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Volume 7, Issue 1 – January 2017

The PGA Merchandise Show has a way of kick-starting the year in the golf business. Tens of thousands of Crazy Town residents (translation for any first-time visitors to this blog: those passionate souls fortunate enough who make their living in golf) converge on Orlando to show/sell their wares, network and talk about the business of golf.

Inevitably, show conversation migrates to the challenges that face our game and respective businesses. The golf business in indeed fiercely competitive and in some fundamental ways, misaligned with the digitally-dominated, lightning-paced and instant gratification world in which we live. That being written, golf’s attraction, addictive nature and intrinsic virtues are irresistible to millions and millions of people. This month’s blog is not a referendum on golf’s merits or challenges, but rather a call-to-arms.

This may be an awkward or unexpected segue, but Martin Luther King Jr. (the PGA Show is always on the heels of the national Holiday celebrating MLK) has been on my mind recently because of his transcendent capability to connect with an audience.

MLK inspired people. He motivated them to take action and move things forward in positive ways.

So, I’m contemplating whether the people who make their living in golf can be aligned, can be motivated, can inspire the type of change that golf needs in order to reverse the downward trajectory in participation and negative perceptions of the game that hold us back. Can we swim upstream together against the behavioral factors that put downward pressure on the game and influence the future of our livelihood? The answer must be “yes.”

The passion for the game that binds so many golf industry people together goes way beyond our interest in financial well-being and selling products and services. A huge percent of golf professionals, general managers, golf administrators and business people were drawn to this business because they love golf (and presumably business). What golf has contributed to my life and thousands of those inside and outside the Orange County Convention Center is profound.

So how is it that we’ve allowed so much negativity from the outside world to subdue our pride and undercut our desire to overtly sell our love for the game? I am only one man with one opinion… but I’m asking you to think about whether the image of the game among outsiders (typically those who have never played the game… or tried the game and did not enjoy the experience) has “shamed” you into keeping your appreciation and love for the game to yourself. Others may feel that golf should be exclusive and aspirational… and thereby choose not to “advertise” golf’s greatness.

This entire dynamic is very real to me, and I’m incredibly curious if this note will strike a chord in some of my friends and industry colleagues.

If the 2,000,000 people who work in the US golf industry were to adjust their thinking and harnessed their will and collective voice, I’m convinced that we could inspire a new generation of golfers in a scale that actually mattered.

Golf needs to be sold.

Golf is exactly what so many people need as the antidote to our manic digital lives. NGF data tells us that we have more than 35 million prospects for the game out there (well more than the 24 million who play).

MLK was an unbelievably powerful orator and I write this the day before the inaugural address of our incoming president…

Ask not what golf can do for you, ask what you can do for golf. Can those of us who golf has given a living and so much more… create, motivate and inspire people toward a new bright future for ourselves?

Yes We Can.

Cheers,

Yours truly, The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Holiday Thoughts

Volume 6, Issue 12 – December 2016

Every December around the Holidays, I think most people have a tendency to reflect on the previous year’s events. In this world of media immersion, you see reviews of 2016 everywhere. While I don’t personally subscribe to this point of view, I find that the feel of these 2016 “rewinds” are overwhelmingly negative. Losses of icons such as Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince, and Arnold Palmer are saddening, and if you throw in terrorist activities, the situation in Syria and the divisiveness and animosity of this year’s presidential election, you could really put yourself in some Christmas doldrums.

With a 12 year old daughter and a 15 year old son at home, I consistently remind them to concentrate on the things in their lives that they can control through their attitude and approach… through hard work, dedication and caring. Of course I want every happiness for them, yet fulfillment is achieved from the inside out… at least that’s how this Mayor sees the world… which brings me to the point of this blog.

We are so incredibly fortunate to be employed in a business focused on the economy of a game… the world’s most wonderful and maddening of games. For many in Crazy Town, golf is the most personal of passions. I sit here on December 21st in South Florida, writing about a game that employs me, allows me to support my family, presents me the opportunity to contribute to the successes of businesses run by friends and colleagues, and I get to work with a team of great people at the NGF who are dedicated to our members and clients.

When a game is also your livelihood, your present and future successes are tied. Well, we at the NGF can be grateful for a very good 2016. We don’t make golf clubs, mowers, fertilizers, golf cars or software, but we were incredibly busy this year with research engagements, consulting projects and email marketing campaigns. NGF executed a Golf Business Symposium in the spring and the HSBC Golf Business Forum in the fall. We did what we are here to do… inform and empower, activate customers and prospects… and help individuals and businesses succeed. The 25 people here in Jupiter care deeply. NGF and the business of golf both have much work to do if we’re going to remain prosperous and successful. We have great plans for 2017 and the journey will continue to be interesting and challenging, hopeful and inspiring.

