FedEx Cup: AT&T National

Fed Ex Cup:        AT&T National

“Thank you for calling the AT&T National, please hold….“

Welcome to The Old Line State – Maryland; America in miniature with Countryside that ranges from sandy dunes dotted with sea grass in the east, to low marshlands teeming with wildlife and large bald cypress near the bay, to gently rolling hills of oak forest in the Piedmont Region, and pine groves in the mountains to the west. Despite the 3,400 mile distance, this is McIlroy County – home of Rory’s sensational US Open victory in 2011 but he’s not hearing the call (he’s in Ireland) – leave a message – tell him it’s the greatest game on grass and the PGA Tour is dialling in!

Date:                     28th June – 1st July 2012

Venue:                 Congressional Country Club (Blue Course), Bethesda, Maryland

Steeped in tournament history, Congressional has hosted many leading tournaments from juniors, ladies and seniors to majors in the form of the PGA and US Open as well as this established annual gathering – although the AT&T has had a 3 year absence from the roster at this venue and this year is 314 yards longer than it was in 2009! The exclusive Club counted Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D Eisenhower and Gerald Ford amongst its esteemed members and is so posh that the ice cubes are frozen twice to help them last longer in their G&T’s – now that’s cool!

Yards:                   7,569 yards

Par:                        Par 71

Field:    

“Just one moment please….”

If you are looking for your AT&T host – he’ll be a long in a minute, as for the first time since he took the trophy back in 2009 Tiger Woods (11/2 with SkyBet) has accepted an invite – from himself!! This invite only event at the Congressional is restricted to a field of only 120 including nine players who have already won on the 2012 PGA Tour, 11 major championship winners with a mantelpiece holding 28 major trophies and two of the current top three in the FedEx Cup standings, all of whom will be competing for a $6.5 million purse and a winner’s cheque in the region of $1,100,000.

Consider…:

“How may I direct your call?”

The World watched in 2011 as McIlroy obliterated the US Open field, and we knew the Blue course was tough – some would say brutal, but the scores were unlike many a US Open for at least 19 players ended in red numbers! It may not quite play so brutal this time around but the course still hosts tricky but rewarding holes – no more so than the 489 yards par 5, 6th hole and the 471 yard par 4, 12th holes that could make a big difference to a cards.

Ones to watch:

Potentially the hottest player on the Tour without a victory (yet) this year, Ryan Palmer (37/1 with BetDaq), if recent history is anything to go by, could see another finish in a placed position this week. In his last five starts, he’s posted four top 10s including in each of his last three outings. At a staggering aggregate 33-under in those 4 starts, with averaging 3.74 birdies per round and having finished 21st in 2011 U.S. Open, he knows how brutal but rewarding the course can be.

England’s Brian Davis (90/1 with BetDaq) recorded his third fourth place finish of the year at the Travelers Championship where he shared the 54-hole lead. He ranked within the top 10 in fairways hit, greens reached and birdies obtained at TPC River Highlands. He is certainly consistent currently sitting 29th on the PGA Tour in the all-around ranking but has yet to make the breakthrough into the winners circle and as such, it may just be a podium (and no more) on this call.

Ones to win:

Bo Van Pelt (35/1 with BlueSq) tied for 24th at the Travelers delivering his fourth top 25 in five consecutive starts and his ninth of the year from 13 cuts made! He is currently sitting fifth on the PGA Tour in total driving accuracy, 52nd in greens hit and third in Strokes Gained-Putting and tied for 14th at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open. The World number 32 sits 37th on the FedEx Cup and with a few strong events could be a contender for a valuable Ryder Cup spot in Chicago.

Scot Martin Laird (63/1 with BetDaq) is a good call this week in theory, if you consider his length off the tee and the frequency of hitting greens in regulation (he currently sits 10th in the Tour rankings). Like some of Scotland’s other finest exports, he has a tendency to play the difficult courses well – coping well with the firm and fast conditions that suit his game. With warm, dry weather expected, don’t expect him to lose his cool.

Trick shots:

“I’m just putting you through…”

On fire Marc Leishman fresh from his win at the Travelers last week, returns 147/10 with BetDaq to finish on Sunday in a place… and with two top fives in his last 4 outings, you wouldn’t bet against it would you?

Martin Laird also delivers 51/10 (also with BetDaq) for a top ten finish – he has had three already in 2012 and 18 in his career. The odds are looking in our favour…

Thank me later!

Members Prepared to Spend More

Author: Emma Williams @ Golf Club Management

A new survey on the spending behaviour of members of British golf clubs has found that golfers are prepared to spend more on memberships and green fees in 2012 than in 2011, but less on equipment.

The SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC poll of over 2,000 golf club members, who are all members of the HowDidiDo online golf community, revealed that the average golfer spent £2,486 on the game last year. Members paid, on average, £808 for their annual subscription last year, which was the biggest single expenditure item.

The next biggest was golfing holidays, with an average expenditure of £670.  And, as the average member also paid £211 on visitors’ green fees, club members last year spent £1,689 each simply on playing golf – 68 per cent of total expenditure.

The remaining 32 per cent was invested in equipment, including £290 on golf clubs, £141 on apparel, £92 on trolleys, £79 on shoes, £74 on distance measuring devices, £72 on balls and £49 on bags.

Renewal of memberships

Encouragingly for golf clubs, 93 per cent of members said they will renew their annual subscription in 2012, with less than one per cent saying they will definitely not. Of those who will not be renewing, the majority played less golf in 2011 than in previous years.

Expenditure on memberships in 2012

Elsewhere, regular and better golfers spent the most on the game while, overall, just 4.7 per cent of golf club members said they will spend less on their membership in 2012 than in 2011 and 11.4 per cent said they will spend less on green fees over that period. Nearly a third said they will spend more on their memberships while 16.6 per cent said they will spend more on green fees, the rest indicating they will spend the same amount. While more golfers are prepared to spend more on memberships and green fees, most said they will spend less on equipment – particularly trolleys, bags and distance measuring devices.

Age and gender breakdown

Over a third of over 60s said they would spend more on their membership in 2012, while less than a quarter of under 35s said the same.

Perhaps surprisingly, the average woman spent nearly £200 more on her golf club membership than the average man (£984 to £788) and more than £300 more on golfing holidays (£945 to £644).

Under 35s also spent significantly less on golf than the over 35s – the former spent £1,060 on memberships, green fees and holidays, while 36 to 60-year-olds spent £1,780 on the same three items.

Amount of golf played

The survey also found that the vast majority of golf club members are avid golfers. Over 85 per cent played more than 52 times last year, with more than a third saying this was an increase on 2010, while just 0.5 per cent played less than once a month. Nearly half of all club members expect to play even more golf in 2012 than in 2011, with two-thirds of under 35s stating that they will play more golf this year compared with last.

 

Golf Meets Social Media

Author: Sam Laird @ Mashable

Even golf — that centuries-old Scottish sport stereotyped as rich old white guys puttering around in goofy outfits — has hopped aboard the social mediatrain.

At the Northern Trust Open last week week, golfers sponsored by the TaylorMade brand are sporting hats emblazoned with the Twitter hashtag #driverlove. The hashtag references TaylorMade’s larger campaign that plays off the special connection that some players feel with their clubs. It appears to be the first time a hashtag or explicit social media reference has appeared on PGA Tour golfers or playing surfaces.

While other sports have added interesting social media twists to their players and fields, golf is a game deeply rooted in tradition and not necessarily eager to humor cutting-edge fashion trends and tech fads. But that leaves an opening for brands willing to innovate, according to TaylorMade’s chief marketing officer, Bob Maggiore.

“For our sport as whole, the social media space has really been a slow-moving river,” Maggiore told Mashable. “So it’s interesting for us, because we’ve kind of given up on doing certain things the old way. We like to get out in front and try different things.”

TaylorMade is among golf’s most prominent brands, and Maggiore said the company had a record setting year financially in 2011. He said the hashtag plan was hatched in December, and has already sparked a modest “cult following” among golfers and fans after less than two days of practice rounds and pro-am play at the Northern Trust. (The first round officially tees off Thursday morning.)

The front of the hat features a simple heart design, and the #driverlove hashtag is emblazoned on the side of the cap, where Maggiore said a pedestrian company logo would usually appear. According to Maggiore, the hashtagged hat is an example of how social media allows TaylorMade to market in more abstract — but possibly more effective — ways.

“Versus just directing people to these brand homes, we’re able to get people engaged with these bigger, great ideas, like here that it’s okay to love your golf equipment,” he said. “The hashtag has been really powerful in our TV spots, but once we activate it with live athletes it’s going to be that much more powerful.”

At the Northern Trust, top TaylorMade golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Sergio Garcia are donning the caps. If they make it into the tournament’s final rounds, where there is increased broadcast and fan attention, the hashtag should gain even more attention and drive more conversation.

“We just want people to jump right into the space and get tangled up in the fun that we’re having with it,” Maggiore said. “The win for us is people taking it and going as deep as they want with it.”

Do you think sports teams and brands should do a better job of incorporating social media in their marketing efforts? Let us know in the comments.

The Battle for the Soul of the Game

Author: John Paul Newport @ Wall Street Journal

From about 1990 to the mid-2000s, the golf industry boomed, overbuilt and overpromised. Now it’s paying the price. By a couple of different reckonings, the game is losing one million golfers a year, net.

