Can Golf Survive Without Tigers in the Jungle?

English: in 2007 Esperanto: en la jaro 2007

Image via Wikipedia

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!

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