Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Junior Golf "Dream" Has Arrived

Last Sunday was the Drive Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National and it was the most important moment we've had in junior golf in a long time.

Leading up to it, I wasn't sure what to expect.  On one hand, the old version of DC&P never really got traction and I was suspicious of whether something like this would "grow the game" as the participants would already be part of the golfing population.  On the other hand, there was the "wow" factor of Augusta and the intrigue of an event for children as young as 7 that focused on specific skills as opposed to the ability to navigate a lengthy golf course.

It turns out that the event was spectacular and all the organizations behind it - Augusta National, the PGA of America and the USGA - deserve a standing ovation.  So does the Golf Channel for their masterful production job.


What struck me about DC&P during and after the championship was that its value is much bigger than the event itself.  It fills a void we've long struggled with in the world of junior golf.

The best companies and organizations in youth sports are masters at selling "the dream."  Children learn, practice and play in pursuit of the dream.  In baseball it's making the all star team.  In karate, it's the awesome prestige that comes with being a black belt.  In basketball and soccer, it's making the traveling club team. And so forth.

In golf, the "dream" starts with tournament play and ends on the PGA TOUR.

The challenge is that tournament play isn't available until the age of 12 for most tours.  Golf courses are too long and challenging for children younger than that to walk and play, especially the 10 and under crowd.  Golf doesn't have a dream for these players that is immediately achievable in the way that making an all star team or earning a black belt are.  And, we know that the time to capture a child into any activity is before the age of 10.

At TGA, we've replicated Karate and many other activities by having a multi-level program that culminates with a black level, but the "prestige" element of it is still a work in progress as prestige takes time to build.

The true value of what DC&P accomplishes is that it gives the thousands of junior golf organizations and instructors this missing "dream" that we can sell to our young players.

We're already talking at TGA about how we can promote the upcoming DC&P qualifiers to our families and incorporate preparatory activities/events into our programming model.  Incidentally, two of Sunday's winners have ties to TGA as former students.  It's a very real thing to be able to tell our current students that if they practice hard now during our spring session programs, they'll be ready for the DC&P qualifiers in June/July and they could be on TV next year.  It's a goal that is available, viable, immediate and awesome.  That's the best kind of dream there is.  We're going to sell it at TGA and I think every other junior golf organization/instructor should as well.

Thank you to golf's governing bodies for the impressive accomplishment of creating a "dream" that is inclusive of all junior players and available to the entire industry.  It is exactly what the junior golf ecosystem needed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The new PGA Task Force - another meeting about a meeting? Here's what I'd do if I ran the PGA of America:

The PGA of America announced the formation of a 'Growth of Game Task Force' last week and I can't help but sigh.

Here is the announcement from PGA President Ted Bishop on Morning Drive:



The task force is described as having three focal points:

1. Redefine what the golf experience is.
2. Explore innovative alternative methods to playing golf.
3. Develop an alternative set of guidelines that will allow recreational players to enjoy the game with more relaxed rules.

This has the feeling to me of planning a meeting to schedule a meeting.

Three years ago there was the Boston Consulting Group report that identified the challenges faced by the sport (time, cost, difficulty) and growth opportunities (lapsed golfers, baby boomers, minorities, women, children).

Golf 2.0 was then created to develop player development strategies that targeted the consumer segments identified above.

HackGolf was then created to crowdsource ideas.

And now we have a task force to discuss these ideas.

There are a few issues with all of this.

The first is the vast spectrum of definitions people have for "golf."  Is "golf" hitting a ball with a club?  Is it getting a ball in a hole?  Is it both?  Here's what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

golf

 noun, often attributive \ˈgälf, ˈgȯlf, ˈgäf, ˈgȯfsometimes ˈgəlf\
: an outdoor game in which players use special clubs (called golf clubs) to try to hit a small ball with as few strokes as possible into each of 9 or 18 holes

I've posed the question about golf's definition to many people within the industry and received many different responses.  If we cannot define what golf is, how can we "redefine" it?

