In the Rough or a Favorable Lie? Perspectives Vary on the State of Golf

My on and off affair with golf started when I was about 17, and has been somewhat tumultuous. Like many duffers, I’ll take some time off, then mosey out to the range after watching a PGA event on TV. Next thing you know,  the seductive temptress known as a promising round appears with her flowing hair as beautiful and dangerous as windblown fescue — and once again I’m hooked and helpless. Walter White himself might as well be running the clubhouse cash register.

Yet with viewership of the PGA’s major tournaments reportedly down — often credited to Tiger Woods’ absence (he’s battled serious injuries and hasn’t won a major since 2008) — and with Millennials more interested in soccer (and their smartphones), there’s been much speculation that the game’s popularity has dropped off like a shank over a Pebble Beach cliff. Many attribute it to the time commitment of an 18-hole round — and legend Jack Nicklaus even proposes a move to a 12-hole standard outing for amateurs.

However, findings portrayed in a recent Golf Digest article posit the game is not in as dire shape as some might have you believe. We hope this is the case for our members in the golf industry:

Contrary to popular belief, there are positive stories in equipment sales, rounds played, and even employment opportunities. The professional game might be on better financial footing than any other individual sport, and maybe most important, the game’s leaders have embraced the idea of growing the game in its most important way: young people. The story of golf in July 2014 certainly is not candy canes and rainbows, but those clouds might not be as dark as others have been so quick to point out.

Has 2014 been a down year for equipment sales and rounds played? Certainly. Is there an oversupply of golf courses (fueled by unsustainable real-estate projections) and golf-equipment inventory (driven by overzealous manufacturers who were primed by unrealistic sales forecasts from certain large-scale retailers)? Unquestionably. But that’s a relative and limited point of view. First, let’s remember this: There were about 5 million golfers in 1960. While U.S. population has increased only some 75 percent since then, the number of golfers has more than quintupled to around 25 million.

Recent data from golf-retail research firm Golf Datatech show that the sale of hard goods (clubs, balls, bags, shoes and gloves) through the first six months of the year are higher than or equal to 12 of the previous 17 years. Is the trend line down from the somewhat freakish highs of 2006-’08? Yes. But there are unquestionable categories of enthusiasm this year. Iron sales, the largest purchase a golfer makes, have been up this year. The wedge market, thought to be dead after the USGA rolled back groove performance, has been consistently up this year. Even the footwear market has been an important, steady source of revenue. Callaway Golf just announced its second-quarter earnings and noted its sales for the first half of 2014 were up 9 percent, with growth in all categories, including woods (up 8 percent), irons (up 14 percent), putters (up 9 percent) and golf balls (up 7 percent).

There have been arguments that television ratings for golf are down in 2014 (and indeed the majors have been off), but according to the PGA Tour, the number of unique viewers this year is consistent, and sponsorship interest across all tours has risen to unprecedented levels. Golf Channel set a ratings record for the month of April this year…

Bishop and other leaders believe young people are not only the catalysts for golf’s future, but the strongest elements of golf’s present. Finchem points to The First Tee reaching a record 3.5 million youngsters in the last year. That’s a powerful number when you realize that a traditional, outdoor, analog game like golf is somehow energizing a nation that is eschewing physical education, battling a growing childhood-obesity problem and fighting a culture that sees kids spending nearly eight hours a day in front of screens.

VIDEO: 2015 Senior PGA Championship Coming to French Lick

The 76th Senior PGA Championship will be played at French Lick Resort in 2015. For Hoosier golf fans, this will be an ideal opportunity to see some great golf played on one of the top courses in the country. The Pete Dye course resides atop the second highest point in Indiana, and is one of the state’s most intriguing landscapes.

Gov. Mike Pence also expressed his excitement for the state to host this tournament:

Not only will we see some great golf here, but people literally all over the world will see the extraordinary natural beauty of southwestern Indiana. I can’t help but believe that’s simply going to be a great, great benefit to our state as we demonstrate hospitality — but also as we demonstrate through these rolling hills and this great venue what a beautiful place Indiana is.

