What Does the Golf Customer Want -- and Get
Before we get too judgmental, lets agree that modern marketing is as much about creating desires as it is about catering to them. I had no idea I needed a new sedan until that cars manufacturer informed me I did. (Upon further research, I decided I didnt need one as badly as all that.)
Golf is not different from other discretionary-purchase industries. Did we know we needed Pro-V1s before they appeared on the front page of USA Today? Could Ely Callaway have sold us that newfangled Big Bertha ten years ago without convincing us that we couldnt live without it?
Theres nothing wrong with this approach, so far as it goes. And in this information-drenched age, companies simply cant compete on product merit alone. The best whatzit wont sell if we dont know what it does, and why we might want it.
That said, I wonder if desire creation sometimes crosses its own wires. On a very large scale, the Industrial Revolution solved a lot of problems (employment of a lot of people, uniform product quality, accumulation of funds and time to spur research). By the same token, it created a number of problems (workplace safety, separation of craftsmen from the entirety of a product, a generation of labor unrest). On a smaller scale, desire marketing may have created some unintended problems in golf.
These arent insurmountable problems, but they have created perceptions that arguably have stunted the growth of the game. Lets review a few:
Speeding technology. Perhaps no sport has better research and development talent than golf. Once the aerospace industry cooled off with the end of the Cold War, a lot of top scientists went to golf. (Much of defense aerospace was in the San Diego area; so is much of golf equipment; it made sense.) After all, a driver is a streamlined mass speeding through the air, so of course these guys and gals could contribute.
But are they too good? They move so fast that there is always unbuilt technology waiting in the pipeline. Be it through business pressure or the desire to compete, companies bring out driver after driver, sometimes every year or so. Whats an avid player to do? Budget $600 per year for a new driver and $6,000 for marriage counseling? What chance does a club have to become a cherished old friend that carries ones game over decades before being passed down to a child?
Of course, the aerospace-golfer-geniuses mean no harm. They want us to have their best. But golfers I meet often complain to me of a mild form of computer obsolescence disease. You know the symptoms: You bring home the latest computer, driver, juicer, you name it, feeling as if youre on the cutting edge ' and six months later you see something that claims to better. The cutting edge no longer cuts it.
Here, quite innocently, the customer has been told what to want ' and just as unintentionally, he ends up feeling at least a little dissatisfied.
(In fairness: One good step to counter this has been trade-in/trade-up programs, such as Callaways.)
Speeding to be important. Its hard to class up a pickup soccer game. The grass on the field may be a little thicker in New England than in New Mexico, but what it boils down to is a bunch of kids running around and having a good time.
Not so golf. The sports history offers a fertile field for perpetuating ' or eschewing ' elitism. We see it every day in the persistence of single-gender clubs or the over-the-top opulence of some upscale daily fee courses. On the flip side, we see no-frills municipal tracks where regulars play hardscrabble golf on turf they are proud to endure.
Somewhere along the line, aided by well-produced television broadcasts of the turf paradises demanded by modern pros, many in the hardscrabble crowd came to believe they were playing some sort of substandard golf. (Last I checked, a stroke is a stroke anywhere). Then the disease spread like poa annua to people whose courses had admirable turf throughout, although it may have been brown around the edges or damp over there by No. 15 where weve always hade trouble with those fairway drainage tiles.
Bottom line: Someone always thought the grass was greener, and someone felt a little dissatisfied.
Of course, one bears a lot of the responsibility for happiness with what one has. And nobody is trying to upset anyone by building nice courses. But for every guy who says (and means it), I like my courses rustic look, there are 10 who say (at least to themselves) I wish our course was more like Augusta National.
Speed of play. Time to face it: This problem is unsolvable. Mainly its because of an unwillingness of the games chief example-setters to set the right example. To that, touring professionals say (and its hard to argue) that theyre making their livings, and they cant afford to rush a stroke that could cost them thousands, even millions.
But whatever the reason, pro behavior gives many the impression that slow is the way to play golf. Many U.S. golfers will never get to Scotland, where speed is nearly religion, and where visitors realize that the game is better when played at a healthy clip. (Their pleasure in the surprise is always fun to see. Turns out that what my editor at Golfweek told me before my first trip was true. Youll hit your ball, he said, and as you bag your club, shoulder your bag, and take a step, youll hear a ball landing behind you.)
So we have the game divided into two camps in this country: The leisurely (or in some cases, downright rude) crowd, and the jackrabbits. There is only one first-group-out time per day per course, and oh, how those slots are coveted by those who want to sling it around in 150 minutes.
But the lingering dissatisfaction arising from the now-entrenched custom of slow play is this: Newcomers think golf is slower (read: more boring) than Major League Baseball (regardless of whose fault that might be), and avid players think a quick, exhilarating round is a thing of the past. Either way, you have dissatisfied customers who have been conditioned to expect other than what they got.
These are just a few examples, and of course they arise from my view, not necessarily gospel fact. But what we should take away, agree or disagree, is an unerring customer focus. Because in this day and age, there are too many other choices to allow folks to be dissatisfied, no matter what the reason.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)
Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener
South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.
Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.
Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.
Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.
Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.
Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder
He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):
12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson
Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.
11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson
At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.
11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker
Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.
1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas
Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.
Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone
HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.
It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.
Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.
It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.
''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''
The reward now?
''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''
He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.
During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.
''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''
Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.
''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''
During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.
''Bones, don't ever do that again.''
It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.
Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.
And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.
It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.
''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''
Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.
And not the Masters.
He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.
''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''
There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.
Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.
''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''
He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.
''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.
He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.
''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''
Except for that first week in April.