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Volume 4, Issue 3 – March 2014

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

In 1936, National Golf Foundation’s founders, Herb and Joe Graffis, pulled off what might still stand among the greatest sales in golf business history.  The Graffis brothers convinced six golf equipment manufacturers – Hillerich & Bradsby, MacGregor, Spalding, Wilson, Worthington Ball, and U.S. Rubber – to contribute the original seed money to form the NGF.

With several of those companies on the brink of bankruptcy at the time, Herb (the salesman of the pair… and future inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame) needed to make a very compelling case… and he had one.  With roughly 1,000 of the existing 4,000 U.S. courses shuttered while our economy was reeling from the stock market crash, the equipment manufacturers needed a quality list of those courses (the primary customers for clubs and balls) that remained.  The six founding members of NGF contributed $17,000 to fund NGF’s first initiatives which, aside from the course database, also included publishing a book on golf course construction (How to Build a Golf Course) which was instrumental in the development of golf in this country.

NGF has re-invented itself several times during the last eight decades, always evolving so the organization could effectively deliver the resources that the golf industry has needed most at a particular time.  We still make every effort to do this today.

There isn’t a day on the job when I don’t think about the Graffis brothers and our six founding members.  Herb’s epic Depression-era salesmanship has been on my mind lately because Bionic Golf Gloves, a division of Hillerich & Bradsby recently “came home” to become an Executive Member of NGF.  We don’t take this lightly.  Nearly 80 years ago, Frank Bradsby decided NGF was worthy of funding.  Just today, we received a very rewarding note from John Hillerich IV with comments about our mutual history.


“It’s great to be back as an Executive Member of the NGF. Our Frank Bradsby was part of the very foundation of the NGF and the important work it’s done for more than 75 years…   We look forward to the contributions H&B can make to the NGF as well as the benefits all of us in the golf industry receive from this excellent organization.” 


The NGF I represent in 2014  offers a varied set of research and marketing resources, products and services to help its members and clients be the best informed, strategically sound and most competitive and efficient marketers in the business.

H&B has “come home” and is now among our 90 Executive Members… approaching the magic “Golf 100” number of leading companies that we are delighted to serve, along with thousands of courses and other businesses fighting the good fight in golf.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to NGF to see how we can help you this year.

Cheers from the HMCT

Volume 4, Issue 2 – February 2014

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

After golf’s “show season” comes to a close each year, my analytical nature simply won’t allow me to move smoothly into St. Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days without contemplating what the PGA Merchandise and Golf Industry Shows (PGA and GIS) foretold about the coming year in the golf business.

Most attendees of the golf shows return home having handled the hottest new hardware and apparel, refreshed their thinking with at least one new idea on how to better merchandise their shop (or maintenance facility), and salespeople debarked (perhaps by snow shoe or dogsled this year) with a few new customer prospects in their stack of business cards.

The Mayor, on the other hand, drove the 150 minutes home to Palm Beach County thinking I had left Orlando with a brand new shine on my crystal ball. The “speed dating” schedule of presentations, meetings and dinner conversations with industry leaders at GIS and PGA all somehow started to synthesize into a new personal vision that I see for golf’s future. I may not be qualified to make such a prediction, so please forgive my bluster… I know you’ll decide, in the end, if it makes any sense.  However, I’ll be more than a bit surprised if this vision (or some evolved version of it) doesn’t develop into the new reality in the next 10-to-20 years… and golf will be all the poorer if it does not fulfill this prophecy quickly enough.

Innovation by Entertainment

A generation from now, the golf car will be the focal point of the American on-course golf experience and only 25% of courses will be able to sustain their operations offering only the “traditional” game (my definition below). The other 75% must invest in innovation by entertainment, by turning their golf cars into mobile epi-centers of technology and connectivity for every player.

