The Wake-Up Call

One man’s winding path from white-collar criminal to architect of Aspen Golf Club's bustling junior golf program

For better and for worse, the world is shaped by obsessives. It can be seen in examples big and small, even in something as insignificant as the patch of grass that makes up what is arguably America’s most scenic driving range.

The range itself is backward, or at least doesn’t face the direction it should. Rather than working out from the clubhouse, it asks players to hit balls toward it and a spectacular backdrop: the Maroon Bells, the twin 14,000-foot-high peaks that make up the most Instagrammed attraction in Colorado.

The range is located in Aspen, which, depending on the year, holds the title for most expensive town in the United States. In a mockery of the town’s preference for all things exclusive, it rests on the grounds of a course open to everyone: the Aspen Golf Club, a muni that once hosted Jimmy Buffett, Hunter S. Thompson and “the world’s wildest golf tournament.”

Minus the scenery, the range is, candidly, not much to look at. It’s roughly 50 yards of well-manicured grass, with a small putting green nearby, and close enough to residential Aspen that if you were to spin 180 degrees and hit a thin bullet, your ball would end up in the living room of an eight-figure modern mansion.

What’s more, the range is at the end of a completely different driving range. The one that makes sense. The one just beside the clubhouse.

Why, then, is a second range even there? Because of an obsessive, of course.

Sharon Jefferies first met her future husband on a plane from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. It was 1968 and she was 25, reading a book about trading stocks while the man behind her kept hitting her seat. 

She thought the man was nervous. But, as with everything involving Boyd Jefferies, the seat-kicking was more calculated. 

Boyd was 12 years her senior, had a perma-tan and sparkling blue eyes and wore tailored Brooks Brothers everywhere he went. He wanted Sharon’s attention and he got it. They had their first date when the plane landed. They were married not long after.

A big part of Boyd’s attraction to Sharon may have gone beyond her obvious good looks and back to that book she was reading. His life was the stock market, and soon it would be his wife’s, too.

The man Sharon married was only a decade or so away from becoming a very big deal—the sort of person profiled in Fortune magazine and who would once be referred to in a courtroom (we’ll get there) as “the supersalesman of Wall Street.” Boyd got to be a very big deal with a lot of help from Sharon, starting early every single morning.

Later, when Boyd had started to attract attention from the press, there was a funny little contest that seemed to break out among reporters to see who could describe the earliest possible wake-up call. One reporter said Boyd and Sharon got up in their Laguna Beach mansion at 3:30 a.m. Another upped the ante to 2:30. Finally came the biggest of them all: a profile in The New York Times that claimed Boyd and his poor wife got up every weekday at 1:30 in the morning.

Unlike most extraordinary claims, this one was true. Most mornings, Sharon did indeed wake up at an hour usually reserved for deep sleep to make Boyd’s lunch and see him off to work, because he liked to be in his office on the 33rd floor of a Los Angeles skyscraper no later than 3 a.m. 

At the time, Boyd was obsessed with two things, each of which served the other. The first was Jefferies & Co., the brokerage he had built from two employees to 500. By the mid-1980s, Jefferies & Co. had become the main player in what was known as the “third market.” That’s a surface way of describing a theoretical place where deep-pocketed customers could buy and sell large chunks of companies at all hours of the day while leaving almost no trace of the transaction. The second was his clients, those wealthy individuals and massive institutions that bought and sold those large blocks of stock because Boyd offered them a willingness to do anything at any time, with discretion.

Those twin obsessions helped to make Boyd nearly as wealthy as some of his clients—certainly wealthier than might’ve been expected of the son of a grocer whose family relied on him to man the produce section at age 14 because they couldn’t afford to hire more help. He didn’t know it at the time, but those obsessions would lead to his downfall and, eventually, the rise of a massive junior golf program.

A few years after it all fell apart, Boyd summed up what went wrong. 

“I built a business on servicing my clients,” he told a reporter. “My regret is I could never say ‘no’ to a client or a potential client.”

Although it is impossible to remove naked greed from the series of financial crimes Boyd and his fellow brokers perpetrated, he justified his participation by making it personal.

“All of his friends were clients,” says Boyd’s longtime secretary, Dorothy Grace.

