After hearing that Don Rea Jr. became the new vice president of the PGA of America, I thought it is a great moment to ask him about his plans, the challenges of the PGA of America, and the golf industry itself.
What will be the biggest challenges of the PGA of America in the near future and how prepared is the organization for them?
We serve the Member, and we grow the game. There are certainly a lot of people playing golf right now after COVID. People wanted to get outside, and they quickly discovered golf was 10,000 steps and 2,000 calories. It was good for your mental health, and it was good for your physical health.
It’s been great. Here at my little golf course, Augusta Ranch, we would do 44,000 rounds a year. After COVID, we did 53,000. The opportunity is now to keep them playing as life takes them away or the economy takes them away.
Making sure that our PGA Golf Professionals here–I’ve got five of them–are building relationships with these new customers.
Something we didn’t do in the past when Tiger happened and we had an influx of new golfers, we didn’t keep them. What we have to do is make sure that we keep a lot of these golfers in the game.
That means PGA Professionals getting out of the golf shop and onto the driving range, onto the first tee, teaching the game, and coaching the game, not just in one-on-one lessons, but in group sessions.
A lot of our golf professionals are very tired right now, at private clubs and public clubs. Everybody’s working a lot harder. A lot of golf courses right now are putting money into their capital projects. They’ve had some deferred maintenance.
Pre-COVID, maybe they were struggling a little bit, and now they’ve got some extra money, and they’re investing in the facility with capital improvements. At the PGA of America, we’d like them to invest in the human capital at the facilities as well.
We believe that the return on investment of the PGA Professional is way higher than any capital project that any golf course could do. From the PGA of America, we’re certainly talking to our Members and letting them know we care.
We understand that they’re getting burned out and working long hours. We’re talking to employers every day with our Career Consultants, staff, and our Executive Search staff. And then we focus on how to make it better for our Members, so their compensation is a little bit higher.
We’re projecting that our PGA Professional compensation will go up $6 million across the nation because our Career Consultants are meeting with golf course Owners and Operators and helping them realize the impact a PGA Professional has on a facility, and ensuring they are being compensated appropriately.
A major focus of the PGA of America is identifying ways that we can tackle this work-life balance that’s out of whack. I think there’s always been this badge of honor of a PGA Golf Professional in the amount of hours they put into their facility.
Certainly, we recognize we’re in the hospitality industry, and when you love the hospitality industry, sometimes you end up working too many hours. That can have a negative effect on your family and on your personal life.
Giving our PGA Professional skills they can do to manage their work-life integration, as we did with Motivational Speaker and Author Dan Thurmon, who was a keynote speaker at our recent Annual Meeting, talking to employers to make sure we’re getting higher pay and that we’re also lowering those hours worked.
At the end of the day, we’re truly trying to show the value of a PGA Professional for a business. We know that my opinion of PGA Professionals is kind of like the cost of goods sold.
You know, if you invest, it’s not a salary that you pay or any hourly rate that you might pay a PGA Professional, you’re really investing in them, because they’re going to flip that just like your cost of goods sold does, and turn it into real revenue.
That’s hitting the bottom line. As an Association, just making sure our Members are happy, and as a game, let’s keep these people that are playing happy, so they continue to play.
What will be the biggest golf marketing trends in 2023?
People are still buying new equipment. The club manufacturers and all the hard-goods and soft-goods suppliers are now caught up. Here in the Phoenix market, we’re about to hit peak season. We’re looking to have a full inventory and get this thing going.
Supply chain issues have caused issues in the past, whether it was trying to get a new golf cart fleet or just trying to get some rental clubs. I’m thinking that we’re past that. The marketing trends of going back to aggressively getting in front of consumers with demo days and fitting days and talking about the merchandise in the shop.
Get people from a Topgolf bay to a fairway
The big thing here at Augusta Ranch, we’ve installed Toptracer. Obviously, Topgolf is a worldwide brand. They’ve done an amazing job of clearly showing that over 60 percent of the people that go to Topgolf are not golfers, but 70 percent of those people have questions about golf when they leave.
If we’re really trying to get people from a Topgolf bay to a fairway, I think as a golf course, why not put in Toptracer? Toptracer now is my bay, and my fairway is only 10 yards away. If I can truly use my driving range, not as a place where golfers practice and get better, but as a funnel to bring new people to the game,
I think that’s the way to do it. And that’s what Toptracer does. We’re excited about the technology, the monitors, the kids’ games like Go Fish, the contests that you can do, and the way that it just wraps right into adaptive golf.
Because if you do have an adaptive situation in golf, you can just play from the bay, and you can play Pebble Beach. We’re excited about the 21 bays we’ve installed, and we want to clearly use those to grow the game, to be a funnel, to drive people from the bay, hopefully to the putting green and onto the first tee.
What will be your biggest task as the new Vice President of the PGA of America?
The biggest test when you’re Vice President of the PGA of America – you’re basically taking a Chair role – is overseeing a lot of the financial side of the Association, whether it’s the Budget Committee or the Innovation Committee, where we invest a percentage of our portfolio into new and exciting businesses that are golf related.
That’s what I do as Vice President. And let’s be honest, there’s kind of an arms race when it comes to championship purses, whether it’s the U.S. Open or the British Open or the PGA Championship or the Masters.