 

Hit the Links in Style This Spring

Provided spring is an actual season and not some legendary myth as we sit here freezing in Hoosierland, many of you will likely soon visit golf courses around the state to work on your farmers' tans and handicaps.

A Knox-based company, Eco Golf, wants to help you do that in both environmentally-friendly — and business-friendly — ways.

The company manufactures golf tees using recycled material to reduce golfers' carbon footprints, and says they can last up to 50 times longer than wood or bamboo tees. In fact, here are a list of benefits of its Eco Premium Tee:

  • Competitive pricing
  • Can outlast wood or bamboo tees by up to 50 times
  • Will NOT mark club head unlike wood and bamboo
  • Will NOT damage mowing and cart tires
  • Eliminates tee and range litter
  • Easier on mowing equipment

Eco Golf also just released Advertees, which help businesses market themselves by including their own logos. Take a look at the site and get your order in before golf season begins.

The BMW Championship: Corporate Support is Key to Success

Just as professional golfers rely on corporate sponsors to help them succeed on the course, golf championship managers look to corporate partnerships as part of a winning event-marketing strategy.

Corporate hospitality sales for the PGA TOUR’s BMW Championship, to be held Sept. 3-9 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, are approaching record numbers, proving that Hoosiers — who have rallied around big-time events like February’s Super Bowl — possess the corporate support to stage national sporting events.

Individual ticket sales and volunteer recruitment (remember all those blue scarves in downtown Indianapolis during Super Bowl festivities?) are important ingredients to an event’s success, but corporate backing is the key. Large-scale events, such as the BMW Championship, thrive only in markets that provide broad corporate involvement.

The BMW Championship, the third of four events in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, has already drawn support from more than 150 local companies. In September, corporate hospitality guests will enjoy prime viewing spots from 31 private corporate tents on the 12th, 14th and 18th holes as they follow the world’s top 70 players in a battle for $8 million in prize money and a $1.44 million winner’s share.

Many other corporate supporters will take advantage of the amenities in the shared clubhouse hospitality area, designated as the Champions Club. Additional offerings will include elaborate BMW hospitality venues and the Wadley Club, an upgraded ticket venue with a climate-controlled interior. And there will be plenty to see.  Special attractions for all spectators will include BMW car displays, merchandise tents, interactive contests and Biergartens offering food and refreshments throughout the championship grounds.

Support is not just a one-way street. Vendors assisting with tournament operations are, when possible, hired locally. The corporate support and the dollars spent to hire local vendors — combined with the travel and tourism revenue generated by the BMW Championship — will result in an economic impact to the region exceeding $30 million.

With the enthusiasm already shown, the 2012 BMW Championship is destined for success. And if Hoosiers continue on course with their support of corporate hospitality and individual ticket sales between now and the first week in September, the championship is certain to be a “hole-in-one” for both the event and the community.

For more information about the BMW Championship, please visit www.BMWChampionshipUSA.com.

Billy Rodgers is a tournament director for the Western Golf Association, host of the BMW Championship. He can be contacted at Rodgers@wgaesf.com.

Marion Golf Course Earns National Recognition, Gives Back to Community

If you’re like me, you have a problem. You play golf — and think about your short game — way more than what some would label as "healthy." Yet despite my many hours on the range, the only thing I have in common with newly crowned British Open champ Darren Clarke is one serious affinity for Guinness — or as he calls it, "the Irish black stuff."

In Indiana, we are blessed with a wide array of courses to choose from. However, you may not be aware of Walnut Creek Golf Course up in Marion, which recently earned national runner-up status (and Indiana Course of the Year honors) in the National Golf Course Owners Association’s Course of the Year contest in early 2011.