The game itself inspires me. It requires my full concentration and imagination. Golf asks me to hold on tight and let go at the same time. Golf demands dedication and creativity. The physical and mental aspects of golf offer depths of intrigue that can never be completely explored and certainly not conquered. We have more wonderful people to meet and fantastic courses to play than we could ever possibly reach. We are incredibly fortunate and I like to remind myself of this often… and especially during the Holidays.

The future is indeed bright for those held together by the greatest game in the world. We simply cannot ever take life for granted. Put your hands on it, apply your mind to it, and bring positivity everywhere you go.

Cheers and best wishes to all… and I’d like to help you finish your year with a big smile. So… in the Holiday cooking spirit… please watch Shirley Caesar’s “Beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes.” Soon you’ll find yourself at the door to 2017… so please remember this: “You name it!”

Cheers,

Yours truly, The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 6, Issue 11 – November 2016
[Originally published in April 2012 – but still very relevant!)]

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town –

It’s our job at the NGF to track the vital signs of golf, so we’re very well aware of the attrition in the number of golfers and rounds seen over the past six years. The sky isn’t falling on golf, by any means, but any business that’s losing customers had better find out why, and figure out how to reverse it, or it will continue to struggle.

I was recently reminded (not a moment too soon, I might add) exactlywhat is required to grow the game. After dinner and a round of golf with two rare individuals with intimate knowledge and extensive experience in converting non-golfers into golfers… I was convinced, unequivocally, that it all comes down to one word. But first, a quick story told by one of these individuals.

Charlotte-based Del Ratcliffe came down to visit NGF’s Jupiter office a few weeks ago.  He told me about how he talked-up a cab driver on the way north from the Palm Beach Airport. “How do you live down here in south Florida and not play golf!?” Del asked. After finding out that the driver had some interest in playing, Del told him “Give me your phone number and I’m going to find you a local Get Golf Ready program to get you playing golf.” Plain and simple, Del invited this particular non-golfer to play golf… and he activated real-life latent demand.

So back to the word… the answer to reversing the declining (but stabilizing) number of golfers:

SALES!

Rocket science… no.  Effective… absolutely. There are more than 313,000,000 people in this country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Every non-golfer is a potential golfer and new customer, right. So why aren’t we creating more golfers?

Okay… golf is not for everybody. So what. The audience isn’t universal for any product or service. However, NGF research has consistently shown that there are a minimum of 25 million Americans who are “very” or “somewhat” interested in playing golf.

Sales 101 = ASK!
We’re not asking enough people!
We’re not asking them often enough!
Invite somebody to play.

Most of us agree that golf is the greatest game ever created, right? So when’s the last time, you, as a golfer, thought enough of a friend, business associate or family member to invite them to try golf? Many in our industry have long advocated that golfers at large could grow the population of players significantly. If just a fraction of us brought at least one new person to the course each year, the impact would be profound. This is true.

But those of us making our living in the golf industry are not just golfers at large… we’re professionally employed in the golf business. Our obligation (and enlightened financial self-interest) to sell is far greater. So why don’t we make more “asks?” Are we, like many salespeople, afraid of rejection? Do we think “sales” is a bad word synonymous with sleazy or intrusive? Are we so lazy that we think that we can leave the duty of sales to people with titles like “sales representative” or “sales manager?” Forget it. We all sell ourselves every day. We need to sell our game constantly and consistently. In a taxi, at the doctor’s office, at the post office, anywhere.

With this in mind, consider the thousands of us employed as PGA Professionals or work at one of the 16,000 golf facilities. The growth of those businesses depends on having current customers play more and finding new ones to play at least a little. Selling is how customers are made in any business on the planet. Selling something you love is the easiest sales gig around. It’s always genuine and never phony.

Invite people you know to play golf. If you invite them into more formal learning programs like Get Golf Ready in 5 Days, the research is clear that they’re more likely to stick with it and become a Core customer.

Make the ask. Explain the myriad benefits of playing golf. No training required.

Cheers,

Yours truly, The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 6, Issue 10 – October 2016
[Originally published in July 2011]

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town –

I’ll start out this month with a few “truths” that are unlikely to generate much debate.

  • Improving in golf is a difficult business
  • Getting better without expert advice and regular practice is unrealistic
  • A lot of practice…but with no quality advice…can groove bad habits and might actually do more harm than good
  • A golfer improving is a happy person

Since every golfer strives to get better (we all hope to get better without any effort), I wanted to spend a few minutes writing about those who are the best at helping golfers lower scores and subsequently raising the amount of fun.