The second issue is that a task force is more talk and less action.  For all the discussion around BCG, Golf 2.0, HackGolf - has anything tangible come from them?  Not that I'm aware of.

This focus on being unfocused is a liability.  HackGolf will not succeed for a simple reason - people who have "cutting edge ideas" aren't going to just hand them over to a website.  They're going to want credit, upside, ownership.

So the flavor of this week is FootGolf.  Last week it was Mark King of Taylor Made proposing larger holes.  The week before that it was bifurcation.  Next week it sounds like it could be pay-by-the-minute timecards (which is a concept with numerous issues).  So many ideas, so many opportunities, so little execution.

The most successful companies, products and organizations succeed through long-term commitment to a few causes based around a central strategy.  That's what we need to do here.

The final issue is that none of this really matters without serious industry collaboration and we have a large hill to climb in this regard.  The PGA of America can do everything Bishop describes, but would it matter?  The USGA made their stance on recreational golf clear last year when they told tens of thousands of weekend warriors that they had to switch the most important club in their bag or be labelled a cheater.  Is the PGA ready to assert itself as the all-encompassing authority on golf in the same way that the USTA has for tennis?

If I were in charge of the PGA, here's what I'd do:

Step 1 - I'd establish that the definition of golf is the way Webster has it, except I'd eliminate the last clause about "9 or 18 holes."

Step 2 - I'd establish a central strategy that focuses on three product elements - 1) the golf course experience, 2) the golf facility experience, 3) the mobile golf experience.

Step 3a - For the golf course experience, I'd create a set of recreational rules.  Key elements would include playing all penalties as hazards and having looser guidelines on equipment.  This would preserve the core tradition of the game (i.e. no "redefining" needed) while speeding up play and making the game more enjoyable.

Step 3b - For the golf facility experience, I'd find a way to partner with TopGolf and replicate their core value of turning the driving range a social and recreational hub for avid players and beginning golfers alike, just like a bowling alley.

Step 3c - For the mobile golf experience, I'd partner with SNAG on the equipment side and my company TGA on the delivery model side to bring golf out into the community through programs at schools, parks, senior centers and elsewhere.

Step 4 - Before rolling out this plan, I'd go to golf's other governing bodies to get their support so we could operate as one cohesive unit.  If they didn't provide it, I'd move forward anyways with confidence that my plan was the best for long-term sustainable growth.

Step 5 - Finally, I'd sell the plan to PGA members.  Many won't agree with something like this so I'd prepare for the backlash.  But all it takes is a few early adopters and some early successes to change the political tides.

Step 6 - This would be the one and only plan for the next three years.  All focus and resources would be dedicated to executing it at the highest level possible.

Hopefully something like this is being developed within the PGA's walls.  From what I know, it is.  But  the hard part is not the talking or planning.  It's the doing.  Historically, bold ideas stall out because people and organizations in the golf industry don't want to rock the boat.  Well, the data clearly tells us that the boat needs a rocking.

I support the Task Force in the same way that I do anything that is trying to move the needle forward within our industry, but I support with trepidation as I worry that it's more of the same.

I'd prefer more of a proactive approach.  An entrepreneurial approach.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gen Z Needs our Love & Understanding

I was at a Tennis Industry Association (TIA) conference earlier this week and they hosted a wonderful seminar led by Gary Colen of AMP Agency on how to understand and engage Generation Z (loosely defined as youth born between 1995-present).

I’m not sure if the golf industry has looked hard at this generation, but if so, I haven’t seen it.  There was an interesting panel discussion on Millennials at the PGA Show but I’d argue that capturing Gen Z is even more important.

Why?  Because amidst all the talk about growing the game, a critical component of any growth strategy needs to focus on inclusion paths for these folks who are 0-18 years old.  This will not be easy.  The reality is that they think much differently than the Baby Boomers who mostly control the golf industry, and they’re even quite different from someone like myself who walks the line between being a Gen X’er and Millennial.  These are folks who were born into an Internet/smartphone/social media world and this has widespread effects on their sense of identity and approach to life (i.e. consumer behavior).

