By Brant Brice
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!
Clark: A teacher’s take on Brandel Chamblee’s comments
Because I’m writing to a knowledgeable audience who follows the game closely, I’m sure the current Brandel Chamblee interview and ensuing controversy needs no introduction, so let’s get right to it.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, now plays a role as a TV personality. He has built a “brand” around that role. The Golf Channel seems to relish the idea of Brandel as the “loose cannon” of the crew (not unlike Johnny Miller on NBC) saying exactly what he thinks with seeming impunity from his superiors.
I do not know the gentleman personally, but on-air, he seems like an intelligent, articulate golf professional, very much on top of his subject matter, which is mostly the PGA Tour. He was also a very capable player (anyone who played and won on the PGA Tour is/was a great player). But remember, nowadays he is not being judged by what scores he shoots, but by how many viewers/readers his show and his book have (ratings). Bold statements sell, humdrum ones do not.
For example, saying that a teacher’s idiocy was exposed is a bold controversial statement that will sell, but is at best only partly true and entirely craven. If the accuser is not willing to name the accused, he is being unfair and self-serving. However, I think it’s dangerous to throw the baby out with the bathwater here; Brandel is a student of the game and I like a lot of what he says and thinks.
His overriding message in that interview is that golf over the last “30-40 years” has been poorly taught. He says the teachers have been too concerned with aesthetics, not paying enough attention to function. There is some truth in that, but Brandel is painting with a very broad brush here. Many, myself included, eschewed method teaching years ago for just that reason. Method teachers are bound to help some and not others. Maybe the “X swing” one player finds very useful, another cannot use it all.
Brandel was asked specifically about Matthew Wolff’s unique swing: Lifting the left heel, crossing the line at the top, etc. He answered, “of course he can play because that’s how he plays.” The problem would be if someone tried to change that because it “looked odd.” Any teacher worth his weight in salt would not change a swing simply because it looked odd if it was repeating good impact. I learned from the great John Jacobs that it matters not what the swing looks like if it is producing great impact.
Now, if he is objecting exclusively to those method teachers who felt a certain pattern of motions was the one true way to get to solid impact, I agree with him 100 percent. Buy many teach on an individual, ball flight and impact basis and did not generalize a method. So to say “golf instruction over the last 30-40 years” has been this or that is far too broad a description and unfair.
He goes on to say that the “Top Teacher” lists are “ridiculous.” I agree, mostly. While I have been honored by the PGA and a few golf publications as a “top teacher,” I have never understood how or why. NOT ONE person who awarded me those honors ever saw me give one lesson! Nor have they have ever tracked one player I coached. I once had a 19 handicap come to me and two seasons later he won the club championship-championship flight! By that I mean with that student I had great success. But no one knew of that progress who gave me an award.
On the award form, I was asked about the best, or most well-known students I had taught. In the golf journals, a “this-is-the-teacher-who-can-help-you” message is the epitome of misdirection. Writing articles, appearing on TV, giving YouTube video tips, etc. is not the measure of a teacher. On the list of recognized names, I’m sure there are great teachers, but wouldn’t you like to see them teach as opposed to hearing them speak? I’m assuming the “ridiculous” ones Brandel refers to are those teaching a philosophy or theory of movement and trying to get everyone to do just that.
When it comes to his criticism of TrackMan, I disagree. TrackMan does much more than help “dial in yardage.” Video cannot measure impact, true path, face-to-path relationship, centeredness of contact, club speed, ball speed, plane etc. Comparing video with radar is unfair because the two systems serve different functions. And if real help is better ball flight, which of course only results from better impact, then we need both a video of the overall motion and a measure of impact.
Now the specific example he cites of Jordan Spieth’s struggles being something that can be corrected in “two seconds” is hyperbolic at least! Nothing can be corrected that quickly simply because the player has likely fallen into that swing flaw over time, and it will take time to correct it. My take on Jordan’s struggles is a bit different, but he is a GREAT player who will find his way back.
Brandel accuses Cameron McCormick (his teacher) of telling him to change his swing. Do we know that to be true, or did Jordan just fall into a habit and Cameron is not seeing the change? I agree there is a problem; his stats prove that, but before we pick a culprit, let’s get the whole story. Again back to the sensationalism which sells! (Briefly, I believe Jordan’s grip is and has always been a problem but his putter and confidence overcame it. An active body and “quiet” hands is the motion one might expect of a player with a strong grip-for obvious reason…but again just my two teacher cents)
Anyway, “bitch-slapped” got him in hot water for other reasons obviously, and he did apologize over his choice of words, and to be clear he did not condemn the PGA as a whole. But because I have disagreements with his reasoning here does not mean Brandel is not a bright articulate golf professional, I just hope he looks before he leaps the next time, and realizes none of us are always right.
