Lessons Learned During a Lifetime

2919 6
2919 6
Register for a free webinar

Was speaking with a former editor of a leading golf course monthly magazine.   He was expressing his frustration with people within the golf business to sustain meaningful change to help the industry grow.  Getting them to do the intuitively obvious he felt is constantly met with great resistance.

He commented that in his many interviews with senior management at the CMAA, NGCOA, NGF, PGA, and USGA the only thing they were in universal accord on was that they were very wary of me.

I chuckled and said, “I take that as a compliment, and I empathize with their viewpoint.”

My simple goal is to educate golf course owners to create value for their customers on a foundation that optimizes the financial performance of their golf course. That is one of the roles of those Associations and the research I undertake they reject that is their defense to create the walls to create an illusion of superiority.

As we trip across the line and become eligible for Social Security tomorrow, let me share some key insights about a few of the many hurdles encountered.

  • CMAA: After I have completed Business Management Institute II and III as the Interim General Manager at the Columbian Country Club in Dallas, TX, they would not permit me to take the Club Managers exam as I was serving as a consultant to the course and did not have “sufficient time in grade.”
  • NGCOA: Though a corporate member who got several courses to join, never invited me to speak from 1989 to 2016 – even pro bono.  In 2017, I did speak though I was not listed in the program of guest speakers.
  • NGF: Using their data licensed at a cost exceeding $10,000, I developed the Predictive Index and the Golf Executive Management System comprising 21 templates to help golf course owners develop strategic plans. Offered to provide them, while in their offices as an executive member, co-ownership of our intellectual property and co-authorship of our Business of Golf book series.  They had no interest in the research we conducted or an affiliation with the book series that would benefit golf course owners.
  • PGA: The Senior Director, Education, and Employment told at the PGA Show in Las Vegas several years ago, “I was a mosquito on the ass of an elephant, and all that he wanted to do was kill me.” When I presented an early draft of “The Business of Golf – What Are You Thinking?” to ensure it was accurate and presented the PGA of America in a positive light, I was told sitting at the conference table in the PGA Headquarters by the Senior Director, Corporate and Global Insights / Research and Industry Relations, “You don’t expect a PGA Professional to read a book, do you?”  When I queried whether the typical PGA Professional who stands behind a POS counter is comparable to a Starbucks barista or a Norstrom’s clerk, the Chief Executive Officer unsubscribed from our newsletter.  When I questioned whether a Section’s Award of PGA Professional of the Year was based on patronage and not merit, the Chief Operating Officer unsubscribed from our newsletter.
  • USGA: Concerned about the long-term economic viability of golf, they conduct an annual conference to address vital issues. We offered to undertake pro bono research correlating the slope rating to the MOSAIC Profile of every course in the United States.  There is a definite relationship that determines the financial potential of a golf course.  I even demonstrated pro bono to the Chief Financial Officer the USGA for her private club that was struggling on Long Island the power of the numbers we had developed.
    The response from the USGA Technical Director six months after submitting our proposal was, “The slope rating was to be used for handicap purposes only and that they would not provide me the data requested.”  Ironically, the slope rating for every golf course is in the public domain and could be obtained albeit with a massive labor hour effort that the USGA could alleviate instantly if they cared about the financial stability of golf courses.

Some would question why I would highlight these foibles of Associations.

In Geoffrey A. Moore classic book, “Crossing the Chasm,” the golf industry is part of the late majority and laggards in adopting new ideas and concepts.  My client base has always been the innovators and early adopters.  Thus, in highlighting the roadblocks placed before me by Associations, it endears me to a narrow set of leaders in which we are able to undertake research and guidance for their benefit.  As Sally Hogshead in the book, “How the World Sees You” classified me, “I am a maestro” orchestrating change by creating insights that have meaningful value.

Here are a few lessons that I learned about the golf industry:

  • Nearly 40% of the golf courses in the US are economically unviable.
  • Despite the emphasis on diversity and inclusion, golf is largely a sport for well-do-do Caucasian men.
  • Most golf courses don’t comprehend that they are in the entertainment business.
  • Few golf courses have a strategic plan and even fewer allocate cash flow to a capital reserve account.
  • Most daily fee golf course owners are very poor at marketing. If they were competent, they would never use GolfNow.  They don’t understand the GolfNow is likely liquidating over $30,000 annually in their tee times in exchange for software valued at $4,000.
  • Management companies are far more efficient than daily fee golf course owners but don’t come close to optimizing the financial performance of a golf course.
  • Several management companies operate with clear conflicts of interests financially benefitting themselves at the expense of the golf course owner.
  • Municipalities are poor stewards of taxpayer resources. The decisions they make would be vastly different if they were spending their own money.
  • The fringe benefits paid by municipalities or the use of union labor make the probability of their financial success unlikely.
  • The Request for Proposal process undertaken by municipalities is a shame and a wasteful effort of a vendor’s resources. The NGF frequently wins, not because of the quality of their work, but because of their brand. You don’t get fired for “hiring IBM” as the expression goes.
  • Associations are very in-bred. They reject nearly anything developed externally that might benefit their membership.
  • Associations talk constantly about how they are working more closely together but it is under the guise of “keep your friends close, your enemies closer.”
  • When senior leaders of an Association talk with you, what they most often tell you is to pacify you but it is not what is truly they believe. They are masters of the “spin.”

