Here we are at the start of the annual PGA Merchandise Show, where the halls of the Orange County Convention Center will be hustling and bustling with golf’s practitioners and ambassadors – PGA professionals, and lots of folks who want to do business with them. I’m expecting a greater feeling of optimism and excitement this year about our game and industry as I walk the halls, participate in meetings, share meals and cocktails with friends, etc. Not because we are wearing rose-colored glasses, but because there truly are a lot of great things happening in golf. And it would be good for our industry, if we were to harness this optimism and put it to good, permanent use throughout the year. We all need a deep well of love, admiration and excitement for this business, and the water level rises each year at this event. I see it happen here, and also at the Golf Business Conference.
Gearing up for the event, I got to thinking about the role of the golf professional and how it has changed over time. The PGA of America has been hard at work for years and years to support the PGA professional, so that he or she has the business acumen necessary to help a golf facility succeed. Many pros are specialists in what they do, such as teaching the game. Others have chosen the route of running the business as a manager or executive. Some do both. The PGA pro is expected to be quite versatile. I wonder if they are spread to thin. And I wonder if they have time to be out and among the customers, members and potential golfers as much as we need them right now.
This is by no means a criticism – it is simply the way the business has evolved. Owners and operators focused on the bottom line in a tough, tough market have their hard-working people spending a lot of time on things like financial management, digital marketing, managing other staff members, forecasting, yield management, and the list goes on. Where is there time for the pro to take a step outside, to walk up to me on the practice green and say, “Hey Mr. Karen! Great to see you. How’s your putting game these days? Would you like me to take a quick look? Walk me through what’s going through your mind as you look down at the ball.”
You see, I’m a believer in what my friends, Greg Nathan and Joe Beditz at the NGF, have been saying this past year – time and money are not the real reasons people walk away from the game. It’s really that they never experience “shot euphoria” (catching the golf bug) and/or they never feel inculcated into the culture of golf. In other words, they never get comfortable – they don’t feel as welcomed as maybe they should. So they leave. In the millions.
Remember the good ole days when the golf pro was out there on the course, on the range, playing golf with the members, playing cards in the locker room afterwards? I admit that was way, way back when the industry was more private club driven, although I’m sure the same culture would have been found at a lot of local munis. Still, let’s call this pro “Jimmy.” Remember when Jimmy was the personality at the course? When Jimmy was allowed to do his thing, Jimmy was the game personified. It’s hard to get that same, much-needed personality at the course level today, when Jimmy might feel chained to his desk replying to a dozen emails that came in since lunch.
I also wish there was a way we could examine the compensation model of the golf professional for potential change. I understand the nature and value of giving a pro the ability to accumulate a clientele and charge for lessons by the hour. I don’t think that all needs to be thrown out. But my concern is that the people who likely need the most attention from a golf professional are the people who haven’t caught the bug – they haven’t experienced shot euphoria enough to feel like a golfer, and golfers are the ones who pay for lessons to tweak their swing and improve. The newbies are not going to be first in line to pay a lot of money for golf lessons. They don’t see the value in it – yet. They don’t know what the pay off would be. Get Golf Ready and other adult programs are made to lower the burden to getting into the game, but that is more of a program than it is part of the DNA of the typical golf facility. Wouldn’t it be great if we could pay our golf professionals, so that they have the ability to teach the game unfettered by the compensation model that might prevent millions more from getting the bug?
We talk a lot about “growing the game,” and focus most of our industry discussions on player development. Getting people through the front door. I’m asking my fellow leaders in golf to turn more of our agenda towards keeping people from leaving the back door (and we are and will be), and what it would take to effectively get the dabblers to catch the golf bug, and what it would take to get the occasional golfer playing one more round of golf per month. The game is hard. The constant pursuit of overcoming the challenges of the game is the essence of having the golf bug. What are ways we can get more golf professionals out there infecting millions more with the golf bug? If more people had the bug, more people would be playing, courses would see the lift we want, and our vendors will see more purchases. I’m not talking about a new branded program. I mean a genetic mutation in how we operate. This has to involve conversations between the pros and owners and operators. What are your thoughts?
As the PGA Merchandise Show kicks off, I take my hat off to the hard-working men and women of the PGA of America. I think we need them more than ever. #THXPGAPRO