As many of the golf industry’s leaders and top executives gathered in Dallas earlier this month for the NGF’s annual Business Symposium, The Q took the opportunity to ask a few attendees two questions — one about the game and the second about their business experiences.
1. Outside of your own business, what do you find most exciting in the golf industry this year?
2. Golf is a game of tradition, yet continues to evolve. In what way have you or your business adapted to industry or societal shifts in recent years?
Here are a few of the responses:
Jim Stracka – President, StrackaLine
- This year, Tiger coming back and being able to move the needle as far as spectators go, it’s phenomenal. He’s always been able to do it, but it’s just amazing to me that he moves the needle to essentially non-golfers. This year, we’re seeing more people go to tournaments and watch it on TV, just because of Tiger. What that means is that golf has tremendous potential if we can get other personalities in the game. Jordan Spieth is so animated out there, he can bring people out, and Rickie definitely has that effect out there. I get it, Tiger is at a different level like Jack and Arnie. That gets people excited about golf.
- Golf is a simple game. I appreciate the USGA and R&A, the governing bodies, for keeping it a simple game. Now, I can bring my phone out and I can have my augmented reality solution; I can do all kinds of crazy good stuff, and that’s okay. Let people go do that. Let people have fun with technology. But I appreciate that when you’re in a tournament, turn the slope meter off, put the phones away, go play golf. That directly relates to me because I have two technology businesses. So I can bring out all kinds of really cool technology to help people play better, putt better, but I understand that’s not in the spirit of the game. But at the end of the day, we have a lot of people who really don’t care about playing competitively, they just want to go have fun. So let people go have fun, let them use technology, but then draw the line that if you’re in a competitive situation, it is what it is.
Sal Syed – CEO and Co-Founder, Arccos
- The most exciting to me is the new rules in golf. That sounds crazy, but I was at an event playing Seminole Golf Club when they had a day where it was new rules. Seeing Bob Ford putting with the flag in and everything, that was cool to see that golf is receptive to new ideas and change. When you look at golf tradition and history, Seminole is one of the old-line clubs – you’d think that that would be one of the last places to change. It’s exciting to see golf being so receptive to new ideas.
- The challenge with bringing change to golf versus disrupting any other industry is that golf is an older demographic. The older you get, the more ingrained your habits get, so the harder it is to change and disrupt. So that’s our challenge. One of the things we have had to come to terms with, is that with Arccos you have to use your cell phone. What we see is once you try it, people don’t complain. But it’s hard to get some people to try it. It’s taken us a couple years to get to the mindset to accommodate what our audience wants – probably 30% of people don’t want to carry their phone in their pocket. So we’ll have a GPS clip we’re launching in a few months so you don’t have to carry your phone. That’s been a learning experience for us. For those who are younger, it’s second nature – they’d be more upset if you asked to take their phone away. But we’re learning the demographic range in golf is a little different.
Joe Assell – CEO, GOLFTEC
- I think it’s all of the innovative companies out there, whether it be new technology or new experiences on the golf course that are really working hard to make golf more fun and engaging in a modern way with people.
- We adapt every day. We’re very self-critical and always adapting what’s next. Our biggest and most visible is that year we completely overhauled all of our branding – to be more modern with the logo and branding – and then we’ve overhauled how we sell golf clubs. We’ve put in shaft and head combination component walls in every one of our centers, so now we have tens of thousands of combinations of heads and shafts that we didn’t have just a year ago.
Jamie Ledford – President, Golf Pride
- Probably for a lot of people it’s fun to see Tiger playing well again. But particularly this year in the equipment industry, I feel like a lot of people are seeing growth, so that’s exciting to see. I also hear we have more and more young kids playing golf and it’s the most diverse group we’ve ever had.
- The biggest change we have going on at Golf Pride right now is that we’re trying to tap into the trend of custom fitting. More and more golfers are realizing that if you want the performance gains from new equipment, you’ve got to be fit properly. We’re really trying to transform our category of grips from what people would have seen as handles in the past, to equipment. Bringing in all kind of new shapes and sizes and technologies, so people can really get a benefit from a properly fit grip. That’s a trend that we’re jumping on and it’s helped us grow a lot.
Chip Brewer – CEO, Callaway
- It’s nice to see the whole industry seem like it’s healthy and growing. It’s fun to be a part of that.
- We’re fortunate to be a part of Topgolf and internationally very involved with screen golf and those developments. So watching all that continue to grow and be a part of that is a lot of fun.
Bert Schmidt – Manager of Market Development, John Deere Golf
- I like just seeing Tiger get back into it, because it generates a huge buzz around golf in general and he’s bringing people back to the game.
- With John Deere, we always seek the voice of the customer, try to walk in the customer’s shoes, so we really haven’t deviated from that. So as things change, we learn it as we go. We’re constantly in touch with our customers, evolving and trying to figure out what they need. We always strive to please more.
Tim Clarke – President, Wilson Golf
- From a business and industry standpoint, having Tiger playing again is something that seems to have a tremendous amount of energy. You look at the population trends of every sport – I think the population growth and ebbs and flows, are driven by those types of people. My nephews are big hockey kids; is U.S. hockey that big or is it that the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins have won three Stanley Cups and you’ve got Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane? Have they been the reason, that people want to see them? I somewhat challenge the thinking of why things get popular. But I think that Tiger’s return has been the biggest positive in our world. On the other side, the weather has been a disaster.
- We’ve tried to do things differently: Driver vs Driver reality TV show. We’ve done a lot of things differently. But the biggest challenge in golf from an OEM side, a manufacturers’ side, is that in golf bifurcation of the rules has to be looked at. Standing next to Brendan Steele who has a 127-mph clubhead speed and then going out on Saturday morning and watching a guy who can’t clear the creek from 220 yards , they’re just different planets. I just think that most players, especially when you look at the amount of boomers who are carrying the game, I think if we roll anything back or do anything to make the game harder for them, the fallout is going to be greater. If anything, we should be looking at it differently and whether a faster driver or a longer ball helps keep people playing longer.
Angel Ilagan – President and CEO, Bridgestone Golf
- What’s great to see is people becoming more engaged with the game as fans and how that can transfer into the longevity of the game. My biggest worry coming into this industry was will the game still be around 50 years from now, what with land becoming more expensive and more valuable. Getting people passionate about the game and seeing that re-invigoration; a lot of it has to do with Tiger Woods getting back into the game. But we’re also seeing all the different stakeholders – including companies and golf courses – are looking to be more inclusive.
- We realize that there’s less technological innovation within the game, but through history we’ve been so focused on the elite tour players or to a secondary level, to the private club. What I like is that now we’re refocusing on the general population, the 5- to 20-handicap player. The more we do that, the better off we’ll be. My biggest concern is that all the innovation has been with the elite player and you can see that with the performance. The 6-handicap and above is hitting it shorter than they should. Then the elite player is hitting it longer and more accurately. What I like is that because it’s almost because we have to – in order to ensure the longevity of the industry, we have to focus on the masses.
Erik is the Editorial Director for the NGF. Before joining the National Golf Foundation, he spent more than two decades with Bloomberg News, both as a writer and editor, with a focus on sports business and the golf industry. The New Jersey resident has also written about golf for outlets that include Forbes, LINKS and the Met Golfer.