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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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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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Podcasts

TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

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

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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