Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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Happy Birthday Donald Ross – Tribute to a Life Fully Lived

Today is the birthday of my favorite golf course architect – Donald Ross.  Having grown up caddying and playing on a Ross course, I admit to my bias.  Ross was a creative genius, and is arguably the most prolific architect in history with involvement in 400+ courses across the U.S. (not to mention that he was also a fine player and pro).

This post is not so much about the events of Ross’s life.  Books like Discovering Donald Ross and Golf Has Never Failed Me, as well as the new Ross documentary Donald Ross: Discovering the Legend do a better job of that than I ever could.   This post is more a recognition of what can be accomplished with a life fully lived.  (side note: If you think that that a GCA show would be great on Golf Channel, click here to join me in lobbying for it.)

Ross was what we now call a workaholic.  But from all accounts, he was also a devoted father who dealt with the tragic loss of both a wife and a fiancee with measured grace.  He was an adventurer, an artist, a businessman, and a grinder.  He had the loftiest of creative vision, and always kept his feet on and hands in the earth.  He seemed to start life with his pedal to the floor, and he kept it that way until the end.

So although I love the legacy of the great courses he left behind (a sampling of which is shared below), perhaps even better is the inspiration of his example of living life to the fullest.


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Want to Improve Pace of Play? Start Firing Golfers.

The USGA has been studying pace of play extensively and sharing results at their Symposium.  They are amassing data that promises to help course operators improve “flow”.  Additionally, technological innovations like smart flags, GPS-enabled carts, and others will track players and help them keep the pace.

These initiatives may very well help, and I applaud the USGA for doing what it can.  Unfortunately, they strike me as unlikely to solve the problem of slow play because they don’t address the core problem – motives and behavior of course operators and players.

In my career, I have learned quite a bit about motives and behavior from my colleagues and customers.  Several basic truths have emerged for me:

1. Most people – customers and coworkers – have good intentions and are doing their best.  They have moments when they fall short, just as I do.  But even in those moments of carelessness, ignorance, or selfishness, they are not bad people.  They are imperfect, like we all are.

2. Every person does a better job if they are clear on expectations and ground rules.  Especially when those ground rules are based on the principle of providing maximum benefit to all stakeholders.

3. A small percentage of people just don’t “get it”.  Whether they are too ignorant, selfish, or stubborn, they simply can’t or won’t play by the ground rules and contribute to the success of the whole.  Upon identifying people like this, it is always best to fire them as quickly as possible, whether they are coworkers, vendors, or even customers.  They are a drag on the business, and not taking action to remove them will quickly start to degrade one’s ability to be of service to the good people.

Over decades of managing people, customer relationships, and companies, I have experienced very few (if any) exceptions to these 3 truths.

What does that have to do with pace of play?  Let’s return to my assertion about the core problem – people – using my experience with a favorite course of mine, Arcadia Bluffs, to illustrate.

Arcadia Bluffs is a really neat and challenging golf course on one of the most beautiful settings you’ll find, overlooking Lake Michigan.  The staff is great, and the service is first class.  I have a home 10 minutes from the course, and I have played it many times.

I have also brought quite a few friends to play there.  They have all appreciated the beauty of the course, but most of them never want to go back.  Why?  Because it takes at least 4:45 to play a round, and often upwards of 5:15.  Arcadia Bluffs is losing customers because of slow play, and not just among my golf buddies.  In speaking to people about it, it is clear that Arcadia has a bad reputation for pace of play that keeps people away.  That is bad for business, and Arcadia Bluffs is certainly not alone.

What can they do about it?

They can use data from the emerging technology and the USGA studies to improve flow on their course.  They should not just try to maximize rounds to maximize profits.  They should schedule the maximum number of rounds appropriate for their course (based on its difficulty and routing), and then actively manage bottlenecks.  This is a no-brainer, and they are probably already working on it.  It will help a little, but it won’t solve the problem.

To truly solve the problem, they also have to manage their players more proactively and effectively.  Currently, they try to do this by having the starter give a pace-of-play speech on the first tee, and by having rangers on the course.  This is obviously not working currently, and here is why:

The starter speechifies you to play at a decent pace, but doesn’t tell you how.  The rangers may tell you to play faster, but they don’t tell you how.  Based on the first two truths above, this means that people who would like to behave properly might not because they don’t know how.  They are therefore more likely to “have moments”.  It doesn’t take many of those moments to ruin pace for a whole day.

What the starter could do instead is lay out some specific expectations (local rules) for how to keep pace up.  Here are a few examples from my buddies groups:

  • Play ready golf, obviously.
  • The entire group plays from the tees that are appropriate for the highest handicapper.
  • Look for a lost ball for no more than 2 minutes – can’t find it, drop.
  • If you chip/pitch twice and you’re not on the green, you’re done.
  • If you putt twice and you’re not in the hole, you’re done.
  • Single-digit handicappers don’t hit the ball more times than par+2.  Double-digit handicappers, no more than double-par.

We play matches and we still use these rules.  Don’t like ’em?  Find someone else to play with.  Do they work?  We were the first group off at Old MacDonald last fall and got around in 3:30.  Needless to say, the group behind us was not keeping up.

