American Golf Sounds More Interested In Golf Shacks Than Courses

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Keith Carter files a fascinating read for futurists and those interested golf business looking at American Golf’s investors putting a focus on Drive Shack, a Top Golf competitor.

Besides the obvious effort by Newcastle Investments to cover its bets, some of the quotes in Carter’s story suggest very little bullishness on the future of golf compared to entertainment-driven ranges. While American Golf has been downsized, spliced and diced from its former standing as the world’s largest course operator, the new direction is still an eye-opener.

Wynn To Resurrect Closed Course On Site Of Resurrected Desert Inn Layout

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The Strip’s historic Desert Inn course, rebuilt by Steve Wynn and then closed, is going to get new life after Wynn Resorts decided to abandon an ambitious expansion project. Oh, and they found out golfers were taking their money elsewhere.

From Richard Velotta’s Las Vegas Review Journal report:

Company executives discovered that removing the golf course resulted in some loyal customers going elsewhere. Maddox estimated the company lost $10 million to $15 million of domestic casino business from people coming in for golf trips who decided to go elsewhere.

What Could Go Wrong? Sometimes World No. 1 Rose To Make Big Leap To Honma

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It’s always strange to see a player with all cylinders firing making a big equipment move. But that’s what Justin Rose has planned at years end, reports Golf’s Jonathan Wall, who says if Rose regains No. 1 status he’ll be the first top players since Rory McIlroy in 2013 to make such a move.

Two elements of Wall’s reporting are of interest, starting with Taylor Made’s apparently focus on fewer players under new owner KPS Capital Partners.

Assuming Rose is no longer in the picture, TaylorMade’s Tour staff for 2019 would consist of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Tiger Woods, who are all currently ranked inside the top 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Then there is Honma, known as a maker of high-end and high-priced equipment now run by former Taylor Made CEO Mark King. It sounds like Rose has wisely reserved the right to not jump into their unproven-at-the-highest-level woods.

It’s been reported that Rose’s deal with Honma would require him to play the brand’s irons and wedges but allow him to continue using TaylorMade woods. It’s unclear if he’d continue using a TaylorMade golf ball or switch to a Honma model.

Topgolf CEO: 50 Markets By End Of 2019, IPO Under Consideration

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Topgolf Executive Chair Erik Anderson was the featured interview at the Octagon Sports Marketing Symposium Tuesday and said the company hopes to be in 50 markets by year’s end with aggressive plans to expand stand-alone and other off-shoot versions of Topgolf.

Eric Fisher from SportsBusinessDaily reports and includes this:

Roughly half of Topgolf clientele were not initially active golfers, though play at their facilities has translated to some increases in play at traditional courses. Roughly half are aged 18-34, a highly coveted demo by every other sports property. “The big idea for us was take out a lot of the barriers of golf, such as around time, cost and skill, and make it about fun and community,” Anderson said.

And this on a possible looming IPO is of note:

Anderson said Topgolf is considering an IPO for the company, but did not provide specifics around the likelihood of that or a potential timetable for a decision. “We are a candidate to go public for sure. It would be silly to say otherwise. ... We’re probably an interesting public company, like Starbucks was given how people connect with us.”

SBD posted a couple of snippets of Anderson’s conversation.

Of course there was a “subscription” and a Netflix mention, but you’re not a good CEO if you aren’t tossing the millennials and those who want to pick their pockets the preferred candies of the day.

Here is Anderson on golf needing more shortened pay-as-many-as-you-play options (“mini subscriptions”):

On the companies Topgolf says you should be on the look out for. No big surprises here…

Golf Inc's Most Powerful People In Golf...Tiger's Really Back Now!

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Troon Golf’s Dana Garmany tops the annual Golf Inc list, followed by PGA Tour Commish Jay Monahan and Tiger returns to the list at 7th. However, when you are two slots behind the Finchem-Nike-American-Golf-some-health-care-company castoff David Pillsbury, who somehow conned Club Corp’s board into making him CEO, it’s hard to hold your head too high Tiger if you are in the six slot and beyond.