When the Jefferies went on their honeymoon to Monaco, they were joined by a client and his wife. “Sharon was the perfect wife for him because she was happy to entertain clients,” says Grace. And, according to Sharon, that’s mostly what they did in the few moments when Boyd wasn’t at the office.

One day in 1986 Boyd got a call from Ivan Boesky, a friend just like the rest of his clients. Boesky was an eccentric power broker, the type who would eat dinners in some of New York’s most expensive restaurants, order one of everything from the menu, take a small bite of each dish, then return them all. At a commencement speech that same year, Boesky was quoted as telling a room full of college graduates, “Greed is healthy, I think.” Oliver Stone saw it, got inspired and used it to create his fictional legend Gordon Gekko’s now-iconic line in the movie Wall Street.

The records of the conversation between Boyd and Boesky are buried deep inside a manila folder somewhere in the dustiest corners of the Department of Justice, if they’re anywhere. But what’s known is that during that call Boyd said something incriminating. 

Boesky had only recently turned informant. Every phone line in his house and office was being recorded by FBI agents, and the transcripts of those calls were being reviewed by investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York U.S. Attorney’s Office, led at the time by Rudy Giuliani. Boesky was trying to trap former friends and associates to lessen the sentence that was coming for his role in the decade’s biggest and most scandalous insider-trading case. He and those friends ultimately would become the perfect emblems of 1980s Wall Street excess. Despite his considerable cooperation, Boesky would still end up serving three years in prison and paying a then-record $100 million fine.

Boesky had made tens of millions by using insider information to trade stock. Other, lesser-known players in the same network had made nearly as much. No one had even come close to making what junk-bond king Michael Milken was clearing, though; by one count, Milken made $500 million in a single year.

Boyd, by contrast, made nowhere near that money. He was guilty of precisely what he’d told the reporter: He didn’t say no to clients, in part because they were such good friends. So when Boesky asked him to “park” a chunk of stock for him and create a phony receipt in order to cover up the transaction, Boyd, of course, obliged. 

In Den of Thieves, the preeminent rundown of the entire
insider-trading scheme, James Stewart wrote, “More than any others implicated, Jefferies was pleading guilty to acts that were all too routine on Wall Street.” Yet plead guilty he did, to two felonies and an agreement not to work in the securities industry for five years.

For his entire career, Boyd had been characterized by action, sleeping four hours a night, cycling daily through packs of Benson & Hedges 100s, Doublemint gum and Mr. Goodbars, and fielding a never-ending stream of phone calls with clients and bullpen talks with his traders. Yet Boyd spent much of the next two years stationary, sitting in a witness chair, slumped and sullen, explaining the details of what he and his friends had done. The first time Boyd had to testify, one reporter noticed, his face was green and he looked seconds away from being ill.

Worst of all, he was no longer a broker. He would later say that he’d taken the plea in part to protect his employees. There were things some of them had done that, had he fought his case, might’ve come to light and potentially destroyed the firm he’d built. 

A few years before the charges, Boyd’s son, Stephen, died in a motorcycle accident. Boyd had started a scholarship in Stephen’s name to benefit the sons and daughters of some of the lesser-paid Jefferies & Co. employees. 

If all clients were friends, the firm was essentially his family. Now the law required that he, an obsessive, avoid all that obsessed him. So he went looking for something else.

To a cynic, what came next would, like the seat-tapping to get his future wife’s attention, seem calculated. To those who knew Boyd, it was, as always, more complicated.

“I think Boyd wanted to change his image and do something good in the same stroke,” says Sharon now. 

The germ of the idea that became America’s most scenic driving range happened over dinner in the late 1980s. The Jefferies were hosting two friends, Ernie Fyrwald and Charlie Weaver, at their home at the Vintage Club in Indian Wells, California. Fyrwald and Weaver both called Aspen home. The Jefferies knew them because they’d recently bought a condo there, sold to them by Weaver, and were in the process of moving there full time. Someone, at some point, mentioned the idea of funding a junior golf program.

Aspen Golf Club already had one. Fyrwald was the head pro and ran the thing. It just wasn’t what it could be.

The town wasn’t nearly as affluent then as it is today. These days, Fyrwald runs the most successful real estate company in Aspen. His clients are some of the richest people in the world, who fly in by private jet and never buy in their own names. Back then, though, he was still a club pro teaching lessons in the summer and running a ski shop in the winter. But he already saw a need to serve those in and around Aspen who didn’t have as much.

