To be truly great at golf requires an unusual set of skills. You have to master the elements, aware that how a course played last year may not resemble how it plays this year. You have to be able to adapt to circumstance, knowing when to play it safe and when to take a giant risk. And most of all, you need to be patient enough to be able to work at your craft for decades, knowing that even if you are the best player in the world, you still have more to learn. Even though she has won 17 LPGA titles (including the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open and 2010 LPGA Championship) and is one of the leading money winners in US women’s golf history, Cristie Kerr has never rested on her success.
That combination of patience and passion has made Kerr equally as successful off the course. As a philanthropist, Kerr has made a great impact through her Birdies for Breast Cancer foundation. She founded the nonprofit to raise awareness and money to fight the disease that afflicted her mother, aunt and godmother. Since 2003, Cristie has donated $50 for every birdie she has made to the foundation. And in 2010, Birdies for Breast Cancer teamed up with Jersey City Medical Center to create a center focusing on women’s health issues. The Cristie Kerr Women’s Health Center offers breast cancer screening, diagnostic testing and treatment programs to all women regardless of their financial situations.
Looking for new ways to raise money for the cause, Kerr tapped into another one of her passions—fine wine. “For several years, we had a tournament in Napa,” Kerr says, referring to the home of many of America’s greatest wines. “I fell in love with Napa Valley.” After playing her practice rounds, Kerr would explore the territory, visiting the vineyards of the wines she liked most and learning as much as she could about the business.
When Kerr began thinking about creating a wine label to benefit her charitable work, she reached out to a number of wineries about the project, including Pride Mountain Vineyards, which is recognized as one of the “world’s greatest wine estates” by wine expert Robert Parker, Jr. After speaking with Suzanne Pride Bryan, one of the vineyards owners, Kerr knew she had found the right partner. “Within 15 minutes of speaking with Suzanne, I knew it was going to be a good fit,” Kerr says. It turned out that Bryan was also a breast cancer survivor and was immediately drawn to the idea of collaborating on a project that would raise funds for research while also creating great wine.
Curvature Wines was launched by Kerr, Bryan and Sally Johnson, Pride Mountain Vineyards’ winemaker. The label currently offers several vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with several other varietals in the works. The wines have been so well received that Curvature’s 2007 cabernet was served at the White House in 2012. Several of the lines can also be found in restaurants across the country, including New York City’s famous Strip House.
Does Kerr have advice for other athletes who would like to turn their passion into a business or philanthropic endeavor? “You need to have a game plan,” she says. “Athletes should know that starting a business or a charity is a full-time commitment.”
For Kerr, that meant years of research to better understand the winemaking process, the business of wine and the potential pitfalls. It also meant leaning heavily on her husband Erik Stevens to help her with time management. “He is my rock,” Kerr says of Stevens, who also owns the Madison Green Agency and manages some of Kerr’s business ventures.”
Though Kerr has accomplished so much off the course, golf still remains her number one passion. And there is still one more career goal left unfulfilled. With golf returning to the Olympic program for the first time since 1904, Kerr has her sights set on representing the United States in Rio de Janeiro.
“Competing on the Olympic team is something I have been dreaming about since I was a little girl,” she says. “Representing the United States and winning a medal at the Games would be the highlight of my career.”