Much more entertaining than the list are the photos of the execs and architects. Some airbrushes were out in full force!

What Happens If We Make The Golf Ball Slightly Larger?

 The old Spalding Magna, an oversized ball

The old Spalding Magna, an oversized ball

Gary Van Sickle at MorningRead.com considers the distance matter and concludes something must be done based on the next wave of players coming along and rendering most courses obsolete.

I was curious about one of this three suggestions beyond the usual bifurcation options.

I’ll credit Tom Watson with Option One, and he concedes that he heard it from golf analyst and entertainer David Feherty: make the golf ball bigger. It’s already been done once. Golf in the U.S. used a ball 1.68 inches in diameter versus the ball used by the rest of the world, 1.62 inches. The British Open switched to the bigger ball in 1974, and the United Kingdom’s small ball finally went away in 1990 for recreational golfers.

Watson said that .06 inches may have made a 20-yard driving decrease. What would another .06-inch increase mean, and would that be enough? I’d love to see some research on that.

Indeed research is needed. Because we need another study in this game!

While it seems so logically simple, this option has the potential to be costly for manufacturers and more difficult to implement due to patents. Our old pal Max Behr swore by the old floater ball and still played it when others had moved on to more advanced pellets. As anyone who has hit shots with a ball different than the weight of the modern ball, is typically not enthralled in the way many of Max’s contemporaries loathed the floater. Whether this was a matter of resisting change, struggling to adapt or legitimate complaints about the feasibility of such a ball, we’ll never know.

Either way, when writing your governing body, do not hesitate to ask for a golf ball size study. We’ve waited this long, what’s another…year.

If you need some inspiration, here was Behr’s 1937 petition to the USGA to require the "floater” the official ball for golf.

From an unbylined New York Times story, Behr’s resolution: 

“Whereas, it is out opinion that golf as pursued today no longer reflects its ancient and honorable traditions which it is out wish to protect; and, in that the ball manufacturers, not the player, dictate the sort of golf that is played which, instead of reflecting its honorable past, in a sense has become dishonorable in that mere brawn off the tee receives an unfair reward at the expense of ancient ways of skillfully maneuvering the ball—no longer required to win—we protest against the perilous state that golf has fallen into.

“Therefore, we respectfully petition the U.S.G.A. that it decree its amateur and open championships henceforth will be played with a ball that floats in water. We firmly believe that in this way only may its ancient and honorable traditions be re-established and preserved for future generations to enjoy.” 

Cart Girls Put On Notice: Golf Course Instituting Food Delivery By Drone

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CNN's Matt McFarland repots that King's Walk GC in Grand Forks, North Dakota will be selling food starting September 15th. The bad news? It could snow two weeks later. 

Anyway, the folks behind it feel the order-by-phone, deliver-by-drone option could add a cool and fun factor that will keep golfers coming back. 

Like many golf courses, an employee roams the area in a beverage cart. But on busy days, players might wait as long as an hour before having the chance to buy something. Yes, they can duck into the restaurant positioned midway through the 18 holes, but the course and its partners say that's a bit much to ask in today's age of instant gratification. 

"Wherever you are, you should be able to get what you want within a few minutes," Yariv Bash, CEO of FlyTrex, the Israeil drone logistics startup operating the service, told CNNMoney. "Why wait?" 

Looks pretty swell!

Sexism Alive And Well Files: "If a No. 1 player can’t get replacement clubs after a long and successful relationship, what kind of message does that send to up-and-comers?"

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Forgive me for not seeing Beth Ann Nichols' Golfweek story from two weeks ago, but Bellerive had that kind of transitory effect. Anyway, we discussed on the latest State of The Game the absurdity of this story. Given the amount of free stuff given to young male golfers--young being 14 and up--the notion that a company said no to a future Hall of Famer, all-time great and player who actually might influence buying habits, I'm not sure if there is any way to defend the actions of Taylor Made as they relate to Inbee Park.