“Aspen has a huge population of employees living in employee housing,” says Fyrwald. “Not everyone up here is rich.”

In his first few years before Boyd came along, Fyrwald figures, he had about 40 kids a summer for what was then a pretty spare golf program. Once Boyd got involved, everything changed.

The man who had previously gotten up at 1:30 every morning to gladly face a full day’s worth of calls and trades now found himself with an empty schedule. “Boyd had nothing to do,” says Fyrwald. So the junior golf program became his new obsession.

First came the scenic range, devoted only to the junior golf program, where Boyd laid the sod by hand, watered and mowed. “He’d go out there at four in the morning and stay all day,” says Fyrwald. Then came the donations from some of Boyd’s friends, which allowed him and the golf program to start renting school buses. 

At its peak, Boyd’s program was renting about 14 buses every summer. He would drive one up and down the Roaring Fork Valley himself, picking up any boys and girls in the towns south of Aspen who wanted to participate and returning some 500 of them to the course for weeks every summer to learn a new game—a game that gave Boyd, a man making penance, a purpose.

“To me, there’s no better sport [than golf] to teach you the etiquette of life,” says Weaver.

Eventually, Boyd, Fyrwald and Weaver realized that what their fledgling junior golf program really needed was a consistent fundraising tool. They settled on a yearly concert.

Aspen Golf Club wasn’t unfamiliar with the mix of golf and music. When Boyd first got involved, former Kansas City Chiefs running back Ed Podolak and his good friend Jimmy Buffett were still hosting their end-of-summer High Country Shootout. 

“It was probably the wildest golf tournament on the planet,” says Weaver.

The High Country Shootout was a visible manifestation of all the ways in which eccentrics and the rich, and those who embodied both characteristics, rubbed elbows and other things in Aspen. Over time, no town, per capita—Monaco included—has hosted nearly as many wealthy, famous and weird people, especially those who became wealthy and famous because they were weird.

Hunter S. Thompson is the patron saint of Aspen weirdness. In the late 1960s he blew into town with $2 to his name and a car full of wooden birdcages he’d for some reason driven with him from San Francisco. Thompson rented a 100-acre farm for $125 a month, ran for sheriff on a platform of arresting anyone selling drugs (but only if they were the kind that didn’t work) and in the process let loose a dog whistle for every other wild soul who wanted to live peacefully (relatively speaking) in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

From Thompson followed musicians like John Denver, the Eagles and Buffett, and celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas and Goldie Hawn. Not long after them came the titans of industry, whose names are far less recognizable even as their fortunes are much greater. Each found themselves in a place where they could buy boots and flannels or slip on ski goggles and disappear into the crowd. Each was cosplaying a different sort of life, with all the advantages of their lives in Los Angeles, New York, London or wherever, but almost none of the drawbacks. It’s not hard to see why they came.

Aspen changed. When a Vanity Fair reporter met Thompson on his ranch 30 years after he’d moved in, his neighbors no longer lived in trailer homes. One, in fact, owned the largest, most expensive home on the mountain. He was the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. 

“He’s a good neighbor,” Thompson said of the prince.

Thompson liked to golf. He was just one of a few characters Weaver says made up the bawdy foursomes in the High Country Shootout. Weaver personally witnessed Thompson accidentally set his grandson’s hair on fire in the clubhouse with the errant ash from one of his long-filtered cigarettes. He watched Thompson, paired with 60 Minutes host Ed Bradley, pull a shotgun on course mid-tournament. He was in the crowd when the lead singer of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band did a swan dive into a trough of beer during the tournament-ending concert. He saw many other things far more hedonistic that he refused to divulge.

The High Country Shootout burned away just as Boyd was preparing for his own charity golf tournament and concert. The transition from one to the other encapsulates Aspen’s larger move from eccentricity to the fabulous organizational power of concentrated wealth and Type A personalities.

As such, Boyd’s concert was destined to be a little more professional. For the first five years, he, Fyrwald and Weaver convinced Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan to host. Greg Norman, Davis Love III and other PGA Tour stars followed, as did Kurt Russell and Don Johnson. Boyd’s stroke of genius was to make life as easy as possible for the players. 

