PGA Tour’s Member-Guest Down on the Bayou

It could be called the PGA Tour’s version of the member-guest. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans came up with the idea of changing the format of their tournament to attract more of the top players and boost fan interest. And it seems to have worked though of course we will know better come Sunday.

The top 80 eligible players committing to play picked a partner for foursomes play on Thursday and Saturday and four-ball on Friday and Sunday.

At courses especially here in the United States, foursomes is probably better known as alternate shot and four-ball as the more common name best-ball. In most everyone’s opinion an exciting and refreshing change from the usual 72-hole medal-play events week after week.

Though world number one Dustin Johnson is still recovering from a fall just before the Masters’ some really interesting partnerships were put together and talk about “Dream Teams.” How about Jason Day/Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson/J.B. Holmes, Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson, Jason Duffner/Patton Kizzire or Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer?

Should be a lot of fun to watch.

Each partner chosen must have PGA Tour status or receive a sponsor’s exemption and after play on Friday there will be a cut to the low 35 teams and ties. The playoff, should one be needed after 72 holes, will be sudden-death in a four-ball format.

The Zurich Classic is the first team event on Tour since the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship won by Vance Heafner and Mike Holland played over three of the courses at Walt Disney World.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans will award FedExCup points and official money plus the winning team will each receive credit as an official victory, a two year Tour exemption and be eligible for the elite Invitational fields, including the Tournament of Champions and THE PLAYERS Championship.

FedExCup points and prize money will be proportioned to teams making the cut based on combining every two positions with each team member receiving half. The winning team will split first and second place FedExCup points (500 for first and 300 for second for 800 total points, or 400 for each player). Official prize money will be distributed the same way.

“We Are Not Amused”

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The playoffs were exciting, at times even compelling and I want Spieth’s putting stroke for Christmas. However now the season is a wrap I’d like to make a plea to all those broadcast commentators, golf analysts, foot soldiers and tower-sitters to cooperate.

Cease, stop and quit using the clichés and hackneyed words and phrases that cause listeners to hit the mute button. Heck, if Augusta National can ban any mention of prize money, turn golf fans into patrons and forbid references to bikini-waxed greens we should be able to get golf’s talking heads to find another way of describing what’s transpiring on the screen.

At the top of the list is. “He’s got plenty of green to work with.” Couldn’t it once be described as having enough room to land the ball on the green and let it roll to the pin?

But then there’s the phrase particular to the playoffs, “He controls his own destiny.” Well, depending on your philosophy of life this may or may not be true, but the use in a golf context is way overdone. Kudos though to the golf Channel’s Steve Sands who had the unenviable task of explaining the unexplainable FedEx cup points system during the playoffs. He spoke “controls his own destiny” only a few times though certainly ample opportunity was there to have been unlistenable, a contrast with the unprofessional repetition by Dan Hicks.

“That shot’s right in his wheelhouse.” Ok, I get it but how about, “This shot fits his natural swing” for a while.

Thankfully, “He’s got no chance” is no longer heard and truth be told the late Bob Rosburg the 1959 PGA Champion and ABC commentator for more than 30 years did say it on occasion…but only when it was true.

Johnny Miller’s “green light special” needs no comment—just stop it and the same with “chunk-and-run.”

A “ball-strikers” golf course. That has always mystified me since golf is a game of striking the ball so does it mean the course in question is particularly suitable to those players who hit the ball accurately? I thought all courses were. Maybe someone could ask Peter Kostis since he seems to be in love with the words.

Let’s say Player A is 5 under par and Player B is 2 under par with a birdie putt. Often heard is “He needs this putt to get within 2.” Now to me that doesn’t make sense since to be within 2, would be only one stroke back not 2 so what do they mean? I don’t know and aren’t sure they do either.

Finally, can someone please tell touring pros the use of the royal “we” is ridiculously pretentious. The only possible comment is, “We are not amused.”

Competition for Tee Times

bigstockphoto_Practice_Makes_Perfect_571619_400x300Competition for tee times—no, not the frantic calling for an early Saturday slot, once an every week chore. That frustrating ritual is long gone due in part to the number of golfers shrinking something like 16 percent in the last 10 years and roughly 60 million fewer rounds annually. 