These lessons learned within the golf industry, now shape 10 lessons about life itself.

  1. Capitalism constantly devours its creations as change is a constant.
  2. Equality is an ethical and not a biological principle.  If You Come from a Place of Privilege, Equality Seems Like Oppression.
  3. Brand, in the short-term, is more important than the quality of the product or service.
  4. Most people fail to take the initiative because they overestimate the strength or desire of others.
  5. A person will never have sufficient time to accomplish all that they desire.
  6. Our needs can be filled, but our desires can never be satisfied.
  7. A person’s life will always have challenges. After hello, how are you, everyone has a life story to tell about the problems they have faced.
  8. All of life is in the balance. Good and bad, love and indifference exist in equal proportions.
  9. One’s self-preservation trumps community welfare as world peace is a utopian concept that cannot be achieved.
  10. Success is not a destination and though it is a journey, success is fleeting.

As a result of those insights about life, here is what I now understand about myself that I will apply going forward:

  • I am a perfectionist in an imperfect world, and it has made me crazy at times. The “good enough” is a disease that is pervasive.
  • I am often in error but rarely in doubt.
  • I greatly overestimated the intelligence and diligence of the majority of people I have met.
  • I intimidate the vast majority, so they create barriers to mask their ignorance.
  • I wasted my time helping / networking / providing information and advice to people.  I have always been much more committed to the success of others than they have been to their success. The number of people who listened and took advantage of the things I’ve mentioned has been only a small percentage.  Sadly it was mostly a colossal waste of time.

What was the purpose of these narcissistic rambling ruminations?

The lesson for you as for as a golf course owner or manager, though we are interdependent on each other, one’s success is solely dependent upon oneself with a healthy dose of luck.

That is my opinion.  What is yours?  Comment below.


Join the Conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1.    Reply

    NGF did you a favor. You are doing work that is for the “good of the game”. NGF only cares about themselves. I’d bet the don’t even play golf. The “build a course a day” baloney came from them and hurt the business.

  2.    Reply

    Jim – your insight and forthrightness is probably far more appreciated than you realize. Thanks for what you do. The industry, game, business of golf is very cumbersome and slow to react/act. But, looking back you will probably see that it has been listening and ultimately following a lot of your advice – just far slower than you feel they should. Lead on. Ted

  3.    Reply

    Jim – the lessons you have shared ring true and are valuable to anyone who is fortunate enough to read your newsletters or listen to you speak. They are also valuable to anyone who is immersed in the business of golf and are passionate about game and its future. We can learn from each other every day if we choose to listen to each other even if we don’t agree with an opposing opinion.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that we are responsible for our own actions and that we make our own luck. In my years as a golf professional I have had the good fortune to have been involved with some of the finest properties and owners in the USA and I still feel that I learn something new on a daily basis that can help me our the properties improve. Please know that your insight is appreciated.

  4.    Reply

    Well said! You never cease to amaze me with your insight and analyses of the Golf Industry and the Business of Golf. I find the ironic truths that you preach both amazingly accurate and extremely entertaining.

    Thank you for being you.

  5.    Reply

    All I can say is… wow… you are a very interesting man indeed. I’d like to play a round of golf with you sometime… if you’re ever in the neighborhood (Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro), let’s get together. If you don’t have time for 18, we’ll play some Quick.golf.

  6.    Reply

    I enjoy my association with you, as I am on a lifetime quest for lifelong learning, including personal and professional continued growth. It is unfortunate for our organization that you were considered a mosquito on the ass of an elephant. My management style is to always listen to criticism and comments from my membership. If I don’t have a good reason for our policies, procedures and general practices-maybe they need to be changed. I have implemented many suggestions form my customers and staff over the years.
    Your articles, webinars and books have given me some great information. You have given me some excellent insights and helped me think more strategically.
    Do you know Teri Finnan at Club Benchmarking? He has provided me a wealth of great information, too. The combination of you two men has truly rendered me much more capable of presenting a more solid financial plan at the clubs where I work.
    Thanks for all you do for our industry It seems to many forget we are in the hospitality business. My dad taught me to thank people for their business and to strive to make my club a fun place to work and belong. Please keep at it.