As a pro golfer, Bryce Ledford held his ground against PGA Tour title winners like Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Luke List in bouts in the U.S., Canada and Latin America for 13 years.
Ledford’s prowess on the greens followed his banner years with McCallie School, where he helped the Blue Tornadoes win their first state championship, and his record-setting stint with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where his exceptional swing and precision putting elevated the Mocs from the bottom of the Division I barrel to the top 20.
Given Ledford’s ability to compete against big swingers, it’s likely no one expected a 5-year-old named Mayer to take him out of the game in 2020.
But as a tornado shredded the East Brainerd home in which Ledford was clutching his wife and son on Easter Sunday in 2020, that’s what happened.
“We were in the center of the funnel as it started,” recalls Ledford, 38. “Our home was solid rock, which saved us but not our house.”
Mayer wrestled with fear in the months after the tornado raked a broad path of destruction across East Brainerd and Ooltewah, Ledford says. Even a helicopter passing overhead would trigger his anxiety.
Since Ledford’s participation in PGA tours and events could take him away from home for long stretches of time, he decided to exchange his clubs for being a constant presence in his son’s life.
“I needed to be at home,” he says. “I needed to be a dad.”
As Ledford mothballed his career, he wrestled with an anxiety of his own. He’d played golf since the day his father, the late Chattanooga dentist Archie Ledford, had handed him a set of cut-down clubs at the age of 3 and introduced him to the game that would become his passion.
“It was something we did together,” Ledford smiles. “We played golf everywhere we went.”
More than that, Ledford excelled at the game. So, as he faced a future without it, he wondered what could possibly take its place as he did his part to provide for his family.
He considered selling insurance. Then he and wife Lindsey slammed into a brick wall when they submitted a claim for the damage the tornado had done to their home. Ledford says the experience frustrated and maddened him to such a degree that he discarded the idea of working in the industry.
Instead, Ledford set his sights on real estate, which had long occupied space in the back of his thoughts. As a starting point, he reached out to fellow McCallie School alum Ryan May, co-owner and broker of Real Estate Partners.
May tried to talk him out of becoming a Realtor, Ledford says.
“He told me there are a lot of good agents in Chattanooga and that real estate is very competitive,” Ledford remembers. “But I’ve never shied away from competition.”
Ledford says he believed he could use his extensive connections in Chattanooga to build his business. He was also confident he’d be able to tailor his personality to every client.
“I can relate to anyone,” he says. “I’m good at that.”
Ledford joined Real Estate Partners in July 2021 and tested his theories during the peak of post-COVID craziness in the housing market. Looking back, he says he quickly learned May had been right.
“It was insane,” he says, shaking his head. “I had a hard time winning bids.”
Ledford questioned his wisdom in becoming a Realtor after a couple of months with no sales. Then he remembered what he had to do to win his first golf tournament the summer he was 12.
“My father dropped me off at Brainerd Golf Club every morning and picked me up at the end of each day. I played all day, every day with a small group of friends.”
At the end of the summer, Ledford won a junior tournament by a staggering 16 strokes. Although it was an event for young players, it sparked his first thoughts about golf being not just a game he loved to play but a potential life path.
So, as Ledford faced another month with no home sales, he knuckled down on the basics, beginning with “going to the office every day and busting [his] butt.”
Ledford also recalled the importance in golf of a good coach and connected with fellow Real Estate Partners agent Kyle Johnston, who took him under his wings.
“Kyle taught me how to build my business. And he answered the phone every time I called him with a question. That was more helpful than I can say. I knew what I was doing but I was scared of messing up.”
Ledford also discovered he’d been right about the relationships he’d developed through golf providing fuel for his business.
“Everyone thought I was still playing, and when they’d ask how things were going, I’d tell them I was in real estate,” he says.
Ledford estimates 75% of his business has stemmed from people knowing him through golf. With $4 million in sales in 2022, that’s no small percentage of sales he can trace back to his success on the fairways.
However, Ledford isn’t planning to forever lean on his clubs. Rather, he says he’s intent on making a name for himself as a Realtor through honesty and hard work.
“I won’t make promises the market can’t support,” he says. “If you want to overprice your home, then I’m going to tell you it’s going to sit on the market and lose value.”
Ledford also says he’ll roll up his sleeves and get dirty if necessary.
“I’ll clean the bathrooms, vacuum the floors and touch up the paint on a listing,” he vows. “Renters have done unspeakable things to the investment properties of several out-of-town clients. But my name is on the sign in the yard – and I want that to mean something.”
As Ledford transitions into 2023, his goals include adding commercial real estate work to his portfolio and participating in an unannounced residential development for which he’ll serve as the listing agent.
He says his biggest challenge moving into the new year will attending to what he calls “the busywork of real estate,” including maintaining his CRM database, using social media more effectively and branding himself better.
“Consistency is important in real estate, just like in golf,” he says, sounding a little like he knows this is a lesson he still needs to apply.
Ledford’s life is very different from what it was three Easter Sundays ago. In addition to a new career, he and his family are living in a home in the Northshore community, where his son has made friends with neighbor children. And Ledford is there for all of the important moments, whether it’s a school event or a baseball game. (He even coached his son’s team this year.)
In other words, he’s a constant presence in his son’s life. “My dad was always there for me and my siblings. So, it’s been a good thing,” he muses.
Although Ledford still loves golf, and might return to professional play someday, he now sees it in a different light than he did when he was 12.
“It’s a great game, but it can also be an awful game,” he says. “You’re always one swing away from either believing you can win the biggest tournament of your life or thinking you should retire. Every player deals with those thoughts, including me. I was good and I made a living at it, but I came to a point where I wanted to be a family guy.”
Ledford confesses to missing golf, or at least the surge of adrenaline he’d experience during a close match. But he says the thrills he left behind are no match for the satisfaction he feels as a father.
“Coming down the stretch with a chance to win a tournament gets my blood flowing. Switching to real estate has been a big transition, but it’s also been a good one.”