Here is Nichols' setup, though there is much more in the piece about issues LPGA players face in getting equipment as the free stuff flows on the male amateur and pro side of the sport:

Two months ago, when Inbee Park was No. 1, caddie Brad Beecher reached out to a TaylorMade rep on behalf of Park to get replacements for the 3-wood, 5-wood and two Rescue clubs she had in her bag. Park is a Srixon staff player but is only required to have nine Srixon clubs in the bag. For more than five years she has played with four TaylorMade woods. That timespan includes six of her seven majors, an Olympic gold medal and more than 100 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Park received the same response as several other LPGAers: A new company policy stipulates that players must use a TaylorMade driver to get free product.

Anyone who has seen Park play in person is immediately struck by how well she plays her fairway woods to make up for less length off the tee. Next, you are struck by how beloved she is with Korean golf fans. One might think this would lead to companies lining up to stock her locker with fairway woods. All in hopes of being associated with an all time great and the strongest part of her game, driver counts be damned.

Apparently not for all. Taylor Made's response:

When asked to comment on their policy regarding Park, a TaylorMade representative said, “We don’t share information around our relationships with athletes (contracted or non-contracted) due to confidentiality reasons.”

It's a rare misstep from a player-friendly company and one that sadly screams of short-sightedness at best, whiffs of sexism at the very least.

Malbon Golf: From Instagram Account To Partnering With Puma

There are plenty of Instagram accounts turning into something their creators could not have imagined, so it's fun to see a few in golf joining the fray by making businesses out of good taste and fresh ideas. Even more fascinating: seeing the brands who are saddling up to them for products.

Golfweek's Brentley Romine with Malbon Golf's success story, which jumped to another level beyond pop-up shop and place where the cool kids go after they launched a stellar-looking new line with Puma last week. 

Last year the vision gained strength when Malbon Golf opened a pop-up shop on 800 N. Fairfax Ave. in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles. Since its opening, the shop, which features a boutique store accompanied by a putting green and golf simulator, has welcomed guests ranging from Michelle Wie and Smylie Kaufman to Travis Scott and Justin Bieber.

Several collaborations have added to the snowball effect, as Malbon has teamed up with several companies, including Puma, Nike, Ecco and Jones Bag, to produce merchandise and apparel featuring the trendy Malbon logo – a golf ball wearing a hat; simple but stylish.

An Instagram account originally started as a way for Malbon to not annoy his non-golf-loving followers of his personal account has more than 37,000 followers. 

AT&T Betting Big On Golf Beyond "The Match" Or Just Making Their Best Possible Synergy Play?

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Lost in the details and griping over pay-per-view of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson the day after Thanksgiving may be the role of the main backer: AT&T.

From Mike Murphy's MarketWatch.com item:

AT&T said it will distribute live pay-per-view coverage on a number of its platforms, including DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and sports streaming site B/R Live. The company said the match will also be available on other on-demand platforms, and a rebroadcast will air on the TNT network. The pay-per-view price was not announced.

In a statement, AT&T said the two will be able to make side challenges: “Woods and Mickelson will selectively make side-challenges against one another during the match. For instance, Woods or Mickelson could raise the stakes by challenging the other to a long-drive, closest-to-the-pin or similar competition during a hole as they play their match, with money being donated to the winning golfer’s charity of choice.”

While long focused on sponsoring tournaments and providing bonus coverage on its more recent acquisition, DirecTV, this is the first major play by AT&T on the golf content side. With CEO Randall Stephenson on the PGA Tour Policy Board, could their role in the match and use of TNT as the broadcasting brand to deliver the coverage--despite consistently loathsome reviews of their PGA Championship effort--give folks the impression AT&T is getting in the golf business. 

Or, is this all a way to justify their recent mergers by bringing together too many AT&T properties under the AT&T umbrella: DirecTV, TNT, Bleacher Report, HBO and AT&T U-Verse?