Walnut Creek is a family-owned, 36-hole public course that has catered to local duffers for 40 years. Owner Randy Ballinger explains the course earned its recent accolades for its dedication to the game — and its community.

"Some of the criteria they use is quality of the course and quality of management — and we’ve taken management roles in the owners association and golf course superintendent’s organization," he says. "I’m also active legislatively (having pushed for daylight savings time and favorable property tax reform), and my daughter, Mindy Ballinger, is now a manager here as a third generation employee."

He notes that some of the other courses in the running for national Course of the Year honors included eventual winner Hidden Valley in California, as well as highly-acclaimed destinations The Legends in South Carolina and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Ballinger adds that Walnut Creek gives back to the community by helping teach new golfers, holding local fundraisers (sometimes at no charge), and — perhaps most notably — spearheading the area’s Tees for Troops program, which donated two tons of golf equipment to American troops in Iraq.

"The program is valuable because it gives our troops a chance to do something in their down time besides just playing cards," he says.

When asked about what challenges golf course owners are facing today, Ballinger explains that when the economy tumbles, discretionary income — and thereby recreation — is the first to take a hit. He says that’s why many golf courses have had to reduce green fees, though expenses have increased. He contends that keeping a close eye on spending and managing debt service remain keys to success for every golf course.

Not only are Walnut Creek’s fees very reasonable for golfers on a budget, but the course offers a unique attraction for golf history enthusiasts in its Jenkins Golfhouse Museum

So if you’re in the Grant County area or don’t mind a little drive for some great golf at a high value, you should head on over and tee it up at a nationally recognized course right here in northern Indiana.

Golf Industry a Driver in Hoosier Economy

I’ll admit it: I’m a golfer. It’s become my favorite sport to play over the years, which is high praise for the game considering how poorly I play it.

A new report from the Indiana Golf Alliance conveys golf has a much greater impact on Indiana than merely forcing Hoosiers like myself to create new curse words while outdoors:

As the Indiana Golf Alliance releases the results of the Economic Impact Study on the game of golf in the Hoosier State, top Indiana PGA Professionals will provide free lessons to legislators in the historic capitol rotunda. This is the first time golf will take center stage at the Statehouse but its presence has had a profound impact on the state for many years…

The Study, completed in 2010, showed impressive data. Golf provides $909 million in direct revenue to the Indiana economy. Compare that number to other industries in the state and it paints a clear picture of how important the golf industry is to the state’s economy. In Indiana, medical equipment manufacturing accounts for $5.8 billion to Indiana’s economy. Soybean production accounts for $2.4 billion to the economy and dairy products account for $640 million to Indiana’s economy. Additionally, the Indiana Study showed that over 21,000 jobs in Indiana are created through the golf industry and account for a total wage income of $530 million.

It’s well publicized that golf and charities work hand in hand. The Study found that in 2008, charitable giving by the Indiana Golf Industry topped the $42 million mark. Golf course owners, operators and PGA Professionals serve as access points for hundreds, if not thousands, of local service organizations for their annual fundraising needs.

The findings of the study came as no surprise to those closely associated with the golf industry.

“The Economic Impact Study validates that golf is an economic engine that contributes substantially to the momentum of the Indiana economy,” said Linda Rogers, owner of Juday Creek Golf Course in Granger, Ind. and Vice President of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka concurred with Rogers’ statement. “The biggest benefit of these studies is the ability to show how golf benefits not only the 1 in 11 Americans who play, but entire communities which benefit from the jobs it creates, the green space it protects and the healthy recreation it provides for people of all ages,” said Steranka.

French Lick/West Baden Resort an Indiana Marvel

Earlier this week, the French Lick Resort served as host for the Association of State Chamber Professionals (ASCP) annual meeting. I had the privilege of being asked to attend the conference and speak on social media, so, while I had been to the casino before, this was my first opportunity to stay at the hotel as a guest and truly explore it.