Like many Crazy Town citizens who make their living in the golf business, I love the “traditional” game. For the purpose of this piece, I’ll define the traditional golf experience as follows:

  • Golf as an escape from life’s normal stresses… a place where the everyday pressures of work and family can melt into the background as golfers enjoy the company of their playing partners and immersion into the game itself
  • The opportunity for a real relationship experience… uninterrupted time with other live humans
  • A mini-vacation from technology and the pull of email, texts, CNN, etc. (phone used only for work/family emergencies and peace-of-mind)
  • Walking the course, whenever possible

Note: I’m not referring to non-traditional or alternate forms of the game itself… oversize cups, Kick or Fling golf, etc. I’m generally positive about anything that helps us sell the game by getting an interested non-golfer into the golf course environment (some will graduate to the traditional game)… but that’s a subject for another time.

You may have heard or read that the next generation of golfers… those who are currently between the ages of 18-34… have been “voting” definitively against the traditional game with their feet, as they say. They’re just not showing up at golf courses the way they used to. Golf participation among this age group has declined 30% during the past twenty years. Since the 18-34 age segment historically has the highest participation rate and is also the age range when most people take up the game for the first time, this decline has profound implications for golf’s future.

So, then why do we continue to offer only the traditional game? My time at this year’s two golf shows made me believe that our industry is finally coming to grips with the idea that immediate changes to the on-course golf experience are both necessary and inevitable.

The referendum on recreational golf (not to be confused with interest in pro golf) among younger people is so negative because we continue, as an industry, to expect/force them to put aside their regular lifestyle for 4-5 hours. Aren’t businesses and industries supposed to evolve and innovate to better serve their customers’ needs/wants?  If we do not change (and fast!), the game and business of golf will absolutely guarantee its own “right-sizing” in the not-so-distant future.


What makes golf so special that we can maintain the arrogant position that it’s the customers who need to alter their behavior in order for us to allow them to consume our product!?

Golf is simply not relevant for the perpetually engaged, never-out-of-touch “Millennials” of whom I write. The concept called “FOMO” (fear of missing out) is a huge driver of their behavior. After all, they sleep with their phones! Hey, wait a second… I sleep with my phone and I’m 44! Think of the golf course as FOMO-central – the place where they are virtually guaranteed to be missing out on everything in their life! Doesn’t that sound awesome? I can hear the echoes of a generation of 28-year-olds now… “Golf? Are you kidding me? No chance.” We might as well be fertilizing the fairways with kryptonite, folks!

My conversations at the Orlando trade shows referencing golf’s lack of favor with young people always gravitated back to the same issue: that golf’s resistance to technology, connectivity and entertainment is the most meaningful barrier to participation by generation Y, Z and whatever letter comes after that.

Since 18 holes takes roughly 2x the duration of most popular forms of recreation, the pressure on golf to innovate with entertainment is at least twice as high as alternatives. The repulsion/exodus from the course will continue indefinitely… unless we invest in bringing their world, to them in some really cool ways. Millennials like their world… they think it’s fun… and golf will have NONE OF IT!

My crystal ball says that the most critical way that golf must innovate is by encouraging and facilitating, not simply allowing (yes, there’s a BIG difference) entertainment in the golf car. The new line item in the capital improvement budget at most golf courses needs to be video monitors and connectivity in all of their Club Cars, E-Z-GOs and Yamahas. If you need to make your course a 150 acre Wi-Fi zone, then so be it. If every car in your fleet needs to be a mobile Internet hot spot, then get on it. Full broadcast media in every buggy… absolutely. Bluetooth-enabled speakers in the back of every car… check!

If the next generation of players were going to be attracted to the golf product that course owners and operators have been serving up… they’d already be playing. They’re not. Even if it was free, I’m not sure they’d be teeing it up. I think traditional golf is the most perfect game ever created… but our customer prospects under 35 absolutely do not agree. Unless you run one of those 25% of facilities (and I think that’s generous) that can do good business offering only the traditional game… it’s wake up time!

You want golfers (of all ages) on your course on a college football Saturday or NFL Sunday? Then get with the program. Encourage players to stay connected while enjoying their golf. Make it easy for an iPhone video of a shanked 8-iron into a McMansion window to go viral, from the course. Enable your players to challenge a golfer in Argentina to a skins match. Make sure the Twitter-verse is feeding the world to your golfers non-stop over 18 holes. I think if this new atmosphere is encouraged, you’ll find the 40 and 50-somethings will embrace the new connectivity and entertainment as much as the Gen-Y folks. They’ll just tap into different content between shots.