Time will tell, but a big PGA Championship bid does not seem too far fetched. Certainly bidding on some PGA Tour events for 2022 and beyond seems plausible. One question remains and probably always will go unanswered: what does Stephenson do when these matters come up before the PGA Tour Policy Board? 

 

 

 

For Some Unknown Reason, Mark King Has A Job In Golf Again

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Overcompensated retread alert!

Honma Golf USA is apparently unable to do basic Google searches to read up on how Mark King is not the man to run your equipment company unless you want an unhappy ending. 

The former Undercover Boss star who wheeled out multiple Taylor Made drivers in a year in a move that set the company back with consumers, advocated 15 inch cups, sat on the two-meeting PGA of America task force to grow the game and eventually found himself stashed in Adidas North America offices somewhere, is back running Honma Golf USA.  

Mike Stachura reports on King joining the Honma brand in what the former Taylor Made CEO calls a consulting role, though employees are already calling that nonsense. Great start!

“He’s in charge,” said one former Honma employee who requested anonymity. The employee indicated King’s position was announced internally at Honma last month. “It’s been in the works for awhile. Mark’s taking over everything.”

Got to love his description of the new boss, Chairman Liu of Honma.

There were two things that made this attractive to me and the first one right away was him,” King said. “He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but his enthusiasm is mesmerizing. On top of that, with this brand, I see the opportunity to do different things, the right things for this brand, to understand who its customer is and how to reach that customer.

“He was interested in having someone help him who understands golf and understands golf in North America and how to present that brand to the market. My role is to help them build the brand.”

WSJ On The Year Of The Golf (Equipment) Free Agency

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This is a nice big picture consideration by Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal following up on post-Nike trend of players playing mixed bags either by force due to the Swoosh's equipment business demise, or going that route as club companies devote more resources to stars. (Thanks reader John). 

My ShackHouse colleague Joe House has noted on the show how the first three major winners this year are playing a mixture of clubs in looking for a wagering angle headed here to Bellerive, something Costa looks into and considers whether it's a trend. With purses rising and checks from companies flatlining or shrinking, the answer appears to be yes.

The math has also changed. Purse money continues to hit record highs each year, extending a boom that dates to the debut of Tiger Woods and survived his absence in recent years. At the same time, the market for equipment deals has cooled.

Agents and officials from the manufacturers say that a handful of star players—think Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson —still earn several million dollars annually on such deals. But the offers for most other players have dropped substantially. A midlevel Tour player who made $500,000 a decade ago might make $250,000 now.

Why Are Golfers Less Prominent On Forbes Top Athlete Earners List?

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Granted, we've seen the passing of Arnold Palmer, the injuries and struggles of Tiger Woods and the inevitable decline in endorsement dollars going to Jack Nicklaus as he gets older.

Still, golfers have always played a dominant role in Forbes' World's Highest Athletes list. But 2018's list only includes Woods in the top 20, followed by Mickelson, Spieth and McIlroy arrive next at 22, 23rd and 26th and Justin Thomas landed 66th on the back of his FedExCup win. 

No one will lose sleep over any perceived decline in golfer income given the number of millionaires in the sport. But it is fascinating that on the upper end of the endorsement pay scale, golfers appear less valued than athletes in other sports. 

My theories, substantiated by nothing other than observation?

They range from this being a simple transition period to strides made by many of the top athletes--particularly NBA players who take up 40 spots on the list--to improve their likability cache via social media, style and overall intrigue factor as golfers have become a little less accessible, less stylish and less willing to stand out. 

Bridgestone CEO Angel Ilagan Out...

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Golf World's Mike Stachura reports that CEO Angel Ilagan is out after signing Tiger Woods and quickly guiding Bridgestone to the second spot in golf ball sales behind Titleist before slipping back 20% and well behind Callaway.

Ilagan was the only manufacturer CEO to endorse the idea of a distance solution involving the ball. 

Ben Alberstadt at GolfWRX.com has the full statement and wonders if Ilagan's stance on distance hurt his cause.