With all the discussion of the slow leak in golfers and rounds the industry is experiencing…the health of the game will depend on people having fun on the course…and nothing I can think of in this game is more fun or satisfying than playing well. Maniacs like myself can have a version of “fun” even when we’re hacking the ball miles off the center line or chunking chips into small water features…but fun is generally at a premium for most golfers who just find the game frustrating and too dang hard! We’ve all heard somebody say “I’d play more if I was better…” or the Anglo/Slavic/Latin translation…“Golf is no fun because I suck.”

In my former life in the marketing department of GOLF Magazine in NYC, I had the pleasure of getting to know many of the incredible men and women on GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America list. In fact, sometime in the spring of 2000 or 2001, I attended a “Top 100 Teacher Weekend” at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, FL, where almost three dozen of these amazing folks were educating the guests on every aspect of the game.

Between that event and in the regular course of business, I’ve had the good fortune to meet legends like Jim Flick, Martin Hall, Bob Toski, Dr. Gary Wiren, Craig Shankland, Craig Harmon…along with some of the younger generation…pros like Eden Foster, Tom Patri, Scott Sackett, Shawn Humphries, and the omnipresent Michael Breed…some of whom I’m honored to call friends (and they would say “Mayor who?”).

The point of all this is that after spending a little time with some of these amazing people, several things struck me right off the bat that made it clear that these best-of-the-best instructors were very similar to the icons and innovators of any industry. In addition to the deepest understanding of their own field: golf swing, short game, course management, psychology, etc., they all share a few human qualities uniquely required by their profession…and they exemplify those qualities at the absolute highest levels.

  • They believe in the power of golf, how it enriches the soul, and its ability to change lives
  • They genuinely love helping people and they take joy from others’ improvement
  • They are terrific communicators with all the old-school fundamentals (look you in the eye, call you by name, great listeners, firm handshake)
  • Each has an heightened sense of focus, intensity, enthusiasm and positivity

Perhaps hizzoner is just being a master of the obvious here…but what golfer you know couldn’t use somebody like this in their life?! Find a PGA Professional (or try several) who you think will help you have more fun.

However, if you’re not a fan of live lessons…or you prefer to do things on your own…read the following two short books, at least twice each…they’re #’s 1 and 2 on the Mayor’s required reading list, Instruction Category:

  • The original Hogan’s Five Lessons, by Herbert Warren Wind
  • Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, by Dr. Bob Rotella

It is my firm belief that anybody with a minimum level of athleticism can become a single-digit handicap golfer by applying and practicing the content of those most brilliant of golf books. Go get better, play a set of tees in front of where you’ve been playing…and have more fun!

Cheers,

Yours truly, The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 6, Issue 9 – September 2016

When I joined NGF in 2007, a meaningful education in the history of the golf business began. My passion for the game itself started decades earlier… and with that passion came an insatiable appetite for both deep historical background and shallow trivia (you could call this “the ailment” that drove me to work in the golf industry in the first place). Both inside and out of the office, I devoured info on golf’s most noteworthy companies, important players, builders, course designers, equipment innovators, administrators of the game and more. Once in Jupiter, my golf consciousness was supplemented with the substantial institutional and practical knowledge available at the NGF. After all, you don’t become the Mayor of Crazy Town by being indifferent to these things!

Arnold Palmer was a living legend that I certainly paid close attention to. Everyone paid close attention to Arnold.

The magnetic charisma that drew an army of admirers, the swashbuckling hitch-of-the-pants and corkscrew swing, the go-for-broke style of play and famous charging victories… Mr. Palmer was irresistible on many levels. He even had his own trademark “move” (the thumbs up), color shirt (pink in contrast to Jack’s yellow), logo (Technicolor umbrella) and drink (which I learned this week was designed to be far more iced tea than lemonade).


SportsCenter Commercial

Considering the partial list of recognizable AP iconography I just presented, let’s not forget that Arnold and IMG founder Mark McCormack did nothing short of invent the sports marketing industry. This is perhaps the ultimate evidence that Arnold Palmer, perhaps like no other athlete before or since, was the ultimate cocktail of personality, athleticism, humility, accessibility, vulnerability and sex appeal. The King, indeed!

His famous handshake deal with McCormack extended the Palmer empire to Pennzoil (and likely the world’s most famous tractor), Hertz, Lamkin, Cooper Tires, Rolex, Callaway, course design and management, and so much more. Mr. Palmer was undeniably authentic, one of the ultimate hallmarks of a world-class pitch man. Today’s professional golfers and all professional athletes should all pay special homage to The King for their endorsement riches.

