An Open Letter to Jay Karen, Chief Executive Officer, NGCOA

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Note this letter is in response to an email from Jay Karen on November 9, 2017 in which he wrote:

“I wish you could find ways to make some of your points without being so insulting to course owners and operators.  You repeatedly and unapologetically call them stupid.  I understand your obvious frustration.  I really do.  But I think it’s more complex than calling people stupid.  The elitism and insults are pretty repulsive and getting a bit too common and predictable, IMHO.”

Dear Jay:

Have a great respect for your opinion and sincerely appreciate the feedback.  I monitor and consider fully not only the many positive comments that I receive privately as well as candid observations like you were so kind to express.  Honest people can hold varying viewpoints, and in this case, we do.

While I don’t believe I have ever used the word “stupid”, I concede that the implications of the sentiments expressed could lead one to that conclusion.  In that context, we are addressing that owners vastly underperform leaving untold profits adrift.

When you have 15 minutes, I would be glad to discuss a point/counter-point article/blog.  I would take the position that the vast majority of golf course owners are failing to achieve 60% of the investment potential of their facility detailing all of the strategic, tactical and operational issues that core business owners should implement that current owners don’t even understand and if they comprehend lack the resources, motivation, and staff to properly execute.


  • Know how the MOSAIC profile correlates to the slope rating of their course as a predictor of success.
  • Know the actual demographics of their competitive market
  • Know the actual spending by residents per 18 holes within 10 miles of their golf course for green fees, carts, merchandise and food and beverage.
  • Can answer the question in six words or less what is unique about their course that would compel me to play it
  • Proactively market with a segmented database by gender, ethnicity, age, or ability.


  • Set prices based on the floor created by their competitors
  • Believe supply vastly exceeds demand (it doesn’t in the top 100 CBSAs)
  • Are of the mindset that marketing consists of turning your tee sheet over to GolfNow or EZ Links.
  • Describe their success as to whether rounds are up or down and not whether REVPAR increased or decreased

Having seen over 4,000 golf courses in 49 countries (I believe more than anyone in the world), I have a high degree of confidence and a probable small margin of error in my conclusions.  Please don’t confuse what you described as elitism as nothing more than I have vastly exceeded Malcolm Gladwell’s threshold for being an expert.  Our proprietary Predictive Index and 18 templates provide the golf course owner short-cuts that facilitate their success.  The Customer Value Experience template (currently in beta testing) attached to this November 9, 2017, email is a completely novel way of guiding a golf course owner to establish their green fee price.   Be glad to get your feedback after you privately test it.   Thank you for not distributing to any of your members as it is part of our intellectual property.

If the owners in mass were talented, I would have never been able to make it a career, management companies would not exist and you would not have a job.  So we should perhaps solace in that golf course owners require substantial education and guidance.

I close with the following true story.  In showing a draft of my book before being published to the PGA of America’s senior management team in 2010, their response was, “You don’t actually expect a PGA Professional to read a book do you?”

Nothing else needs to be written.

Love the debate for we have the same objective:  create value for golfers on a foundation that optimizes the investment return for a golf course owner.

If you have a moment, be glad to discuss.  If not, I fully understand.

JJ Keegan, Strategist
4406 Orofino Place
Castle Rock, CO  80108


Prologue:  What is the NGCOA Financially Struggling?

Every business is governed by the same formula.  Values = experience – price.  When the experience equals or exceeds the price, customer loyalty is created.  When the price exceeds the experience.  Customer attrition occurs.

The reason the NGCOA is financially struggling I suspect is because the dwindling membership doesn’t perceive they are receiving value for the membership dues and the conference fees paid.

The NGCOA has a revenue problem – not an expense problem.  While some may write the de-minimus check out of a sense of duty or charity, similar to a golf course that “gives” their course without compensation to a State Golf Association to hold a “barbecue tournament” for its amateur golfers, goodwill has a limited life on generosity.

The NGCOA cites the following benefits of membership on their website:

  • National Perspective
  • Business Resources
  • Expert Connections
  • Advocacy and Legislative Reform
  • Membership Perks
  • Cost-savings solutions
    • Golf Cards
    • Insurance
    • Food and Related Services
    • Travel
    • Beverage Supplies
    • Turf Equipment and Irrigation

While the list appears impressive, I wonder how many of the 5,300 members are availing themselves of the benefits?  Probably few.