British-Based Group Working On $20 Million Purse "World Golf Series"

Andrew Both of Reuters reports on the British-based World Golf Group now a year into planning stages for a bold 15-20-event, $20 million purse series featuring top players and blue-chip sponsors. 

The players who join would likely say goodbye to the PGA Tour, a healthy retirement plan and world ranking points that help get them in majors and maintain endorsement deals.

“Every player’s deal is centred around world ranking points,” leading British agent Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, who is aware of the proposed World Golf Series, told Reuters. 

“This series will never get world ranking points, so it will cost people money in the end. I think there are a lot of obstacles to get over." 

As Both notes, the proposal sounds "eerily" similar to Greg Norman's 1990's idea for a world tour of elite players.

What I can't understand: what need does this fill? Between the WGC's and Rolex Series, are fans clamoring to see the world's best get together more for double the purse size? If the venues and locales were special, there might be some intrigue initially. But there still needs to be some other twist that captures our attention. 

Developing...

Puffy Shirt Return: Phil Signs With Mizzen+Main To Allow "Move From The Board Room To The Golf Course"

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The Forecaddie on Thursday-and-beyond's return of...the shirt. 

The full, and frankly spectacular, press release here:

Mizzen+Main Announces Partnership with American Golfer Phil Mickelson

Dallas, Texas, May 10, 2018: Transformative menswear brand Mizzen+Main announces a new partnership with one of the most renowned golfers and professional athletes of all time, Phil Mickelson. The five-time major champion has signed on as an official Brand Ambassador of the hyper growth, performance menswear line that has transformed an industry with its “best damn dress shirt.”

The long-term partnership makes Mickelson an equity holder in the company, joining Houston’s JJ Watt as a major partner in Mizzen+Main.

“I was waiting to find the perfect apparel partner that allowed me to move from the board room to the golf course. Mizzen+Main’s performance dress shirts enable me to do that. A big part of why I’m so thrilled to partner with them is I know all my endorsement partners and the thousands of professionals that work at those companies will love this shirt for their day to day too. These dress shirts not only look incredible but are so comfortable and versatile I can actually play golf in them. It’s remarkable to have a dress shirt I can wear from a meeting to the course. The game has changed,” remarked Mickelson.

Mickelson made waves in the sports world after wearing Mizzen+Main in a practice round with Tiger Woods at Augusta in April this year. His record as one of the best golfers of all time who represents several of the world’s greatest companies, along with being a maverick who charts his own path makes him a perfect fit for the brand.

“I started Mizzen+Main six years ago to make a dress shirt that performed at the same level as athletic apparel. Partnering with Phil is an extraordinary opportunity as one of the most renowned global athletes puts our product to the test on the course in a fun and unique way. We’re thrilled to have Lefty lead the way in the years ahead,” said Mizzen+Main Founder and CEO Kevin Lavelle.

As Brand Ambassador, Mickelson will wear Mizzen+Main’s performance fabric dress shirts regularly in tournament play, kicking off this week at the Players Championship®.

Callaway's First Quarter Sales Rise 31% To $403 Million

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The only down side in these numbers: Jim Cramer will be feeling good about himself for bullishly pegging golf stocks as buy opportunities.

Otherwise, great to see golf companies selling stuff, indicating interest in the sport.

Highlights from Callaway's earnings report where the company earned $63 million/65 cents a share in the quarter, compared with $26 million/27 cents a share in the year-ago period. 

The earnings call transcript.

Have New Course, Need Sponsor: Memorial Park In, GC Of Houston Out

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As the Houston Open tries to remain on the PGA Tour schedule where it's been since 1946, Golf Club of Houston is out as the host venue.

The Houston Business Journal's Jack Witthaus reports on the potential move to the downtown muni going forward. (A Memorial Park change in operator to the Houston Golf Association has been proposed.)

The move to Memorial Park would return the PGA Tour to a course it last played in 1963. Even if no sponsor is found for 2018, let's hope this leads to a long term goal of saving the event and carrying on the Houston Golf Association's efforts to refurbish the Houston city courses.