I can hear the nay-sayers now… “The Mayor must be impeached! This will slow down play! My regular customers who frown on technology/music (no fun stuff allowed) will leave me!” Well… if the supply engine of the golf economy doesn’t change… sparse tee sheets will indeed ensure that pace-of-play will not be an issue.

Facilitating the lifestyle of the most wired (wirelessly) generation in history must be our goal. Golf needs to be a perceived as a fun and vibrant environment in sync with modern life… not a fun-free zone where the largest generation in American history feels unwelcome.

Make your course a FOMO-free zone and help start the golf revolution that might just be the secret to keeping our game and business strong.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 4, Issue 1 – January 2014

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

If golf is going to guarantee its own sustainability, it will be because golf regains its ability to attract young people. It’s pretty simple. If we don’t recruit the next generation of golfers, our game and business will contract when the baby boomers find themselves in doctors’ offices more frequently than on golf courses.

The alarm bell is ringing, folks. Our game has lost 30% of its players between the ages of 18-34 during the past 20 years. This is nothing to sweep under the rug. Historically, this is the age set when most people take up the game, and the segment with the highest golf participation rate. But we’re losing them in meaningful numbers. This trend is not likely to reverse by itself. Everything that has always been attractive about golf, still is… but the game’s benefits must be sold to the Millennials generation, NOW. Make no mistake about it, golf’s competitive benefits are under siege versus other recreation choices, including the most formidable non-activity of them all, screen time.

Despite more than 1.5 billion monthly users, it’s difficult to be convinced that Facebook (FB) is the tool to drive the game to them. If I were to allow my cynical side to come out, I’d say that FB appears most magnetic to people (especially self-absorbed ones) with a little too much time on their hands and not enough “real-life” friends. This opinion is reinforced every time I pay my FB page a visit (I force myself about once a month), where I am inevitably faced with a post from a “friend” containing unwelcome political propaganda, religiously-toned philosophical nuggets, un-apologetic selling, and, of course, critical news about somebody’s pet cat doing “the cutest” back-flip off the step-ladder! FB is a massive unlimited buffet offering zero nutritional value.

I know that might sound like the musing of a 44-year-old dinosaur, so I’d like to emphasize my POV, that all passions are worth celebrating (as long as they don’t hurt anyone). If FB entertains you and adds joy to your life, then I say “get after it!” However, I will certainly exercise my right to spend my time elsewhere.

I’ve now read several publications (including those authored by McKinsey & Co. and IBM) that are definitive about the relationship between consumers and businesses, specifically as it relates to digital communication. The key conclusions of these documents validate NGF’s own research on the relationship between Core Golfers and technology.

Overwhelmingly, consumers (that’s you and me) would prefer that our favorite brands, retailers and yes, even golf courses, to contact us via email versus social media. Over 90% feel this way. Communities of like-minded people… in this case, golfers… enjoy communicating with each other via networks like FB and Twitter, but would prefer that product news/promotions/offers from businesses arrive to the inbox (opt-in only, of course).

Nothing suggests that businesses should ignore the social media space. It’s imperative that you craft a strategy that puts your company in the middle of the big conversation and offers something of value, information & entertainment relevant to the community and to the individuals comprising it. Universally, the suggested playbook for businesses is to allow your fans the opportunity to participate, to have a voice, to affect your company, to see your higher purpose… and to receive a tangible benefit.

I’ve been fortunate to spend some quality time with my 24-year old nephew over the past few years… and it seems clear that the cultural forces seem to be best-aligned with Twitter. Jake is an extremely bright Massachusetts native, currently completing his Master’s degree at one of the world’s top sports-science programs in England. He is extraordinarily active, athletic, over-subscribed and ambitious… and he gets the great majority of information and digital entertainment from… you guessed it: Twitter. Furthermore, it’s the definitive hub of both his personal and developing professional universe.