Therefore, I wanted to pass along the many notes I took during the TIA seminar.  I hope you find them useful.

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Gen Z Notes – 2.11.14

Overview:

-       Born 1995-Present, encompasses all kids in high school and younger
-       23 Million in U.S. but growing rapidly… expected to surpass Millennials in sheer population, which is amazing considering Millennials blew away their predecessors (Gen X) by 71 million to 41 million
-       Highly inactive – 30% of kids in U.S. are obese, 50% are overweight
-       50% of youth don’t associate sports with their identities, and 70% drop out of sports altogether by the age of 13
-       They’re accustomed to “relationship parenting” which leads to ambivalence towards authority but also a family-first mentality
-       They have powerful control over their parents’ spending habits
-       They’re much more motivated by achievement than money – e.g. would rather make $30k/year and do something meaningful to them than make $60k doing something they felt was meaningless
-       With their lives on display for the world to see, they have a hard time developing their ethos from within and rely heavily on third party sources for personal identity generation
-       They are captivated by great stories
-       Their social graph is not much different than their elders, it’s just that everything is now done online – their Instagram = our photo album, their Spotify = our mixed tapes, their Tubmlr = our diary, etc.
-       Their time is precious and highly defragmented – e.g. while a Gen X’er may look at a Gen Z who has sat on the couch for an hour and wonder “how can they be so lazy?,” the Gen Z’er  has been super busy in their mind having watched videos on Vine, uploaded photos to Instagram, played a few games, texted their friends, etc.

How to connect/engage with a Gen Z’er:

-       Be authentic – while they have a global view, they care about local impact
-       Provide shared experiences – they want something to talk about
-       Provide instant gratification – they want you to get to the point and provide immediate feedback
-       Build a community for them – they want to feel like they’re part of something big
-       Inspire them – they want to feel good about themselves

How to win them over:

-      Provide flexible scheduling – they’re busy and want options

-       Provide structure and constant rewards – they need structure (like all kids do regardless of generation) and they crave immediate feedback
-       Accept their authority indifference – use it to your advantage by empowering them with leadership opportunities
-       Let them rule, optimize and filter – we establish the environment but they want to control the activities, so let them
-       Accept that they can tweet Obama – i.e. they see everyone and everything as being connected and at their fingertips

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At TGA, all of our 250,000 participants are members of Gen Z so this information is very relevant to us.

From a programming standpoint, I think we do a good job of engaging these individuals as all of our programs implement a birdie/bogey ticketing system to provide immediate feedback and rewards, our staff are all trained to setup and control a specific class environment but then let students determine different station activities and games, we empower our upper level students with leadership roles, we have several online and social interactions, and more.

From a branding standpoint, however, I think we have room for growth.  Some of our projects in 2014 include conducting heavy consumer research, reviewing and re-working our core messaging to better relate to the different constituents we serve, and expanding our messaging platforms.

I hope you found this Gen Z information useful and I encourage all stakeholders in growing the game to continue learning more about how we can engage this critically important audience.

Thanks for your time and happy entrepreneuring…

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Everyone says they’re growing the game. Here’s a framework for actually doing it:

It’s been two weeks since the PGA Show and the feedback from folks around the industry has been generally positive.  It should be.  TaylorMade kicked things off in grand fashion with some provocative statements and the introduction of HackGolf.  From there, everyone I encountered seemed to have a good understanding and acceptance of the challenges we're facing and an upbeat disposition about our ability to overcome them.

The Show for us (TGA) was excellent.  We’re starting, slowly but surely, to see the industry embrace our model and impact.  The Southern California PGA’s acquisition of two of our franchises has played a big role in that.

The Show for me personally was also very good.  In addition to my TGA commitments, I had the pleasure of meeting several readers of this blog and learning about some of the awesome things this community is working on.

