2019 PGA Merchandise Show – A Life Lesson Learned

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In a forum where speaking is in vogue, you can learn a lot by listening.

For the 31st Year, I attended the Golf Industry’s Annual Reunion which left me pondering whether I am merely an analyst, a realist or a cynic.  My goal is to be an independent research analyst that provides smart, profitable insights to clients who recognize the value of such information.

As I enter the fourth quarter of my career and am hopefully not playing in overtime or sudden death, I think I finally understand the principal drivers in the golf industry and why change occurs at a glacier and not an incremental or exponential pace.

I believe I have found the “broken link” in the industry.  Well-meaning Associations create programs and buzz, in part for self-preservation to protect their turf, with the hopes that the masses will follow their lead.  Once introduced, too little capital is allocated to marketing and resource assistance for these programs to become effectively implemented.

Further, even if such funds were expended by the Association, it is debatable whether golf course operators, in the aggregate, possess the capability (motivation, desire or time) or the capital to implement and hence only glacier progress is made.

During the PGA Show, the following educational sessions were held at the PGA Forum Stage (ranked in descending order as to the value of a golf course operator in my opinion):

  • TopGolf Top Tracer
  • Leveraging the Game in a Digital Age
  • New Callaway Fitting Technology
  • Club Car Energizes Golf Experience with Tempo walk
  • #InviteHer
  • The Millennial Perspective
  • Inclusion Diversity Innovation
  • Future of Coaching
  • Sirius Town Hall – Greg Norman
  • Sirius Town Hall – Top Teachers
  • My PGA Journey – Mentors
  • Coaching and Recruiting from a College Coach

Most of the educational sessions were updated repeats from 2018.  Do you think the industry is listening and learning?  I have my doubts.

An important issue for me is diversity and inclusion in this great sport.  However, it appears to escape the conscience of the major companies within this industry despite the valid efforts of many including the extremely talented Sandy Cross, Chief People Person of the PGA of America.

Presented below is a picture shown at the conclusion of the Titleist presentation with Brad Faxon appearing on stage with a company spokesperson.

Can you spot a female or minority person in this picture?  I can’t.  Help me out.  Did I miss something?

It is inconceivable to me that a firm the size and substance of Titleist would be so ignorant or insensitive of today’s reality.

Personally, I am a big fan of Get Golf Ready (my wife’s introduction to the game three years ago), PGA Junior League (36,000 participants in 2017 grew to 52,000 participants in 2018), First Tee (though it has lost its way during the past 18 months) and I believe the success of these programs can be measured in the over $1 billion of economic impact these programs have had on the golf industry.

The positive view I have of these programs contributes to a high level of confusion for me when I contrast them against the overlapping roles many Associations perform under the guise of validating their purpose.

The National Golf Foundation’s mission is to foster the growth and vitality of the game.  It was reported to us that Dr. Beditz, President of the National Golf Foundation, an individual that I highly respect, stated in a presentation at the PGA Merchandise Show that the programs promulgated by the USGA and the PGA were of little value in growing the game.  In 2019, the NGF is going to invest $150,000 in one test market to reintroduce a program they developed in the 1990s:  Welcome to Golf Program.

This is mind numbing.  The NGF has  $2,920,544 in net equity with annual revenue of only $1,980,815 as reported in the 2016 Form 990 – “Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.”  Download.  What is the anticipated return on investment to the NGF from the $150,000 expenditure?

An organization whose principal role was to undertake independent research to stimulate the business of golf is now venturing into golf programming.  Industry insiders commented that the National Golf Foundation may be looking at a longer-term positioning in their business model.  The ongoing demand for market research may not be able to sustain the entity, and they may be contemplating other revenue sources that further blur the line between each Association’s focus and role.  For years, many have questioned whether the NGF Consulting Division has the independence required to effectively guide golf courses.

What is the lesson for the golf course operators?   Listen a lot and choose selectively.  Your success is ultimately dependent upon your OWN efforts.  While Associations mean well and believe their efforts contribute positively to the golf industry, it is sometimes hard for them to separate their interests from what will ultimately benefit you as an individual operator in the golf industry.

 

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10 comments

  1.    Reply

    Hi Jim, alerted to your article through an Andrew Wood repost on LinkedIn and had to drop a comment to say thank you for what I agree to be a very accurate insight and delivered more succinctly than I could ever put it.
    As someone who proudly worked for the national association in Scotland during a phase when we received significant investment for the biggest ever national junior programme, I still agree with your comment that “Once introduced, too little capital is allocated to marketing and resource assistance for these programs to become effectively implemented.” Our programme gained traction, but once priorities shifted, within 1 year of losing our focus on supporting and resourcing it, holes began to appear on the ground at clubs.
    Likewise, your final paragraph rings home for me, having had countless conversations with golf clubs here in Scotland who I think on reflection, expected/hoped for our national junior programme to solve all their problems just by having the badge of being a ‘delivery centre’. The reality is that we ended up with small groups of very passionate volunteers at 100’s of golf clubs trying to do something that was critical to their golf club as a business, but yet they were not acknowledged or supported enough by the club’s management itself. Many clubs didn’t take full ownership of the programme as a critical part of their business and over time it was not sustainable.
    Your final sentence is also an absolutely fair comment – one which I’ve reflected a lot on in recent years as an Association staff member. We can only take the horse to water, but perhaps at times we maybe promised more than that and couldn’t deliver.

  2.    Reply

    Preach! Thanks for sharing what others will not…

  3.    Reply

    Well said…..when you find you have no friends in the golf industry for your “tell it like it is” approach, I will still be your friend. By the way, what is the solution? I think the PGA, PGA Tour, the USGA, and the Golf Course Owners should get in a room and don’t come out until everyone has defined roles in growing the game.

    Probably no Titleist golf balls headed your way in the mail.

    1.    Reply

      My clients are golf courses helping them create value for golfers on a foundation that optimizes the financial performance of the course. Nothing more, said the Raven.

  4.    Reply

    Jim,

    Nice article. The courses would exist even without the associations, the reverse cannot be said.

    1.    Reply

      Fabulous insight. Never thought of it from that perspective. What golf lacks, versus all other major sports, is a Commissioner, rather than multiple Associations all serving niches that are largely self-defined.

  5.    Reply

    Great read Jim. More voices are needed like yours. I have managing golf facilities for 30 years, and the industry “leaders” have never been more misguiding than today. Golf facility operators are truly alone with regard to national support in their operations. They must take care of the hole in the bottom of the bucket before they are trying to add more water.

  6.    Reply

    Spot on.

  7.    Reply

    Nice article Jim. Great seeing you at the show.

    Tom Robshaw

  8.    Reply

    Good insightful stuff as awlays Jim and I totally agree!