The competition I’m talking about is the one between companies whose business is selling tee times, so-called third party sellers, usually over the Internet because let’s face it nobody “calls” for a tee time now days. GolfNowLogo

With 80 percent of golfers playing at public-access courses, selling tee times is big business and GolfNow has been the undisputed leader with reportedly 2 million golfers using them to book rounds at over 6,000 courses. Competition to GolfNow has been from several similar but smaller services online or call centers, often metro or regional, and individual course web sites. 

pga_tourRecently however there’s a new face on the block, a partnership between the PGA Tour and EZLinks called TeeOff.com. EZLinks, a long time supplier of computer services, has an existing tee time service selling times at 1,400 facilities spread across 22 countries used by 1 million players and just purchased GolfSwitch which also has a tee time service.  

GolfNow has had a huge head start and made some key acquisitions but being owned by the Golf Channel obviously gives them the built-in advantage when it comes to visibility plus a ready-made conduit for advertising. And to keep your scorecard straight, the Golf Channel is owned by NBC Universal which is a division of Comcast Communications (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NASDAQ:CMCSK). 

GolfChannelLogoTwo questions need to be asked however. Why is the Tour getting into an already competitive business head to head with one of its broadcast partners and is this whole idea of third party tee times good for golfers and golf courses?

The primary source of revenue for third party vendors is something few outside the industry know about, bartered tee times. In addition to allowing a vendor access to sell tee times at an agreed upon price and splitting the revenue, the course provides the vendor so-called “bartered tee times” for which they do not charge. The third party seller then sells the bartered times and keeps the revenue thus creating a profitable revenue stream which is the heart of their business model. 

This may be what the Tour is hoping to develop or there may be a multi-media strategy behind the TeeTimes.com move but one thing is true. The history of a business competing with its customers seldom produces good results for either and while these may be special circumstances it will be interesting to watch.

Third party vendors give golfers the benefit of making a tee time, sometimes aTeeOff_logot a discount, using a cell phone but GolfNow nor TeeTimes.com are needed if the course has a tee time app or booking page on their web site. So is there any reason for courses to use any third party vendor? 

J.J. Keegan, Managing Principle of Golf Convergence an acknowledged leader in golf operations consulting, responded, “The simple answer is that an efficiently managed golf customer that proper builds and segments their database does not need the service of a third party distribution company for its core marketing efforts. At the right price point and ensuring that the third party agrees with the NGCOA [National Golf Course Owners Association] practice standards to include rate integrity, participation does make sense for the sole purpose of stealing your competitor’s customers.”

If courses continue to barter tee times the agreement with third party vendors may be costing them revenue and profits beyond any potential benefit.

Using GolfNow as an example Keegan pointed out, “Third party distribution companies, like Golf Channel, have no customers. They are merely channeling golfers from the worst operators to the best while making $120 million by doing so for themselves.  A byproduct of their service is that they are effectively lowering the average daily rate the poor operators generate. Hence, they have the unbridled support of the leading managing companies because they understand the third party game and are leveraging it to their advantage. That, in combination with the financial incentives that some management companies are receiving from the third party distribution companies, is why this predatory practice on the unsophisticated will continue.”

Courses are in middle of the competition between GolfNow, Teetimes.com and other third party vendors. They must choose whether to use one at all and if so which one or sign up with more than one. And because of third party discounting of bartered times, all the while they are faced with loss of control of their only product. It all seems like the punch line to that old joke.

How do you make a million running a golf course?…Start with ten million. 

Somewhat surprisingly and especially relevant is, according to Keegan, as high as 70% of barter times are sold during a golf course’s peak period and obviously these are times the course would generate sales at their best rate. Call centers are booking less than 15% of the rounds but offering their times in direct competition to sales efforts by the course.

Again going back to Keegan’s comments, “What started as a proposition to help you sell ‘off-peak’ inventory has morphed into a practice that is selling your peak times at a significant discount, on tee times that historically golf courses have sold them. It is my suspicion that these firms are liquidating up to 10% of your tee times via barter. Call centers, who promise to build you customer database, are probably booking less rounds than you think, yet offering their barter specials in direct competition to your own tee times.”

“Is that wrong? Capitalism creates and capitalism destroys. It is just part of life.”