The PGA Tour’s International golf tournament had recently  begun its run at Castle Pines, just south of Denver. Boyd called in every favor he had for every available plane. He talked to Merv Adelson, then–vice chairman of Time Warner. He called up another friend, the man whose company supplied McDonald’s with every one of its billions of ketchup packets. The clients who were friends and the friends who were clients had private jets, and Boyd needed every one he could find to whisk the top players away the Monday after the PGA Championship and deliver them to the International after they had hosted a few clinics and played a few rounds paid for by deep-pocketed donors.

“Everything Boyd did was big,” says Fyrwald. And it was about to get bigger.

When Sullivan found himself in the middle of a divorce, the tournament needed a new host. Because it was Aspen, Fyrwald and Weaver, two hardworking but relatively normal guys, didn’t have a normal Rolodex. One of them happened to be good friends with Eagles singer Glenn Frey. Suddenly the tournament had a newer, even more famous host. And things got bigger from there.

By the time 1997 rolled around and the golf world had its biggest star in a generation, Boyd and company had decided on a new target: Tiger Woods. So when Frey heard that Woods was starting his own charity concert, Tiger Jam, he agreed to play it if Woods agreed to come to Colorado every summer. Suddenly, what was a golf program where a handful of kids chipped toward each other from opposite ends of a temporarily claimed tennis court became an annual event where the co-founder of Mary Kay cosmetics paid $250,000 to play a round with the world’s best golfer.

Boyd had created a monster. The tournament and concert were bringing in millions a year. It cost nearly as much to put on. It couldn’t sustain itself.

Soon Frey was spending half his calendar year flying to the charity events of PGA Tour pros to complete the celebrity quid pro quo. He had to quit. The concerts got smaller, but so, too, did the costs. Fyrwald and Weaver, both now successful businessmen in their own right, admit today that even though the glitz and glamour of the event got toned down over the years, the focus never waned. Money got raised. Kids got taught. And the man who needed action at all hours of the day slowly learned to live with less.

At the beginning of his five-year probation, Sharon says, Boyd was almost inconsolable. “His whole life had been taken away,” she remembers.

Although he’d grown it into something larger than anyone could have imagined, Aspen junior golf could take only so much of Boyd’s time. At some point, he seemed to realize, he needed to stop pushing so hard, stop obsessing. He eventually understood that the firm he’d founded was never going to take him back. He tempered his perfectionism and loosened up enough to reunite with a daughter his relentless energy had managed to push away.

“I’ve started to sleep in,” he joked once. “Some days I now wake up at 5 a.m.”

By 2001, Boyd, Fyrwald and Weaver had built something sustainable. That August, Boyd was in a Wendy’s drive-thru, about to head into town, when he dropped dead. It was a heart attack. He was 70.

Today, the head pro at Aspen Golf Club is a man named Jim Pratt. When Pratt was a teenager, a line of buses used to arrive every summer at the middle school in working-class Carbondale, down valley, where he grew up. His parents didn’t really play the game, but thought their son might enjoy it. Those summers created a passion in Pratt. He went on to play for his high school team, then headed off to college for golf course management. He met his wife there, had kids and returned to the place where the obsession began.

There are other stories. Eri Crum got his start at Aspen junior golf. He got a scholarship to Stanford, played alongside Woods, made captain his senior year and now works as a chiropractor in Boise, Idaho. In his free time he sets world records for speed golf. 

And on it goes. Aspen High School, which is not nearly as prestigious or wealthy as it might sound, won a golf state championship for the first time two years ago, in part because many of its players can spend their summers honing their games for next to nothing. 

This summer the organizers had to cap the number of kids who could participate at something close to 300. Demand was too high and there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate them all. Parents will pay $280 for nine weeks of instruction and unlimited range balls. Some might not be able to afford even that, which is OK: Weaver and the others tending to Boyd’s program have ensured anyone who needs a scholarship gets one.

Obsessives shape the world. And for 35 years now, what Boyd, Fyrwald, Weaver and many others built has gone on to shape, in some form or another, the lives of thousands of kids turned adults.

On a fall day in Aspen, I went to America’s most beautiful driving range and hung out with Weaver. We talked about Boyd while my son hit balls as the sun set. We stood there looking back toward the clubhouse and the twin peaks that dominate the skyline. They were nice targets for my son to aim at.