What are we going to do with our PGA Championship purse?
We’re going to have to look into that. That will certainly have a financial impact on the PGA. I’m here to protect the money of the nearly 28,000 PGA Professionals. To ensure the money is going into programs like PGA HOPE.
We have so many programs that change lives in the PGA of America, but PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), is literally saving lives. That’s what the Veterans who participate in it tell us. This rehabilitative program is fully endorsed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
My job for the next two years is….
My job for the next two years, I’m never going to stop growing the game, attending meetings, and cheerleading the sport, because I know what it does. I see it here at Augusta Ranch every day.
Stewarding the financial resources of the PGA of America, making sure that we’re investing in things that help our Members grow the game and investing in things that actually serve them for the next two years, despite maybe some of the financial headwinds we might face in the next two years.
How can PGA Professional influencers help grow the game and grow club membership?
I like that you use the word influencers because we are influencers. And how would we, back in the old days, influence people to play golf?
Typically, it was just the golfers who showed up. Maybe we go into our restaurant and try to get some people in the restaurant to get into a putting class or maybe get them into a little nine-hole fun league or a chip-and-sip.
Social media absolutely allows our Members to be real influencers.
But now social media absolutely allows our Members to be real influencers. And that’s what I’ve been talking to our younger professionals about. They’re on Facebook or LinkedIn, but Instagram is a powerhouse, and it’s a viral way to expand the reach of a PGA Professional.
It’s a way to virally send out a message that golf is fun. We have to be influencers in the game – the Instagram account of any PGA Golf Professional is part of their brand. I hope that they wrap that into the game of golf.
Being an influencer is also raising money for families that are in need or during natural emergencies like in Florida with Hurricane Ian. What are PGA Professionals doing to help the communities around them?
There may not be TV cameras there, but everybody’s got a camera in their pocket. I’m going to continue to encourage our PGA Professionals, young and old, to use that device in their pocket and start showing what golf does, the impact it has on people, on the community, and what it does for our country.
Because once again, if you’re out there playing golf, it’s 10,000 steps, it’s 2,000 calories. It’s good for your mental health. And it’s generational. Here at Augusta Ranch, we always say that it’s fun, it’s fitness, it’s family and it’s forever because we believe you can play this game forever.
So, let’s charge up those 28,000 PGA Professionals, to be influencers to show how great this game is to the non-golfers, not just the golfers who already know it.
How do you help measure brands, partners, ownership, efficiency, ROI?
An Association like the PGA of America can look like a corporation sometimes because we’ve got big global events like the Ryder Cup. But at the end of the day, we’re an Association of nearly 28,000 PGA Professionals. I think the partners that we align with are critical. They have to be first in class.
They have to be the best in their area. That’s what we did when we partnered with Rolex when we partnered with Cadillac. So, what’s the return on investment? I think any time consumers see that the best in the business and the best in golf, which I believe is the PGA of America‘s Professionals, when they align, you start to see synergies that make a difference.
How does it affect a PGA Golf Professional if there is a deal with Rolex? Well, that money goes all the way down to our 41 Sections. It helps our Sections run their events. The Cadillac relationship provides opportunities for our Members to get discounts on cars.
But once again, that money flows down to help the 41 Sections do their jobs.
Sometimes it’s hard for a Section to leverage really big sponsors in their area because maybe they don’t have enough Members, and therefore, it doesn’t look like it reflects on a lot of impressions for that sponsor.
But the bigger brands, when they come down, that adds credibility to the PGA of America and the Sections of the PGA can leverage that. That’s a win that a lot of people probably don’t see, because everybody looks at the PGA as the big PGA, the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship.
But really, the PGA is local. The boots on the ground of the 28,000 are being served by the Sections and Chapters.
What will you do to improve the lives of PGA Members?
As a leader, you have to care. I think you have to be a servant leader. You have to listen. When a Member feels like their leadership is listening, that makes them feel a little bit better. And they can know we really are out there banging the drum and fighting the good fight to help them.
Right now, even with COVID, we’re standing at about 8 percent of the population playing golf. If any company saw that was their market share, they’d be very disappointed. Well, golf is the engine of good. Golf is what the PGA of America uses to change lives.
Golf is how we make a living as Members. And so, if our participation rates are below 10 percent, that has to be improved. That’s what I’m going to look at, the way I’m going to do it. As Secretary, I did everything I could on the Membership, Education and Employment committees. Now it’s time for me to make lives better on the Finance Committee.
I’m going to steward the resources and do the best I can to make sure those funds are being applied to best impact the Member. But at the end of the day, when I go through as Vice President, and eventually, I finish my years as President two years from now, four years from now, I’ll be done.
What is the participation rate in golf? And if it’s still below 10 percent, I’m going to really feel like I didn’t do my job. So, that’s how I’m going to serve the Member. If more people play this game and rounds are up and revenue is up, that means our PGA Professionals are going to get paid more.
That means they’re going to have a better life experience as they engage themselves in this profession.
I think we’ll end up raising a lot of money for charity, too, because when golf is successful, charitable giving goes up, because there are so many golf events that give back to charity. Let’s get golf participation over 10 percent and then I know that would affect millions of lives.