Golf is a lonely sport.  This may seem counterintuitive if the only golf you play is on daily-fee tracks and the only time you watch it is 12:00 to 3:00 Pacific Standard Time.  But if you are among the chosen few to whom golf is a calling then you know just what a stupendously lonesome game it is.

A survey in a national golf magazine asked men about their favorite part of the sport. The majority stated that it is the camaraderie, time spent with buddies, that is most enjoyable.  This is response that pollsters refer to as a socially acceptable answer. Meaning that this is the response you give because it sounds right, plausible and somehow acceptable.  Yet any player worth his green fee knows that the true, unmitigated joy of the game is out driving your buddies, out scoring your pals and flat out spanking that little dimpled orb as far and as straight as humanly possible.  And these all too rare joys are achieved irrespective of your playing partners.

That golf is a lonely hunter is no more evident than at the practice rounds prior to the traditional Thursday commencement of a professional tournament.  For it is on these Mondays, Tuesdays, and early misty Wednesdays, that one can observe the grinders alone with their thoughts in an undulating emerald sea.  On these days the players, who are only slightly better known than their caddies, but significantly better groomed walk alone, play alone, and live and die alone.

Preferring solitude to crowds myself, I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday watching the nameless and faceless prepare for the AT&T National Pro-Am on the Monterey Peninsula.  Prior to the antics of a Bill Murray, the 15 handicap swing of a professed scratch Dennis Quaid, and the wind-cheating two-irons of “these guys are good” tour pros, walk the near great, the dare to be great, and the I wish but know I never will be great.

They walk, and I follow, among the most dramatic landscape ever created by nature and enhanced by man.  Yet the sum-total of their attention is on a common white ball and a four inch hole in the ground. They care not for natural beauty but only for the physical beauty of launch angle, spin rate, swing speed and moment of inertia. I am, but tell myself I am not, awed by an azure ocean, breaching whales, and homes bigger than the Inn at Spanish Bay. But none of this really matters to the lonely wanna-be. What is truly inspiring is the silky poetry of a golf swing generated by even the most common of aspiring tour players.

I cannot watch golf for more than a nano-second before wanting to swing away myself so I wave down one of the ubiquitous Buicks trolling 17-Mile Drive. A very old and very nice volunteer drives me at three-miles an hour to the closest course a struggling writer can afford.   And although I am partnered with three other golfers, I am alone as I would be in the middle of the desert. 

With visions of the senior tour, I flail, I thrash, I slash. The ball hooks, ducks, slices, worm burns, drop kicks, tops, chili dips, skulls, teases and taunts. My playing partners feel for me. But once, once in 87 swings, I attain the solitude that only a golfer can enjoy.  My swing is effortless, smooth, fluid.  The ball sails against the blue and drops on the green just as me and Mr. Titleist intended.


A Guide to the PGA Tour

Who generates more annual income the NFL or the PGA Tour? If you were a high school student taking the college boards and didn’t know the answer you would puzzle it out through simple test taking strategies. To wit: this is a golf site for one and the obvious, common-sense answer is the NFL so clearly that’s not it.

Yes, it is the PGA Tour and as an avid golfer you’d know that but what is staggering is the size differential between the two.  Per IRS schedule 990 the PGA Tour generated income of nearly $1.1 billion in 2014.  The NFL? Almost $300 million.  That’s right the PGA Tour is nearly 4x the size of the NFL, reputedly the most powerful and certainly the most visible American sports league in history.

$1.1B in income doesn’t get you on the Fortune 500 but as a nonprofit you are ranked in pretty good company just ahead of the YMCA and Goodwill.  And that’s only what’s reported as a nonprofit.  Its actual income is bigger, considerably bigger.  Though truth be told a little harder to tease out.  A big organization comes with a big spreadsheet.

The Tour’s income is generated through a diverse, and more importantly steady, set of revenue streams.  It owns six other Tour properties: the Tour, the Mackenzie Tour (Canada), The Champions Tour, PGA Tour, LatinoAmerica, and PGA Tour China.

It manages plenty of events, no surprise, but none of the majors.  The closest it comes is the President’s Cup, the WGC’s and the Players.

It is in the golf course business owning or licensing 32 resort and private clubs through its TPC Network.

It is in the software business with EZLinks, a golf course management platform, and has recently launched a, a tee time reservation system.

It is in retail, licensing its brand in dedicated superstores, store within store concepts and restaurants familiar to most airport visitors.

It is in the partnership business maintaining marketing relationships with virtually every significant golf-related nonprofit from the First Tee to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

While it is now among the most profitable of non-profits it was not always so.  Like all sports franchises the Tour is an advertising driven endeavor and more to the point television advertising. But televising a golf event is a herculean task requiring more cameras, more announcers, more travel, more equipment, more staff, and more to the point, more money.

From its inception through the late 1970’s the business model depended on selling broadcast rights to the networks. And while it worked for a time, it was becoming increasing untenable.  It was then that commissioner Deane Beman developed and executed a strategic plan worthy of Harvard Business School Case Study.

Instead of selling the broadcast rights and placing the burden of peddling the advertising space on the networks, the tour packaged the events and sold them as sponsorships to the advertisers themselves.  It was a brilliant win-win deal all around.

The broadcasters loved it.  They received a pre-sold inventory of advertising and little trouble filling the balance of time slots because they were now a limited and thus more valuable commodity.

Corporate marketers loved it.  They purchased high quality exposure to an affluent demographic and the positive halo that comes with being associated with a charity.  They reached new customers and feted current ones.

The players loved it.  Purses grew then soared with the professional debut of a certain golfer who just happened to born around the time the first deals were struck.

It is hard to see this business softening anytime soon.  While the other leagues face their own set of hurdles; NFL and concussions, baseball and boring to name two, the PGA Tour is uniquely positioned to thrive.  It is the only franchise where its fans actually play the same game as the pros. Not exactly the same, obviously, but every fan has the opportunity to play the same courses and once in a great while hit shots with similar results.

This aspect is a significant competitive advantage to the Tour as it competes for eyeballs. Avid golfers are an addictive lot and will scoop up new equipment, lessons, gadgets and experiences to feed their need. They are also an affluent lot purchasing insurance, financial advice, luxury automobiles and cruises.  And this does not begin and end with the coveted millennial demographic of 18-34. Golfers golf and buy stuff as long as they can still drive a cart even if they are no longer allowed behind the wheel.

It is a perfect storm of a business: happy fans, happy players, and happy marketers all bathed in the soft sweet light of a charitable enterprise.