Volume 5, Issue 11 – November 2015
A note from China –
It’s 4:45 a.m. here in Shanghai (November 4), but I’ve had a good night’s sleep and my mind is quite active right now. I’m wide awake indeed, catching up on emails… and I wouldn’t mind being a little tired later when I’m on the airplane(s) home. I suppose since I have a very long day of travel ahead and the trip is coming to a close, my subconscious is forcing me to begin digesting everything from the week at the HSBC Golf Business Forum where NGF was a premier partner and speaker/content provider.
A view of Downtown Shanghai from the site of the HSBC Golf Forum.
To say it’s been a very interesting trip would be a gross understatement. I suppose of all places to go on a first trip to Asia, Shanghai or Hong Kong would likely be among the least disconcerting (relative to other destinations) for an American… especially one who grew up in a “big energy” city like New York, but it was still a major culture shock as I was warned it would be. Outside the bubble of the Golf Business Forum where everything is scheduled and handled, communication is difficult, my credit cards don’t work and life is bustling around you everywhere.
When I ventured out into the city on the first night (Halloween, btw) with my friend Steve Bauerle from GolfTEC, that’s when I really got a feel for what it might be like to be “an international” in your 30s or 40s here. The New Yaw-ker in me was very comfortable with the environment… but what I’ve only begun to realize since then is that I feel VERY small here. Making the 70 to 90 minute drive outside the city to Lan Hai International Golf Resort yesterday was an opportunity to see some of the size and scale of Shanghai and reflect on the rest of China you can’t see.
The number and size of the buildings in the city, the length of the tunnels and bridges to get out of the city (insane!) and the visual sweep of the suburbs are a lot to fathom. I look at specific ramshackle homes and then the nicer ones and imagine “who lives there?” or “what do those people do for a living?” and I find myself at a complete loss.
As somebody who feels like they really do understand people… I realize that there is so much here that I don’t comprehend at all. I’m not speaking about the golf industry folks… we have much in common… but when I look outside the GBF, everything seems so completely foreign from a psychological standpoint. The deck is completely reshuffled in terms of any insight I normally have on what makes people tick. Of course I realize that certain things are universal like the love of family and the need to pursue security, food, clothing and shelter… but I’ve looked into the eyes of many Chinese people here and they give back a different spirit and energy than I’m used to… and I want to understand it better.
For example, the female caddies at Lan Hai International Golf Resort yesterday really seemed to be fun loving young girls (kidding each other and poking fun at each other when they thought nobody was looking) – but completely incapable of communicating with us. The girls seem to operate in fear of getting in trouble… but they did have a fun human side that they showed to each other but clearly felt uncomfortable showing us. Our group busted its collective gut… when the first instantly understandable comment from the caddies was heard on the 2nd tee. “Oh No!” was reflexively yelped upon seeing one player’s drive fly dead right and off the planet. Sorry Manny.
The spectacular clubhouse at the Lan Hai International Golf Resort in Shanghai.
The Lan Hai Club itself was beyond extravagant… and there were members… old guys clearly worth millions of Yuan… wearing shabby business clothes while napping on couches in plain sight and snoring their butts off. The ceilings were 25-30 ft. high in the bar and library… with amazing mill work all around… but empty shelves everywhere… including the pro shop and other rooms. It’s rather bizarre… like an unfinished palace… even though they are not a new club and have something like 800 members there (mostly Chinese, not internationals).
A look down the hallway at the Lan Hai International Resort clubhouse.
Bottom line is that I certainly don’t feel like I understand the Shanghai or Chinese culture at all… because it‘s loaded with many contradictions. The side-by-side existence of communism and capitalism, poverty and immense wealth, humility and hubris… it’s really hard to get your head around, in all honesty. I’m sure there are a few books I should read… I’m open to recommendations.
Back to the GBF. It’s been a terrific experience and a wonderful opportunity to be here at the premier global golf conference with our partners from IMG. I’m grateful for the experience. After going more than 10 years without any international travel beyond North America, 2015 had me in France, Spain, Scotland, and now China… and I feel different having experienced those places… and I knew I would.
The leaders of several of the world’s top professional tours and organizations were on hand in Shanghai.
More than anything, I am extremely proud to have represented NGF well here… halfway around the world… while spending time with a group of international golf business leaders who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting before. I didn’t get to meet everyone I wanted to, but almost everyone.
The Mayor delivers his speech at the HSBC Golf Business Forum
The feedback on the NGF presentation I made was positive and rewarding. I’m brutally critical of myself and I don’t think I deserved more than a “B” grade on the speech, relative to my absolute best delivery… but others saw it differently and felt compelled to tell me so over the past 2 or 3 days. The content was designed to provide a new perspective on Golf’s Global Brand (see the recap of the Mayor’s speech in this November issue of the NGF Dashboard) and it was the first time anyone had delivered this presentation. As a result, I’ll freely admit that I felt some palpable waves of pressure in the 24 hours leading up to my time on stage… further aggravated by a jet-lagged lack of any decent sleep the immediate night before.
The industry continues to talk to itself, as it relates to growing the game. Professional golf is important in terms of exposing the game to millions of TV viewers around the world. However, the pro game is the entertainment business and not the recreational golf business… Can GBF attendees Rickie and Bubba help grow the game’s cool factor? Yes it can. But we need more transparent discussion that golf participation growth will succeed or fail at golf courses, the engine of the golf economy… through the marketing and selling of the game, widespread invitation of prospects and accommodating new (and often intimidated) players.
Growing participation in new markets requires several foundational components including heroes (pros and celebrities who play the game and can inspire others to play), corporate sponsors like HSBC (thank you Giles Morgan), availability of golf instruction, a strong middle class and developers who create accessible and affordable golf. Without public golf that’s priced within reach of the middle class, golf cannot grow among the masses with any scale.
Of course we can always hope that a Chinese national wins the Olympic Gold medal in 2016 or 2020, but that’s not really a constructive nor strategic approach to golf’s global future. Like any other product or service, golf must be available, golf must be sold and golf must be FUN.
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)