Having seen this, I came to the clear realization that my previous false-starts with Twitter needed to go further…all the way… and fast. Watching Jake use/enjoy Twitter (Paul Newman fans will appreciate his @CoolHandJakeGS “handle”) has been incredibly enlightening, and he’s helped me set up my own multi-account Twitter-verse with several great suggestions of people to follow. Perhaps it shows my analytical nature that these separate accounts are designed to compartmentalize my golf life:

  • @NGF_Golfbizinfo for the mother ship
  • @MayorOfCrazyTwn for my personal golf opinion and pursuit of the passion

Of course many of you in the golf world jumped on this train much further up the tracks… and I applaud you for it. It’s easy now to recognize that if golf is going to attract the next generation, we (as a traditional and old fashioned industry) must get more comfortable and welcomed in their world.

I’m happy to tell you that Jake really enjoys golf, and the game carries at least a measure of “cool” with his friends. It’s far from a priority in his life (nor should it be right now). However, I have no doubt that he will be a golfer in the future, though I suspect he is in a very small minority of people his age who have been exposed to the game, understand its virtues, and can visualize themselves playing as they go along life’s journey.

Golf may be under siege by screen time, but I fully expect that golf’s athletic challenge, exercise, time outdoors/away from technology, and the inherent real life social interactions will bring golf successfully into the future. The game will endure. After all, golf just may be the greatest community of all.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 3, Issue 12 – December 2013

St. Nick and The Twelve Days of Golfs-mas

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

Imagine for a moment that Santa Claus is an obsessed golfer… what would St. Nicklaus (!!!!) and the elves put together for those of us who were not naughty… but spectacularly nice this year?  Actually, let’s push this a little further for fun… what gifts would inspire the most incredibly joyous twelve-days of Christmas for any gentleman with a passion for hitting a snow-white dimpled sphere?

  1. A singularly perfect swing resulting in your first hole-in-one, ideally on the 16th hole at Cypress Point Golf Club – now that would be a plaque worthy of the Mayor’s office!
  2. Rolls-Royce Golf Car, complete with chromed grill and Fluff Cowan behind the wheel to drive it (and read your putts) while you walk the course.
  3. One round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club – with three guests of your choice that you can invite
  4. Fried chicken and macaroni & cheese from Augusta National, a BurgerDog from The Olympic Club, lobster lunch from National Golf Links of America… with a Southside from Shinnecock Hills and a black and white milkshake from Castle Pines to wash it down (Santa doesn’t worry about calories… obviously).
  5. Blu-Ray of Caddyshack (with Blu-ray player and 72 inch plasma TV, should you be lacking those essentials).
  6. Tour fitting and an unlimited budget with which to build the ultimate custom-fit set of clubs
  7. Your own “Bubba-craft” with the glove box filled with 12-dozen golf balls in your favorite brand and model… each printed with your name and lucky number
  8. High-Definition golf simulator with a library of the world’s greatest courses to play on rainy days… and a “home clubhouse make-over” of your man-cave to most-comfortably host matches with your golf buddies.
  9. 12 hours of lessons from Butch Harmon
  10. Back-yard putting green like those found at Berckmans place (including a year of maintenance)
  11. A trip to St. Andrews including at least two rounds on The Old Course
  12. Your preferred Golf Channel host as your night golf playing partner (and no, I’m not thinking of Charlie Rymer!)

Should I pinch you now… or perhaps you can just continue your own (Myrtle Beach) Golf Holiday dream? 

By the way, are Santa’s diminutive toy makers in the North Pole missing their buddies Corey Pavin and Ian Woosnam?

Holiday Cheer from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

 Volume 3, Issue 11 – November 2013

The Case for “Golfing”

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

I recently received a “To Whom it May Concern” email from a Dashboard reader who took NGF to-task for our use of the word “golfing” in an article we published. I’ll spare you from the details of this email, but let’s just say the reader was not very complimentary of NGF for using the term, and included several sarcastic references to ‘tennising,’ ‘baseballing,’ ‘hockeying,’ … well, you get the point.

I’ve provided my response below… hopefully for both your education and enjoyment.

