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Opinion & Analysis

Can jungles survive without the Tiger?

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By Brant Brice

GolfWRX Contributor

There is a fragile balance at work in every life cycle. Every segment of the system is interdependent. If a segment fails or is altered, the entire system goes through a major evolution, it becomes endangered or it could ultimately become extinct. The world of professional golf recently went on the endangered list. This nearly happened to professional hockey and baseball.

So how is golf’s fragile ecosystem performing since “the 9 iron,” “the Foley project” or no new dominant player on Tour? Many experts say the sport completely depends on Tiger Woods’ return. The truth: The sport is better than ever!

Why? Because of the major golf media publications and television using a time honored method of influencing and branding called marketing!

Here’s what happened: Over the last decade the game grew in spite of itself because of Tiger Woods. When Tiger’s injury and his off the green ordeal took him away from the sport, the global game of golf and its sponsors realized they might have forever lost their collective pitchman. What ensued was a little bit of panic. The media had to find new viewers, tournaments have had to find new sponsors and the PGA was looking for new ways to survive. So what happens when a part of an ecosystem goes away? Other parts emerge, meet marketing.

For the uninitiated, golf can be the most boring sport ever invented. In of itself the game has no heart. It’s black and white and seems like it would be incredibly mind numbing, repetitive and simple. Hit a ball with a stick from one point to another into a cup.

No thanks I’d rather eat paper.

Thinking back, can you remember watching golf regularly before you took up the sport? The answer is probably no. Watching golf without ever having played requires a very special person. Fortunately or otherwise, depending on how you look at it, once you solidly hit the first ball with that unmistakable buttery thwack, where the sensation resonates throughout your entire being, you forever become a slave to playing and often watching this seemingly boring black and white game.

The new target audience of golf may or may not ever have picked up a club. Everybody recognizes the cute guy on the tube who wears the $1000 electric orange jumpsuit with matching shoes and hat. Can you name the pro who wears am immaculately tailored all plaid pant suit with matching golf bag and of course the $300 sunglasses that are never worn on the front of his head? Yes you can and all because of brilliant branding that appeals to kids and adults, women and men.

Secretly, I want one of the orange hats; it’s the UT Vol in me.

The big question: Would the sport rather have more people playing golf or watching it on TV? The answer is “both.” We want more people playing and watching the sport. Chicken or egg, we don’t care.

With old views about the game and perceived cost, how do we get memberships up and butts in carts? The average consumer Joe public could care less about the PGA Tour if they have never been introduced to the game. You may never have played due to the stereotype consensus that club golfers and pro golfers are just a bunch of fat, rich upper crust blowhards hobnobbing in restrictive golf club communities. The reality is that most of the PGA Tour guys are in pretty good shape! But times they are a changing.

With the recession, many private golf clubs have seen their once preferential and exclusive membership dwindle to points far below operating cost. The private club pro who had free time, was paid well and gave lessons suddenly became general manager of operations and doing the job of three or four people.

The once lush and yearlong emerald green fairways are now brown in the winter and the greens suffer from minimal amounts of water; about time right? Many have become “semi-public,” whatever that means.

The new online tee time booking services may have single handedly saved many of these courses from extinction and is allowing the average guy to play courses he wasn’t allowed to play without membership and couldn’t play because it was cost prohibitive.

Like Hotels.com and Priceline.com they take unused tee times and advertise them for a small fee to the general public. They also have a few tee times throughout the day that are the special deal at a substantial discount. If you are not using one of these services you’re really missing out.

Do you remember booking a tee time pre-internet? You would get the phone book, pick your favorite three or four courses and have that Ground Hogs Day conversation about what tee times were available, then have the same conversation again and again just to get the right time and price.

Uggghhhhhh! It’s ironic how the non-member hacker public has saved many of these private courses through a dot.com.

The four P’s as taught in Marketing 101 are: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The websites made it quicker and easier to book a tee time at many more courses (place) and at a more economical (price.) These two diverse media outlets accomplished growing a brand and getting more golfers on the course at an economical level without Tiger and without help from the PGA Tour, USGA or R & A who run the sport (product.)

The most important and final piece was good solid salesmanship (promotion.) In a sport that used to be a very grey in its brand including the equipment, teaching and coverage, we now have amazingly colorful announcers like Nick Faldo and the polarizing Jonnie Miller. We have new teachers with personality like Michael Breed and Martin Hall on a cable channel completely dedicated to golf. There are four or five major publications that employ fantastic writers and PGA professionals who cover every aspect of golf.

These industry magazines show us the equipment and clothing that become the high gloss pin-up blondes of the sport. The PGA Merchandise Show or golf festivals are the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders or Victoria’s Secret supermodels live in person wanting to get to know you!

The magazines show off and flaunt the OEMs beautiful supermodel creations. Then the festivals give you the ability to actually touch and demo the goods. There are funny trick shot acts, equipment demos, instructional professionals, celebrities and the main attraction, the equipment. It’s a far better trial than at a high pressure brick and mortar store where you are hitting into a vinyl screen with computers telling you what that shot might have looked like.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these equipment events or demo days, do it and really try the new offerings. You’ll learn the marketing can be far more vivid than reality, especially after trying the equipment.

You will find is that the golf OEMs have begun to design clubs and clothing that have form and function to appeal to an ever aging and growing younger sect of the golf industry.  The club manufacturers design visually stimulating works of art packed with technology that appeal to our consumer desires and golfing weaknesses.

We hang pictures of clubs, our “pin-up,” on our dream boards. We buy day glow yellow shirts and hats to look like our favorite players. We are now spending more than ever on golf equipment and clothing because we love the game, not just one single player’s dominance. Marketing has collectively saved golf. In recessed economy golf sponsorships are not only being renewed but many companies are desperate to cash in on the recent popularity.

We owe a tremendous debt to Tiger for bringing the game to where it is. He broke through on many levels shattering race barriers, dominating entire fields with enormous drives and precision iron play, delicate wedge work and marksman like putting. The game survived and flourished in spite of an underwhelming infrastructure.

Who cares if Ricky Fowler, Bubba Watson or Ian Poulter ever ascends to the level of Jack or Tiger. The game has evolved to support every limb of the sprawling golf tree from the ground up. The game has become the star where it should be and not dependant on one guy.

Tiger is always welcome and is due a magnificent debt. He will undoubtedly continue to get paid extravagantly for his services and will certainly regain some semblance of Tiger 1.0 and 2.0. So the question remains, do we have to have the Tiger in the jungle?

Not anymore. It’s beneficial but there are any number of Pumas, Byrds and Rors walking through the manicured grass jungle waiting to take their turn on the high gloss front page of your favorite golf publication.

And speaking of jungles, you know the difference between a jungle and a rainforest? Marketing!

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Golf Hall of Fame resumes—what does it take?

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We are back from last week, and Knudson is finally a father! Steve asks what it takes to get into the Golf Hall of Fame, how much do majors count? Knudson talks about his last round and how much fun he had. Finally, we talk about the Rory and Keopka beef that is starting to play out.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Opinion & Analysis

Autumn golf is the best golf

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For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.

Let me explain.

SPRING

Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.

Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.

SUMMER

The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.

Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.

FALL

As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.

The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip  (#1/4zipSZN).

Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.

Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.

Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.

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