In 2016, the image of golf takes a regular beating from the general media who portray golf as elitist, sexist, discriminatory and wasteful of resources. Arnie’s passing is a much-needed reminder of the profound impact he had on golf participation and the public course building boom driven by the new audiences Palmer pulled in. This movement was inseparable from the humanity, generosity and every-man ethic Palmer portrayed throughout his life. He drew people to the game with the force of the Vardon vise-grip he learned from father Deacon. Palmer’s well-known upbringing as the son of an uncompromising Latrobe CC Superintendent only added to Palmer’s salt of the earth western PA appeal.

When the NGF and others look back at the key inflection points in the history in golf, 1960 must be mentioned. While Dwight Eisenhower was the country’s “First Golfer,” Arnold Palmer was the definitive front-man for that year. The Masters broadcast appeared in color for the first time… bringing Arnie’s win (birdies on the last two holes to win his 2nd green jacket) into America’s living rooms like never before. His epic come-from-behind win at the U.S. Open Championship weeks later at Cherry Hills is among the game’s most famous victories. With those two majors and Palmer’s exploding exposure and popularity, I suspect you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the original McCormack/Palmer deal also took place in 1960.

One of golf’s lesser-known milestones of 1960 is that it was the first year that public courses in America finally matched the number of private ones. Today, 75% of U.S. golf facilities are open for play to everyone. Golf’s broad acceptance as a game for the people was made possible and elevated to new heights on the broad shoulders of Mr. Arnold Palmer.

I had the great pleasure of a private meeting with Mr. Palmer at Bay Hill in 2011. Palmer, who like nearly every champion of his era, considered NGF co-founders Herb and Joe Graffis as friends, recorded a video congratulating the organization on its 75th year. I hope you’ll agree it’s worth a minute-and-a-half of your time to watch it.


Click here
to see Mr. Palmer talking about the golf industry on NGF’s 75th birthday.

This blog has always been written for those of us who love the game and are fortunate enough to work in the industry. Everyone who is employed in a golf-related business owes a debt of gratitude to The King.

Thank you, Arnold Palmer.


Mayor and The King, 2011

Cheers,

Yours truly, The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Image is Everything

Volume 6, Issue 8 – August 2016

[Reprinted from April 2013 Dashboard]

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town –

I would consider myself a highly visual person. You could say we are in an age of sensory overload, but until I’m six feet under, I will pause to appreciate those things whose aesthetics truly move me.  My father, an accomplished advertising creative talent, has been such an influence in the way he has always pointed out sights that deserved an extra look… things in the natural world, the flowing lines of a refined automobile (I’m told Dad’s first word as a baby was “car”), a particularly striking “shot” that a movie director captured on celluloid… and yes, even a beautiful woman.

I’ll take the metaphor a little bit further by saying that when it comes to the beauty of golf courses, I don’t really have a singular “type.”  It may not be up to full cliché status… but when course commentary emerges out of my own golf architecture geekdom, I often say “I like blondes, brunettes and redheads.”  If you prefer… I could substitute a more sophisticated analogy with Monet, Chagall and Picasso.

To illustrate, I have great appreciation for two renowned courses in eastern Long Island, both built in the past twenty years, that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed from a school of design standpoint.  The Bridge (Bridgehampton) is what I would call an ultra-modern work of golfsculpture by Rees Jones. You would never mistake this course for the type of minimalist design that Tom Doak, David McLay Kidd and Gil Hanse build.  The bunkering at The Bridge is oversized, bold, artful and, dare I say, manufactured on a very grand scale.  If The Bridge were a piece of classical music, you’d assume it was composed by Wagner.  I love it… but it’s not the popular neo-classic taste of the cognoscente… which leans toward courses that appear to have been laid out by nature and touched only by a soft hand.

Down the road a bit to the west in Baiting Hollow is Friar’s Head.  FH could loosely be called a hybrid of two of America’s most respected and beloved classic courses, Cypress Point (the “blow-out” sand dune hazards evoke the seaside sensibilities of MacKenzie’s masterpiece) and Pine Valley (with its massive waste bunkers and strategic angles and heroic carries).  Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s brilliant design is timeless and incredibly natural-looking.

Aside from being among the best places to spend a day on planet earth, what they also have in common is that they please your eyes and they’re not shallow or “skin deep” in their appeal.  The designers were expert in using their art to visually direct you around the course, showing you the way to play each hole without a schematic, yardage guide or pro’s tips. Virtually every shot requires some serious focus and thoughtful decision-making.