Since leaving Orlando, however, I’ve found myself with this nagging and growing discomfort about the Show’s central theme – the concept of “growing the game.”

What bothered me this year was how loosely this phrase was being thrown around.  Countless people were wearing pins on their badges that proclaimed: “I’m growing the game.”  Everyone from equipment companies to PGA Professionals to industry associations to teaching aid companies to basically everyone else was touting how they grow golf. 

They’re not wrong.  What’s the definition of “growing the game” anyway?  Is it making golf easier?  More enjoyable?  Faster?  Cheaper?  More accessible?  Yes yes and yes.  By this vague description, basically everyone in the industry is in some way shape or form trying to “grow the game.”  That’s a good thing from a 100k foot level.

My issue is that the phrase is becoming shallow.  It’s used more in self-aggrandizing ways than in meaningful ones.

What does “growing the game” actually mean?  Is it our goal as an industry to increase the number of overall players?  Overall rounds?  Annual spending?   Enjoyment?  TV viewership?  What?  In the tennis industry, they measure success by ball sales.  What's that metric (or metrics) for golf?

And that’s where my discomfort resides.  When everyone believes they’re growing the game through countless different ways without a clear overarching strategy or collective objectives, we’re accomplishing everything but accomplishing nothing.

It’s important to note that the lens I view the golf industry through is almost entirely influenced by player development.  I have a deep personal relationship with the concept of “growing the game” as my entire career has been dedicated to bringing new players into the sport.  Within this context, here’s how I’d create an industry-wide framework and strategy for growing golf:

Step 1 – Identify the three categories of players:

Group 1 – Core golfers
Group 2 – Occasional golfers
Group 3 – Non-golfers

Note that I do not differentiate between lapsed golfers and those who have never played the sport as BCG and Golf 2.0 do.  My view is that, either way, the reasons why they stopped playing or never started are very similar.

Step 2 – Define what “growing the game” means in each category:

Core golfers – increased annual spending
Occasional golfers – increased rounds and memberships
Non-golfers – increased overall participation

Step 3 – Identify the key drivers of Step 2 goals:

Core golfers – equipment/apparel, lessons, training aids, tournaments, travel
Occasional golfers – time, cost, course availability
Non-golfers – knowledge, availability, time, cost, difficulty

Step 4 – Identify strategies for each driver (only some of many listed below):

Core golfers – equipment/apparel advancements, cost-effective lesson packages, regional tournaments and social outings

Occasional golfers – increase pace of play, decrease costs, define/promote other ways to play and enjoy “golf”

Non-golfers – target youth and millennials, embrace alternate forms of “golf,” create simple and cost-effective introductory programs

Step 5 – Partner with key stakeholders for each driver (only some of many listed below):

Core golfers – TMAG/Callaway/etc., PGA of America, PGA Professionals


Non-golfers – Get Golf Ready, TGA, FootGolf

Conclusion:

Not only would a concise and straight-forward outline like this give the industry a framework within which to operate, but it would help identify for all stakeholders where their value proposition lies compared to others and what their focus should be.  Imagine the collaboration, idea-sharing, acceptance, resource-sharing, etc. that could come from this.  How great would it be for the dialogue to shift from buttons that state “I’m growing the game” to real conversations where someone could say - “I’m growing the game by focusing on group 2 with the incorporation of Speedgolf during twilight hours.” - and everyone involved understood what was just said and how it aligned with their own strategies?

understand that the common counter-argument to my view is “golf is a niche sport and we should accept that” but I disagree.  That, to me, is a deferral of responsibility for declining participation.  Every day I see people pick up a club for the first time and have an amazing experience who aren’t part of the “niche.”  That is why I believe golf has tremendous room to grow through both traditional and non-traditional ways.  But we need to start with a plan.  And there needs to be objectives we all buy into.

Thank you for reading this far along in my post and taking the time to hear my thoughts on how we should frame the conversation and craft the strategy to accomplish “growing the game.”  I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Have a great weekend and Happy Entrepreneuring…