997,
for his wedding night. David Duval hosted Hilcoff and his wife,
Brenda, for a few days of skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. David
Frost took Hilcoff on a two-week tour of South Africa, and in '94
O'Meara brought Hilcoff to the Argentine Open to caddie for him.

Hilcoff never aspired to be a travel agent, nor is he an avid
golfer. The son of a lawyer and a dental hygienist, Hilcoff grew
up in Orange, Conn. He graduated from Colorado in 1985 with a
degree in international business and a minor in Spanish and spent
the next four years job-jumping. He taught English in Spain,
waited tables at Faneuil Hall in Boston, sold bicycles in San
Francisco and clerked at a ski shop in Aspen, Colo.

While home in Connecticut between adventures in February 1989, a
friend who owned Worldtek Travel, then the Tour's official
agency, offered Hilcoff a job. "He needed somebody to travel with
the Tour and make arrangements for the players," says Hilcoff. "I
figured, Why not?"

Hilcoff's first event was the '89 Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas,
and he'll never forget the first player he met. "Curtis Strange
looked me in the eye and said, 'Who are you?'" Within a few
weeks, however, Hilcoff's sharp wit and indefatigable work habits
had endeared him to the players, and soon he was rooming with
Andrade and partying with Hubert Green. Hilcoff doubled
Worldtek's Tour business in two years. In '91 the Tour opened its
own travel agency and hired Hilcoff.

Hilcoff has learned the idiosyncrasies of the players. For
example, Bob Eastwood must have seat 22A. The most frugal
players? "Ed Fiori and P.H. Horgan III, hands down," says
Hilcoff. The flakiest? "Tom Purtzer. He called 15 minutes before
my wedding to ask me to make travel arrangements." The request
you wouldn't suspect? "On Fridays, some guys, if they're playing
bad, call me while they're still on the course to make plans to
get home ASAP," says Hilcoff.

A few years ago at the Western Open, a corporate VIP told
Hilcoff, "I've watched you for the last few days, and even
though I make $1 million a year as an investment banker, I'd
trade my job for yours in a heartbeat." Hilcoff thought for a
moment and replied, "The money sounds enticing, but you're
right. I've got the best job in the world."