Dear…:

In all seriousness, I LOVE your note… reprimanding NGF for usage of “golfing.” Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m not somebody who typically uses “golfing” in my vocabulary and there is a bit of a fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect when I hear it, see it and read it. Furthermore, my father is a retired but multi-award winning professional writer and mom was a college English major who relentlessly corrected my use of language throughout my formative years.

With all this in mind, I’d like to go cycling (yes, cycl-ING) through some meaningful golf publishing history that is very closely tied to NGF. You may or may not be aware that NGF was founded in 1936 by two Chicago-based brothers, Herb and Joe Graffis. Herb and Joe were journalists. Joe was the business guy. Herb, on the other hand, was the editorial visionary… and both of them dedicated their life’s work to the business of golf, certain that golf would become big business in America… and a key aspirational component of a lifestyle befitting the American dream. In fact… they worked quite willfully and diligently to turn golf into the business they imagined.

In addition to founding the NGF with his brother, Herb also helped found the CMAA and GCSAA and was perhaps the most vocal advocate for changing the greenskeeper title to Superintendent. Through his writing (and enormous personality), he developed close personal relationships with many of the game’s greats like Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus.

Herb Graffis is deservedly enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame in the “Distinguished Service” category.

Herb and Joe published the first two national golf publications. Golfdom, launched in 1927 for the trade (for Club Managers, Superintendents and Golf Professionals). Then in 1933, the Brothers Graffis published the first national magazine for the golfer. In NGF’s founding year of 1936, the magazine had a circ. of 300,000.

Would you care to guess the name of this publication created by a pioneer of the golf business and Hall-of-Fame journalist? Please scroll down…

Wait for it…


It was called GOLFING

Read more about Herb Graffis and GOLFING here on his official Hall-of-Fame web page:
http://www.worldgolfhalloffame.org/herb-graffis/

I also invite you to watch the 13 minute movie we created in 2011 for the 75th Anniversary of the NGF here:
http://secure.ngf.org/cgi/playvideo.asp?vid=22907062

I think we at the NGF, of all people, have certainly earned the right to use “Golfing” in our published works without any embarrassment, apologies… or scolding needed from my mom or dad… or even, dare I say, you.

I’d like to emphasize again that I very much appreciate your note and how much you care about the English language and this game of golf we love. I have no plans for lacrossing, tennising or hockeying today (though I do play ice hockey every Tuesday, incidentally).

I wish you the best. Perhaps this “golfing” thing is not as black-and-white as you and I both thought.

Cheers,

Greg Nathan
aka Mayor of Crazy Town

 

Volume 3, Issue 10 – October 2013

“Incompetent” golf is not fun

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

I’m frustrated, agitated and super pissed off… okay, I said it!  I’m writing this, still hot, as the angry golfer who didn’t have much fun playing golf at one of the greatest courses in the world.  I actually can’t believe I just wrote that… it makes zero sense.  Should I be ashamed that I couldn’t brainwash myself into the ear-to-ear grin that should constantly be on the face of anybody playing Merion?

It goes without saying (writing) that I’m very fortunate to have the occasional opportunity to soak up the environment while putting my limited ability up against some of the most famous and noteworthy designs.  If asked to rate my performance on this particular day, my 11-year-old son would label it an “epic fail.”  But golf is always a humbling game, right. So, why then is this worth writing about?  Only because it’s been years since I’ve boiled-over because of my own poor play… and I thought putting this pain-to-paper would be therapeutic.

I’m not a great player.  Some would say not even “good.”  I like to call it “serviceable.”  Despite only playing two or three times each month, I rarely shoot anything outside the range from 83 to 89. I can have fun in that range.  I’ve got a repertoire of short game shots that usually keeps my scores in range.  Heck, I can even move the ball on command and even create shots I see in my head from time-to-time (now that is satisfying!).  Golf is one of my most happy places. I always enjoy my golf… well, apparently not always.

With regular practice, I’m easily capable of developing a game that could avoid double-bogeys and “others” and regularly shoot in the high 70s.  But, I’m realistic, and I know that if I don’t practice, I can’t expect to go sub-80 with any regularity.  This keeps my temper in check.  I learned long ago (thank you Bob Rotella) that high expectations are among the worst mental errors a golfer can make.