Who is responsible for the low adoption rate: NGCOA leadership or the member?  It is my guess the breakdown is in leadership communicating with each member.  If it were I, I might create an annual electronic survey listing the benefits and have the member score the value received and foregone.  It would make them more aware of the benefits that exist justifying their membership.

However, a more tangible value creation would be boosting the educational opportunities for membership.  One of the best opportunities to educate their membership the NGCOA has not been leveraged.  For years the NGCOA has largely boycotted Legendary Marketing, National Golf Foundation, Pellucid, other qualified consultants and ourselves from presenting to their membership for a fee.

The issue, while it should be simple, is complex. The boycott is politically based as three of the four of us present what some might call an industry contrarian view that we define as reality.

The issue also involves two scams:  When offering the consultant the opportunity to speak it is pro bono with the promise that the opportunity will generate subsequent revenue for the consultant. Further, the NGCOA expects a firm to pay them for a commercial endorsement.   Both represent more a charitable contribution than an investment with a projected return for the consultant.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has it right.  They reimburse speakers a $500 honorarium fee and travel expenses.  As a result, they attract the most qualified speakers that can provide specific actionable guidance to their membership.

It is my thought that if the NGCOA offered member paid webinars, more broadly negotiated volume discounts for consulting services with qualified firms and offered honorariums to speakers, the quality of their educational offering would dramatically improve over the qualitative academic pablum now served throughout the year and at the Golf Industry Show, the sole exception being the recent TECHCON Conference in Las Vegas.

You would think Jay would respond to our offer in an entrepreneurial spirit to discover and learn of research that has been undertaken that crystallizes for the golf course owner the probabilities for their success and the path on which to proceed.  The Customer Value Experience templates have been tested by too many golf course owners with amazing results for it to be summarily dismissed.  Just ask the owners at Chalk Mountain or Sagamore Hampton.

It is my opinion that until the primary focus of the NGCOA is to provide meaningful education to golf course owners that guides and assists them in their daily operations, the NGCOA will continue to become less relevant and face financial challenges.

So that is my thought, what is yours?  Comment below.










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  1.    Reply

    As an NGCOA Canada member I have always felt my return on annual dues FAR exceeded the cost for membership. I believe we Canucks have a fabulous organization that strives to provide its members with a wealth or resources, savings programs, lobbying efforts, communication and educational sessions that set themselves apart from other industry associations.

    While I agree that many golf course owners (myself one of them) are not the best marketers, I do not agree that all NGCOA organizations are alike.

    1.    Reply

      Completely agree with you. The NGCOA Canada under the leadership of Jeff Calderwood and Nathalie Lavallée are fine examples of the value an Association can create for their members.

  2.    Reply

    As usual on the money Jim. I had a nice chat with Jay when he took over, the NGOAn He talked a good game about re- setting the relationship and asking for forgiveness for the sins of the past (Mike Hughes) . Then I gave Jay a FREE membership to my programs at the and suggested ways we might cooperate, after six month he never even login 🙂


  3.    Reply

    Jim –You are correct in saying that education is lacking and after 50 plus years in the industry I think it is really a combination of a lack of or no education and a complete lack of motivation. It is similar to playing the game as one’s comfort zone dictates the boundaries and risks they wish to expose themselves in operations or playing.
    Like you I have visited over a thousand facilities in my lifetime and very few appear to operate in a customer friendly fashion — if it is going to be difficult to be a customer then they always seem to make it more difficult.

  4.    Reply

    JJ, I don’t always agree with you but in this case, you got it right. Both the NGCOA and the NGF stood back and watched the industry fall into its current mess. NGF even published a report confirming golf’s dilemma back in 2000. but hey did absolutely nothing about it.

    Keep the pressure on both of them (NGCOA and NGF). Meanwhile, everyone needs to go back to school and learn how to run a golf course.

    I keep saying there are 10 million people out there right this minute who want to play golf and they’re being ignored. Mike Kahn, Golfmak, Inc.