As a fan of history — especially Indiana history — I believe both the French Lick and West Baden facilities serve as living monuments and tributes to the very best of Hoosier history and lore. In fact, I invite you to learn more about both French Lick and West Baden Springs via the resort’s web site and learn some pretty remarkable facts. For example, how many people know this site played such a significant role in FDR launching his candidacy for President in 1931?

What’s more, it should be noted that ASCP generally targets some of America’s most scenic destinations, with the past two meetings landing at Bar Harbor, Maine and Greenbrier, West Virginia. So I pretty overtly asked most of the colleagues I interacted with what they thought of French Lick. I received nary a negative remark, with "amazing" being the most consistent adjective used.

If you live in Indiana or the region and have yet to experience this, take a day or two and indulge in one of the state’s most ornate, yet endearing gems — not to mention an amazing golf destination and concert venue.

Advice for Tiger from a Communications Consultant

Communications consultant Fraser Seitel offered some useful advice for Tiger Woods regarding his current PR crisis. Whether you think Tiger’s dirty laundry should be aired or not, this advice could also be useful for any business that finds itself in a PR pinch:

So, my friend, as much as you value your privacy and as distasteful as the reality of this awfulness is, you really have no choice.

With apologies, here is the crisis management mantra to which you must abide:

 #1. Go Public
You can’t not. Those TV trucks outside your gates, and the Cro-Magnon creeps attempting to scale the wall around your community ain’t goin’ nowhere till you come out. I know you’re used to being hounded by paparazzi, but this is another dimension. You’ve got a “secret” they want. And they get paid only if they pry that secret loose. So forget about maintaining an “allow us our privacy” stocism. Nothing in the world of global icons is “private” — especially when there is the whiff of sex in the air. You’ve got to go public.

#2. Do It Yourself
When companies get in trouble, crisis managers typically advise CEOs to let spokespeople handle the explanation as long as possible. Once the crisis is escalated to the CEO level, you can’t throttle it back to a lesser light. On the other hand, some corporate crises — deaths, kidnappings, massive layoffs, etc. — must be handled by the top man or woman, right out of the box.

This case is of the latter variety. You can’t finesse this one through a spokesman. Only one person can suitably explain what happened and why. You.

#3. Do it Tuesday
The longer you let this linger, the greater the fervor among the reportorial bottom-feeders to bring you down. And trust me, they will.

You have a previously booked press conference scheduled Tuesday at the tournament you’re hosting in Thousand Oaks, CA. Use that opportunity to tell the tale and clear the air.

If you refuse to talk about the incident or, horror of horrors, cancel the press conference, you will learn first-hand the truth of the journalistic adage, “Hell hath no fury like a tabloid reporter scorned.” Continue reading

The Intern Chronicles: Passing Up On a Good Walk Spoiled

“Do you play golf?”  I was enjoying the second week of my internship here at the Chamber when my boss poked his head in and posed the question. An outing was to happen in a few days, and players were being rounded up for the event.

The rest of the week had been a good one, as I was allowed in on some staff meetings, assigned some projects and given some short articles to start working on.  It became increasingly difficult, however, not to notice the perfect summer weather pouring in through the windows. Golf seemed like a very good idea.

Now. Do I play golf? Sure. Do I play golf well? Absolutely not.  As a little guy, I took lessons and eventually developed into a decent player, but for whatever reason I played less and less over the years (college tuition and gasoline might have something to do with it), and my skill seems to have packed up its bags and left at some point.

It’s no secret that golf is a business tool. If you’re in the same boat as me, you might plan on revamping your game, especially considering that 59% of executives say the way a person plays golf is very similar to the way he or she conducts their business affairs, according to a survey by Starwood Hotels.

As for my boss’s pending invitation, I briefly considered hitting the ranges and practicing putts for a few days so I could attend the outing. Then I remembered who the Chamber generally deals with, and my Rocky-esque training montage was quickly replaced by images of state representatives and CEOs getting pelted by my errant drives.

I declined.