Some of my regular readers will recall I “laid down my pen” a few years ago, but it occurred to me, I would be doing many teachers a disservice if I did not offer these thoughts on this particular topic!
A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: Patron fashion at the 1991 Masters
Like a lot of golfers out there, I’ve been getting my fix thanks to the final round Masters broadcasts on YouTube via the Masters channel. Considering these broadcasts go back as far as 1968, there is a lot we could discuss—we could break down shots, equipment, how the course has changed, but instead I thought we could have a little fun taking a different direction—fashion.
However, I’m not talking players fashion, that’s fairly straight forward. Instead, I wanted to follow the action behind the action and see what we could find along the way – here are the 1991 Highlights.
I love the “Die Hard” series as much as anyone else but one fan took it to a new level of fandom by wearing a Die Hard 2 – Die Harder T-shirt to Sunday at the Masters. This patron was spotted during Ian Woosnam fourth shot into 13. Honorable mention goes to Woosie’s gold chain.
There is a lot going on here as Ben Crenshaw lines up his put on 17. First, we have the yellow-shirted man just left of center with perfectly paired Masters green pants to go along with his hat (he also bears a striking resemblance to Ping founder Karsten Solheim). Secondly, we have what I would imagine is his friend in the solid red pants—both these outfits are 10 out of 10. Last but not least, we have the man seen just to the right of Ben with sunglasses so big and tinted, I would expect to be receiving a ticket from him on the I20 on my way out of town.
If you don’t know the name Jack Hamm, consider yourself lucky you missed a lot of early 2000s late-night golf infomercials. OK so maybe it’s not the guy known for selling “The Hammer” driver but if you look under the peak of the cabin behind Woosie as he tees off on ten you can be forgiven for taking a double-take… This guy might show up later too. Honorable mention to the pastel-pink-shorted man with the binoculars and Hogan cap in the right of the frame.
Big proportions were still very much in style as the 80s transitioned into the early 90s. We get a peek into some serious style aficionados wardrobes behind the 15th green with a wide striped, stiff collared lilac polo, along with a full-length bright blue sweater and a head of hair that has no intention of being covered by a Masters hat.
Considering the modern tales of patrons (and Rickie Folwer) being requested to turn backward hats forward while on the grounds of Augusta National, it was a pretty big shock to see Gerry Pate’s caddy with his hat being worn in such an ungentlemanly manner during the final round.
Before going any further, I would like us all to take a moment to reflect on how far graphics during the Masters coverage has come in the last 30 years. In 2019 we had the ability to see every shot from every player on every hole…in 1991 we had this!
At first glance, early in the broadcast, these yellow hardhats threw me for a loop. I honestly thought that a spectator had chosen to wear one to take in the action. When Ian Woosnam smashed his driver left on 18 over the bunkers it became very apparent that anyone wearing a hard hat was not there for fun, they were part of the staff. If you look closely you can see hole numbers on the side of the helmets to easily identify what holes they were assigned to. Although they have less to do with fashion, I must admit I’m curious where these helmets are now, and what one might be worth as a piece of memorabilia.
Speaking of the 18th hole, full credit to the man in the yellow hat (golf clap to anyone that got the Curious George reference) who perfectly matched the Pantone of his hat to his shirt and also looked directly into the TV camera.
It could be said the following photo exemplifies early ’90s fashion. We have pleated Bermuda shorts, horizontal stripes all over the place and some pretty amazing hairstyles. Honorable mention to the young guys in the right of the frame that look like every ’80s movie antagonist “rich preppy boy.”
What else can I say except, khaki and oversized long sleeve polos certainly had their day in 1991? We have a bit of everything here as Tom Watson lines up his persimmon 3-wood on the 18th. The guy next to Ian Woosnam’s sleeves hit his mid-forearm, there are too many pleats to count, and somehow our Jack Hamm look-alike managed to find another tee box front row seat.
You can check out the full final-round broadcast of the 1991 Masters below.
The 19th Hole Episode 119: Gary Player joins the 19th Hole!
Hall of Famer Gary Player gives an exclusive one-on-one interview with Host Michael Williams about his life in golf, his thoughts on the current game and his tips for thriving even in difficult times.
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