We will keep following this story, survival of the fittest, which so greatly impacts the financial health of the courses we play.

Putting — the Curse of TV Golf?

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“Golf nuts,” such as myself, watch lots of televised golf often to the consternation of our spouses. We thrill at the skill (and sometimes the luck) of the “best players in the world.”

Booming drivers. Spinning wedge shots. Curling putts. Each draws us to see Phil or Tiger or our favorite.

It’s the last of those three exhibitions of golfing prowess however that’s pushing me towards forsaking golf on television.

Not that I actually have, after all I’m still a golf nut, but the coverage of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play has put putting on my mind. It seems putting is all they show particularly when recapping earlier matches. If a putt was shown on the tube you can go to the bank it is going in.

To be fair a couple of factors tend to dictate the seemingly unbalanced coverage of putting. First, over the first three days with 32 matches daily and several “feature matches” putting  was easy to use as both a way to check in on the match status and give TV time to a greater number of players.

Second, to show a putt takes maybe 30 to 40 seconds but a full shot requires camera time for the setup, address, swing and hang time, not to mention roll out, spin on the green or the examination of a non-fairway lie. Since hang time on say a drive is six to seven seconds all by itself the total time for full shots certainly makes it more coverage-efficient to show putts.

Since around 40 percent of the shots by pros are putts one could expect a fair number to be shown plus of course, it’s the outcome of a putt that determines win, lose or draw in match play or the final total in medal play.

We all understand that. Still, giving putting more air time has another unwelcome facet. How many fist pumps, grimaces, stares skyward and mouthed but unvoiced expletives can one endure?

To back up my rant I counted the number of putts and the number of full shots televised during four different segments of the Match Play…and then gave up. In one segment the putts exceeded full shots by four and the in others putts and full shots were virtually neck and neck.

For me then, it was the perception of “all they show is putting” that got me fired up. It’s certainly not the reality.

So I guess it’s like Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella often said, “Nevermind.”

Now if they could just do something about the irrelevant prattle by certain commentators…but that’s grist for another column.

Tiger Redux

Tiger_Nike_2014_3_400x300To a greater or lesser degree, we all kid ourselves. We often can’t see the reality of a situation. Instead we believe a mixture of what is and what we would like it be as the truth. We see it all the while in golf—on and off the course. Who of us hasn’t tried an impossible shot from an impossible lie in an impossible position?

Take a situation burned into my memory, the qualifying tournament for a spot in the field at the US Senior Open…after a pulled tee shot into the scrub under a stand of Spanish moss-draped oaks the ball came to nestled amongst fallen oak leaves leaving almost no shot. Being unable to see that simple piece of reality when the smart shot was a punch back to the fairway, I casually took a 2-iron out and attempted a low 200-yard hook around and under the closest oak. The ball was hit solidly and just as solidly hit the oak trunk before zinging its way out of bounds.

Ok I thought what rotten luck, as I took a drop as proscribed by the Rules of Golf, retained the 2-iron and again hit the ball a mile over the boundary fence thanks to contact with the same tree trunk not a foot from the previous impact.

Needless to say my attempt at qualifying went over the fence with the second ball…Tin Cup has nothing on me.

So how does this apply to the most recent situation Tiger Woods has to deal with…deactivating glutes?

As soon as he cited that as the reason for withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open last week it had all the characteristics of an excuse…not a reason, not reality. And unfortunately it exhibited that same personality trait he has so often shown us in the past. He was kidding himself about what had really gone on.

Or put another way if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.

There’s no doubt in my mind his back “tightened up” after the weather delay and being a fellow sufferer I sympathize but what tipped me over into the excuse-not-reason camp was the already sorry state of Woods’ game plus the fact as far as I know not a single other player opted out of the tournament after going through similar delays.

Woods doesn’t need another swing coach he needs to find within himself the solution to his sometimes seemingly apathetic and certainly often pathetic play not looking outside blaming others nor circumstances nor his gluteus maximus.

The game needs Tiger Woods. Let’s hope he can get his game back and return to the Tour but not as he seems have been doing all his life—with an ignorance of reality accompanied with an arrogance that now days is certainly unfounded.

Images courtesy Nike Golf