If the starter and rangers at Arcadia Bluffs provided coaching on these rules, the good people will be more likely to respond.  Setting these expectations, and then coaching to them, also allows Arcadia to deal effectively with the “don’t/won’t get it” crowd.

If the pace of these players remains slow, and they refuse to change their behavior, Arcadia Bluffs needs to fire them for the good of every other player on the course.  They have to proactively defend the pace.  In practice, this means that the slow-pokes need to be given their money back and asked never to come back, mid-round if need be.

To service industry professionals, this might sound crazy.  To ignorant and/or inconsiderate golfers, it likely seems offensive because they think that having money in hand means that they are buying carte blanche.  But here is why it is necessary if Arcadia Bluffs really wants to fix pace of play and its reputation, and make its business continue to thrive in the long run:

All other things being equal, slow pace makes every golf experience worse relative to smooth, brisk pace.  Every time a golfer has to wait (regardless of their personal pace of play), they are unhappy.  In turn, they are less likely to come back.

Conversely, if I knew that Arcadia Bluffs was willing to fire “bad customers” to enhance the experience of good customers, I would a) be more likely to return, and b) drag my buddies.  Further, especially in the digital age with this issue so prevalent, it is hard to imagine something more likely to create buzz for a course than kicking chronically slow playersAlCzervik to the curb.

So keep doing the studies and keep working on the technology, and keep up the “While We’re Young!” campaigns to raise awareness.  But I beseech you Arcadia Bluffs and other course operators, give us your ground rules for how to keep the pace, and then fire the people who can’t or won’t.  I promise you that the rest of your customers will celebrate you for it, and to steal another Al Czervik quote, we’ll “make it worth your while.”


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Discovering Golf’s Birthplace in America

In 2013, I took my first golf buddies trip.  Unlike conventional trips to resorts like Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, or Bandon Dunes, we headed out to Long Island, NY.  We are fortunate enough to be able to leg out access to private clubs through our personal and professional networks.  This is the birthplace of golf in America, and for those lucky enough to have the connections, it is a must do trip.

PipingRock

First green at Piping Rock, looking back at the clubhouse (photo courtesy of GolfCourseGurus.com).

We got off the plane and headed straight to Piping Rock.  Walking to the practice area and seeing most of the front nine laid out before me was intoxicating.  Growing up playing many of the great classic courses on Chicago’s North Shore only partially prepared me for the impact.  The effect was similar to seeing the ancient city center in Rome – visually stunning, and oozing with history.

Our trip just got better as we played Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone and Friar’s Head.  One amazing track after another.  Needless to say, we were hooked and headed back for more this year.  In subsequent conversations about future annual trips, we have dismissed all ideas of going anywhere else.  The supply of world-class golf is nearly endless given that we have expanded our scope to include Philadelphia, Boston and other areas of New England.

I have become our crew’s researcher and planner, which plays into my obsession with golf course architecture – (especially from the Golden Era).

I created a Google map to keep my findings organized, and to track our progress over the years.  This map is now public (tinyurl.com/JasonWayNEGolf).  Hopefully, it will be a help to other golf adventure junkies.  And of course, if you have a recommendation, feel free to share.

NYGolfMap

The full map is available at tinyurl.com/JasonWayNEGolf


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The Art of Course – Why Golf Channel Needs a GCA Show

There is much hand-wringing and serious conversation these days about the state of the game.  Rounds are down, and so are the total number of players playing.  The talk revolves around how to get the game growing again through future-forward change and progress.

Making the game more fun is certainly part of the solution.  Initiatives like Tee It Forward, Play 9, and Relaxed Rules are well intended and, hopefully, effective.  However, efforts to make golf more fun are, by their nature, superficial.  If golf wants to remain healthy in the long run, its stewards need to guide current and potential players to connect at a deeper-than-superficial level.  Golf can touch minds and souls with its unique magic, but the current golf culture often distracts players from discovering that magic.

And that is why Golf Channel should have a show dedicated to Golf Course Architecture.

I’m a businessman and realist, so let’s get the business case out of the way first before returning to the idealism.  Golf Channel makes money when it engages its audience.  The digital era has allowed media outlets to target content toward ever-finer niches.  The existence and success of Golf Channel is evidence of this trend.  So, the question is, is there an audience for GCA content that could be engaged?  And even further, is that audience one that could be monetized by Golf Channel through advertising?

First, the audience size.  There is ample evidence that an audience interested in GCA exists:

  • Matt Ginella’s course design and development updates are highly anticipated and never fail to cause buzz.
  • Morning Drive’s themed “Architects Week” was a smash hit.
  • Architects like Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, and Gil Hanse have not only become widely known, they have become icons.
  • The rabid engagement of communities surrounding websites like GolfClubAtlas.com is at a peak.
  • Thought leaders like Geoff Shackelford and Brad Klein are no longer “niche” – they have reach and power.

