Nymex Trader Schiff Leaves Pit to Start Golf Gym for Wall Street

After spending almost three decades on his feet as a commodities trader in the pit at the New York Mercantile Exchange, Tom Schiff’s back hurt so much that he planned to give up golf.

Schiff, 53, instead turned to golf-focused fitness, rehabilitation and therapy, and was able to return to the sport that he started playing when he was 10. He said the turnaround inspired him to start Golf & Body, a country club in Midtown Manhattan that doubles as a golf-focused gym. The one-year-old business draws as much as 90 percent of its 130 members from the financial industry, as well as celebrities including “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon.

“It’s professionals really understanding your body, because everybody’s different, and your specific golf swing, and then bringing it all together,” Schiff said in an interview. “That’s what we do, and I wanted to give it at the highest level.”

Golfers’ physical conditioning has been spotlighted in the run-up to this week’s Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Tiger Woods, who has won the event four times, withdrew April 1 after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back. Woods, No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, said he aims to resume playing this summer.

Year-Round Golf

In the shadow of the Empire State Building, a block from Pennsylvania Station, the 25,000-square foot facility is one of two golf-specific training sites in New York -- along with Drive 495 in SoHo.

At Golf & Body, there are seven high-definition golf simulators with software that allows members to hit in bays featuring almost 30 top courses, including New York’s Bethpage Black, Harbour Town and Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic, Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pacific Dunes in Oregon.

Last month, as the U.S. PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was played at Bay Hill Golf Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida, Golf & Body held its own tournament for members on a simulated version of the course. There’s another event for Masters week, while members can also test new golf clubs at product launches and participate in longest-drive and closest-to-the-pin competitions.

The hitting bays, surrounded in back by plush sofas and chairs, are equipped with TrackMan golf radar and video analysis software to help players analyze and try to improve their swings. There are also three putting and chipping greens steps away from a cafe that provide everything from protein drinks, snacks and smoothies to a scotch on the rocks.

“There are a lot of places to hit golf balls indoors,” General Manager Jeannine Harrington said in an interview in the fitness center that overlooks Greeley Square Park and has an elliptical machine with a view down 6th Avenue.

‘Club Thing’

“But we really latch on to the club thing here a little more seriously,” she added. “We see ourselves growing into the sought-out experts for golf. The way we attack it is very individualized and focused.”

Golf & Body has a swing coach, personal trainer and physical therapist on site for members who pay the $5,000 initiation fee and annual membership cost of $7,500. Among those helping to fine-tune members’ swings is Darrell Kestner, who is the director of golf at Deepdale Country Club in Manhasset, New York, and has played in one of the sport’s four major championships in five different decades, spanning the 1979 U.S. Open to the 2012 PGA Championship.

Winter Weather

Athletic trainer Ben Shear works with clients on the PGA Tour including Jason Day, Webb Simpson and Luke Donald. Day and defending champion Adam Scott are oddsmakers’ co-second favorites to win the Masters this week after Rory McIlroy.

“I use the rehab proactively,” said member George Zahringer, a managing director at Deutsche Bank Securities and a 10-time player of the year in the Metropolitan Golf Association. “Stretching and soft-tissue work to sort of stay ahead of the curve from a preventive perspective.”

It also helps golfers who have been cooped inside during a winter that brought 57.4 inches (146 centimeters) of snow to New York’s Central Park, 32 inches more than normal.

“If there were such a thing as an Olympic training golf facility indoors, you’d be hard-pressed to think it would be much different than the Golf & Body facilities,” said Zahringer, 60, who played in the 2003 Masters and is the reigning British Senior Amateur champion. “To have that allows me to hit the ground running in the spring.”

Business Meetings

In establishing a club atmosphere, Schiff said the entertainment element was a crucial component beyond the therapy, fitness and training. Harrington estimated that 85 percent to 90 percent of members work in finance, where business and golf have strong ties.

“We do a lot of business meetings,” said Schiff, who was an equity holder of the Nymex when the exchange went public in 2008. “People hit golf balls, entertain and do their business daily. We all know how golf seasons are -- there’s rain, time, family constraints. We’re open seven days a week and we’re right in the heart of the city, so it makes it easy for them.”

Schiff said at one time he played as many as 100 rounds of business golf a year before breaking down physically. Now that his time is more limited, he is focused on keeping fit for the rounds he does play, mostly with family.

He said he recently returned from a trip to Florida where he enjoyed several outings with his 74-year-old mother, Judi Silver, a money manager for Wells Fargo & Co. who plays several times a week and has eight career holes in one.

“There was a time I was just praying for a day I wasn’t in pain, let alone thinking about playing golf,” Schiff said. “What this has enabled me to do is personal. My mother, grandmother and my kids, so much time has been spent on a golf course together. The consequence of me not being on the golf course, I would have missed that.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.