The promise of the boom was that golf, always a cultural litmus but in numbers never much more than a niche, could break out and become a sport for the masses.

The ramped-up industry still hopes it can. If that’s to happen, however, the game at its core may have to change, or at least accommodate some tradition-defying alternatives. The deep question golf is asking itself these days is wherein lies its soul: with the ancient game itself, played as it has been for hundreds of years, or with the modern industry that has grown up around it? Two million U.S. jobs are now tied to golf, according to an industry lobbying consortium called We Are Golf, and those businesses are desperate to reverse their losses and expand.

Golf’s leadership is responding to the situation with more urgency than ever. At golf’s big annual merchandise show in Orlando, Fla., last month, I sat through several state-of-the-industry hand-wringing sessions. Nobody in golf is complacent. The PGA of America is pushing a new, all-points initiative called Golf 2.0, whose goal is to make the game “more relevant” to lapsed golfers and others, especially women and minorities, it has identified as underserved. At last weekend’s annual meeting of the U.S. Golf Association in Houston, the incoming president, Glen Nager, sounded downright radical (by USGA standards) in urging golf to make itself more accessible.

From all this verbiage, one phrase from Nager’s speech stood out for me as best representing the predicament for golf’s traditionalists. At the end of a list of worthy goals—making golf more enjoyable to play, more affordable and more welcoming—he added that this must be done “without fundamentally changing the game itself.” The game itself, of course, is different than the business practices that support the game, many of which (like poor customer tracking and feckless rangers) are indeed hidebound and need to be revamped. But Nager also stressed that the USGA’s top priority is to protect golf’s core values—to preserve, as he put it, “the true spirit of the game as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions.” But it’s unclear if that spirit is still viable for an industry that hopes to expand its customer base, as per the Golf 2.0 vision, to 40 million players by 2020 from 26 million players now? Never mind gaining those customers, especially young ones, in an ever more time-squeezed, electronically addicted culture.

Until perhaps 25 years ago, golf more or less contentedly filled its niche. Those who aspired to become golfers basically knew what they were getting in for and accepted the game’s demands. “When I was learning to love this game, it was never seen as too hard, or too time-consuming to play, or too expensive, or too frustrating,” said Susie Meyers, 51, who later played on the LPGA Tour and now teaches golf in Arizona. The course she played on with her family and friends was short and simple, but in her memories it was heaven.

In the intervening years, the character and challenges of the game changed, Meyers said. “Whose idea was it to make courses so difficult it takes 5½ hours to play?” she asks. “Whose idea was it to say there’s a perfect swing and if you come to me I’ll show you what’s wrong with it and fix it? Whose idea was it that you have to find the perfect club and the perfect ball and play on perfect grass?”

There are many interrelated factors behind golf’s transformation, but the housing bubble that caused so many troubles elsewhere played a lead role. It drove demand for thousands of new high-end courses to anchor developments, ratcheting up standards everywhere. The PGA Tour, fueled by big TV contracts and Tiger Woods, became much richer than it had been and more glamorous. Equipment makers poured millions into research and came up with high-price, technologically advanced clubs. Golfers always want the latest thing.

The thrust of the Golf 2.0 initiative is customer service—to give customers more of what they want, or would want if it were actually available: set-aside times and places for families and beginners to play, more leagues and competitions, more accessible instruction, friendlier staff. An allied initiative, begun last summer and co-sponsored (unusually) by the USGA and the PGA, is Tee It Forward, which encourages golfers to play from tees that make courses shorter and more fun. Most of these solutions, and others like them, are an attempt to return golf to simpler, less fancified times—the way Susie Meyers remembers the game.

Could these measures possibly be enough to give the golf industry the growth it desires? Maybe, given enough time and the rewiring of expectations in golfers’ brains. But for those who don’t think so, more extreme ideas have appeal. Among them: promulgating alternate sets of rules for players with less patience and fewer skills; legalizing clubs and balls that make the game easier; doubling the size of the hole. John Solheim, the chief executive of club maker Ping, recently floated the notion of adding two new types of balls: one that flies much farther for thrill seekers and short hitters, and a ball that is shorter for courses that are also short.

These are the kind of ideas that terrify traditionalists, even if they might introduce more people to the game. They like to think of golf as a single church, with one set of rules and beliefs for all. The analogy may be a stretch, but Christianity faced similar renegade elements in the 16th century, resulting in the Protestant Reformation. That was extremely messy, but in the end, if yielding more net Christians was the goal, all those new, competing denominations had a positive effect. The battle for golf’s soul may just be getting under way.