Second, the audience quality for advertisers.  GCA devotees are the people who get on planes and travel to places like Bandon Dunes and Streamsong.  They buy golf equipment and clothing.  They have considerable spending power beyond their golf habits.

The audience exists and it is a good audience for the right advertisers to reach, but that is only the commercial argument for Golf Channel’s GCA show.  The intangible, yet larger, argument is that as a force in the game, it is in Golf Channel’s best interest to cultivate the game’s magic.  It is golf courses that are the source of that magic.

The course provides us with an outdoor adventure, exercise, and connection to nature.  The course also provides us with quiet space in our hectic lives to connect with family and friends, and ourselves.  The course is the opponent, providing us with endless challenges, both obvious and subtle.

Beyond the basics, great courses touch us at the deepest level.  When witnessing the beauty of man’s artistic vision merged with mother nature’s creation, it is hard not to be stirred.  Great courses also stimulate the mind – they give us options, sometimes confounding options.  They bait our egos.  They test our ability to think strategically, as well as remaining focused and confident in our strategic decisions.  Great courses are marvels of design, planning, engineering, technology, agronomy, and attention to detail – they are a magical blend of art and science.

Without the course, golf is a trip to driving range.  Without understanding of and exposure to the depth of great courses, people will not know why golf is the greatest game ever invented.  Superficial fun won’t keep people engaged without the deeper connection.

So, among informative and entertaining programs that Golf Channel produces, this is my call for them to give golf course architecture and golf courses their due attention.  The audience is there, and the game needs it.

I’m conducting a Twitter experiment to see if we can create a groundswell to get a show on the air.  GCA nerds and stewards of the game, join me in tweeting to @golfchannel to ask them to create the show.  Use the hashtag #GCAonGC so that we can track progress.  Let’s make this happen.

(Feel free to share your ideas for GCA show episodes as comments to this post, or tweet them to me at @JasonWay1493 and I’ll do it for you.)

If you are not Twitter inclined, you can also post to the Golf Channel Facebook page here.  Use the same hashtag in your post if you do: #GCAonGC.

Or, if you are just not into social media at all, you can email Golf Channel at programming@golfchannel.com and/or morningdrive@golfchannel.com.

Regardless of what media you use, if you think that a GCA show would be great TV (and good for the game), share your thoughts with Golf Channel.  If you don’t feel comfortable expressing yourself, then send them a link to this post and let my words do your talking.

If enough of us speak up, they will respond.

UPDATE: While we’re working on getting this show aired, I have started to compile links on this GCA Video Archive page for exploration.  Hope you enjoy!


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Short Game Game Plan

One of the factors contributing to the variance between my current index and scratch is inconsistent wedge play.  I estimate that I’m leaving 2 shots on the course every round.  In reflecting on my short game, it occurs to me that part of the issue is a lack of commitment to one approach.

I have worked on my wedge game with my coach, I have read the tips in Golf Digest, and I have studied the teachings of Stan Utley and others.  There are numerous approaches to the short game, and techniques are often in conflict with one another.  Too much information can become confusing, and confusion never produces consistently good play.

Therefore, as of now, I have chosen a plan for my game from 100 yards and in.  It is the game plan that feels simplest to me, based on the technique I can most effectively groove.  Three sources of instruction have been most influential in arriving at this commitment:

1. My coach Scott Baines has been working with me on a more neutral setup and action (as opposed to hands forward and/or heavy on the wrist action) that takes better advantage of the bounce of the club.

2. This article from Golf Digest – The New Thing on Tour –  describing the straight-arm pitching method now en vogue among tour players.

3. Stan Utley’s teachings, encapsulated in this Golf Channel video, specifically regarding the path of the club head and his simple arm/body motion:

Based on these perspectives, my approach to a single “stock” technique is:

  • Neutral setup, with ball slightly forward of center and narrow, square stance.  Weight slightly forward 55/45 so head is over ball.  Good, tall posture.
  • Simple, relaxed straight-arm backswing using minimal wrist hinge.  Swing length plus body turn controls distance.
  • Gravity and club do most of the work on downswing (rather than hands), with body rotating toward target.  Club head stays in front of body and finishes between knees and shoulders, depending on length of shot.
  • The whole movement is quiet, relaxed and rhythmic.

That is the simple technique.  My stock shot is with my 58-degree wedge with a square club face.  It lands softly and runs out.

Rather than use ball position or technique to vary height and run-out, I will use different clubs and club face angles to give myself options – always employing the same technique above.

Using the 3 face positions with the 58-Degree wedge, as well as the 53-Degree gap wedge, pitching wedge, and 9-iron, I have 6 shot options.  Plenty to tackle any circumstance.

Knowing that the technique will remain the same for every shot allows me to focus on the target and selecting the right club based on a) distance to the best landing spot, and b) run-out length from the landing spot to the hole.  In my experience, target-focused golf based on confidence in simple technique and club selection yields the best results.

In this case, the intended result is to pick up at least the two shots I have been losing by increasing the number of hole-outs and kick-ins I create from 100 yards and in.

That’s the plan.  Now on to the process of grooving it in practice and taking it to the course.  I will report back with results – stay tuned…