One of the things I love most about golf is that it is an outlet for my imagination. From any point on a hole, I try to digest the assignment presented to me by the designer, and then the rest is up to me. I TRY to create the right shot for the situation.  I’m not a great golfer, but I have a few different trajectories and shapes in my repertoire… and nothing pleases me more on the course than manufacturing shots that the land and the architect were begging for me to hit.  Great designs help me visualize the flight of the ball in my mind.  And I believe it is one of life’s great truths that reaching an objective requires that you clearly “see” the goal first, in your mind’s eye, in order to achieve it.

I recently received an unexpected package in the mail from a good friend, photographer Patrick Drickey.  Inside was a personal letter and an incredible coffee table book that he put together in an all-world partnership with golf’s greatest landscape artist, Linda Hartough.

Green Glory is indeed an embarrassment of ocular riches.  Golf visualizer that I am, Pat and Linda are the two individuals who have probably fed my love for golf courses (and inspired pilgrimages to them) more than any others, though I would be remiss if I didn’t use this space to also thank Joann Dost, Stephen Szurlej, Larry Lambrecht, Evan Schiller, Mike Klemme and Jim Krajicek who have given golf so much by introducing people around the world to game’s most profoundly beautiful designs through their photos.

I’m honored that many of Pat’s images grace the NGF’s website, and his framed works are prominent in my home and the walls of my office in Jupiter. Linda’s works line the hallways here at HQ… and I still find myself studying them, knowing that someday (if I’m fortunate), I will have the exact same vista, in person, staring me in the face.  I encourage you to check out their bodies of work and bring home the book or a piece of their art.  Perhaps their own visions will enrich your relationship with golf as they have mine.

Special notes about GREEN GLORY: A portion of every sale goes to support The First Tee.  The book is only available for purchase on Linda’s and Patrick’s websites at http://www.hartough.com/ andhttp://stonehousegolf.com.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)

Volume 6, Issue 7 – July 2016

[Reprinted from July 2014 Dashboard]

Fellow Citizens of Crazy Town –

In July of 2001, Hizzoner shot his all-time best “career round” of 73 (+1) at his former home club, Manhattan Woods GC, in Rockland County, NY.  MWGC is the current teaching home of my friend Michael Breed… he of the infinitely positive attitude, relentless intensity and purposeful Golf Channel jack-hammer of fantastic golf instruction. Prior to Michael, Mitchell Spearman had his U.S. teaching base on the MWGC range… making good on his fantastic reputation and delivering on the promises that only “the world’s most expensive golf instructor” can make.

Well… neither of those guys gets a pinch of credit for my lifetime best golf performance.  Even though they have generously provided me expert tips over the years, I always share the joy of my historic over-achievement with my amazing sister, Sue.  She walked step-for-step with me on that special day and her presence contributed greatly to the round.  While I certainly hit all the shots, I eclipsed my career low by a full four shots because of my state of mind.  I was so happy to be with her (Sue and Hizzoner don’t get to spend much time together)… and our conversations over those miraculous four hours alternated between deep and shallow, and from family to frivolity.

I was mindlessly enjoying her company… and the golf shots were short moments of focus that intermittently created gaps in our conversation.  The golf certainly was far from serious.  I wasn’t thinking about “shooting a number” and some of my more typical “grinding” was out of the question. I was most comfortable NOT thinking about golf (which is virtually impossible for me!), except for the 30-45 seconds required to focus on the specific shot at hand.  I had always read that this was how the best on-course thinking is done… I just had never experienced it personally.

This and every July, I like to remember this round because it reminds me about some of the amazing ways the human mind works.  For context, I shoot between 83-87 in almost every round.  I don’t practice nearly enough to expect much improvement from there… and I certainly play well enough to enjoy my game, independent of score.

But occasionally, I play a round of golf or two where my mindset returns to where I was with Sue.  Two recent experiences with my good friend Andrew Fleming brought me back to the mindset of the 70s-shooter.  Great days with AF (at Mountain Lake in FL and Blue Mound in WI, for those who care) have inspired rounds of 74 and 78 and padded my wallet appropriately, much to his feigned dismay.  My thinking on those days was very similar to my memorable day with Sue.

This is very top of mind now because the aforementioned sister Sue is getting married later this month.  My personally famous July 2001 round with her is one of the clearest examples of how much love we have for each other… despite the 115 she shot that special day.  I can say, without hesitation, that Sue enjoyed her 115 as much as I enjoyed my 73. The toast I’m preparing for her wedding will undoubtedly include a few doozies that will appropriately embarrass her… but I’m forever thankful for the gift of calm and peace from our shared experience 13 years ago that I’ll never forget.

Golf is an incredible gift to be shared and I hope all Crazy Town residents enjoy some memorable July experiences.

Cheers from the HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)