So… back to being pissed at Merion. Nobody likes to waste a round with great friends on a beautiful course… but I did it.  I can still feel the bile in my stomach boiling with rage over my crappy and unsatisfying play.  Although I had a volatile temper as a very young man (even broke a few tennis racquets as a youth), I did internalize how utterly ridiculous it looks when a grown man blows his stack playing a game.  Despite such maturity, I wanted to break every single club over my knee and yell obscene words that could be heard at nearby Haverford College or perhaps Villanova. I didn’t.

In fact, I held it together quite well, other than an outburst heard only by myself in the world famous quarry on Merion’s 16th where I violently berated myself in the scrub while looking for a chunked 6-iron shot that I would never find.

Golf is fun.  I play golf in spite of my ability, not because of it.  This experience provided me a healthy reminder (however unwelcome the Merion timing may have been) that bad golf is absolutely no fun.  It sucks.  

NGF has studied all the reasons why some people don’t get committed to the game.  The #1 hook is Competence… “I play well enough to enjoy the game” is one of the two most significant keys to getting hooked (being comfortable in the golf course environment and with other golfers is the other).  What’s the good news about this?  Competence is fixable in all but the most extreme cases (my mother-in-law comes to mind).  I’m often asked… what is something any golf course owner or operator can do to improve business? One of my first thoughts is a suggestion that would bring a little more competence to golfers:

“Offer your players more accessible and affordable instruction. Send your most junior instructor to your practice range for all-day, every-day, FREE five or ten minute lessons.  Your customers can use the help, they will be most appreciative… and many of those golfers will graduate to full-paid lessons from your professional staff.”  They’ll be happier, more engaged with your facility through your people… and perhaps best of all, they’ll know you care.

Give some lessons. Get some lessons.  Practice. Play competently. Have fun.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

 

Volume 3, Issue 9 – September 2013

Entrepreneurs and Golf – A Simple Plan?

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town -

There are few forces more difficult to derail than a golf-loving entrepreneur with an idea.  For many, the idea of taking a golf-related business concept from brain-child to reality is about as satisfying as it can get.  I suspect that such vision-to-fruition journeys are becoming exceedingly rare as our industry moves along the continuum of transition from cottage to corporate.  If we’re being realistic, the odds of taking a moment of divine inspiration from garage-to-Golf Galaxy or PC-to-pro shop are John Daly-long, indeed.

NGF is one of the places that golfers with a dollar-and-a-dream call first.  The conversations inevitably include one of the following phrases:

My [blank] will:

  • grow participation and rounds by millions, especially with [insert “women” or “kids” here]
  • help golfers improve their [insert “putting,” “short game,” “swing” or “enjoyment of the game” here]
  • sell in the millions
  • revolutionize the game/industry

I suspect that these are the same general themes that would emanate from creative minds in any business.  You can’t fault them for having the so-called B-H-A-G… the big, hairy audacious goal.  However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that infinitely more people have lost money than have made money while attempting to realize their golf business dream.

The NGF is fortunate to be in a position to meet these trailblazers and hear about their ideas.  The serious entrepreneurs tend to join NGF as a first step and then use our data to create the foundation (no pun intended) of a business plan.

This is where it usually gets a bit dicey…

Once they calculate the size of the market for the product or service they’re developing, the natural next step is to estimate the share of that market they feel they will win and over what period of time.  The forecasts are often overly optimistic, and rarely include any type of market research or other evidence for legit customer demand of the product.  “Damn the torpedoes,” is perhaps the motto.  But as a result of this approach, we’re always decidedly conservative and cautious… we don’t like to see people lose their hard-earned nest-eggs pursuing their golf dream.

So what’s the point of all this… is there a profound epiphany in here somewhere?   Only as it relates to the continued consolidation and corporate-ization of our industry.  In my view, it has made it even more difficult to succeed as the little guy with a big idea.

Like any other, our industry will succeed and fail based on big ideas, so NGF remains as committed as ever to coming up with our own… and doing our part to encourage these entrepreneurs when they reach out.  Keep ‘em coming.  Golf always needs new blood and new characters pursuing their passion.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

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