Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spend 2012 on the Right Side of the Haimish Line

After a break for the holidays and the birth of my beautiful daughter Eva Grace Tanner, I’m returning to my weekly blog with a renewed vigor for 2012.

I’ve been reading a lot lately and one of the more interesting pieces was a Mark Suster blog titled “Spend 2012 on the Right Side of the Haimish Line" in which he references this NYT article by David Brooks.

Brooks defines haimish as “a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.”  The concept is that you risk crossing the haimish line into a less happy existence if you blockade yourself from normal folks.  Examples of doing this would include staying at super-private hotels, working solely from behind a desk, etc.  As I read these articles, I took the concept a step further by thinking about the professional consequences that would arise from boxing in one's experiences.  i.e. If you play golf exclusively at private and luxurious clubs, yes, you'll miss out on the congeniality of playing with weekend warriors who are making friends, drinking beers and playing for the love of the game.  However, if this same person is then responsible for addressing the challenges faced by these weekend warriors, they probably wouldn't do a very good job.  They'd be too far removed.  The challenges themselves would fall outside the false sense of reality that their experiences had created.  And thus, professionally, they'd be operating from the wrong side of the haimish line.  

As I went through this intellectual exercise, I thought a lot about the golf industry.  And I’ve thought a lot about this concept of the haimish line since as several interesting headlines and observations appeared in the first few weeks of 2012.

First, at the PGA Tour’s season opening tournament in Kapalua, Commissioner Tim Finchem announced the Tour’s commitment to raise $100 million for The First Tee this year.  Since 1997, The First Tee has been the sole junior golf organization supported by the golf industry and it operates on a $13 million annual budget.  And yet, despite The First Tee’s claim that they’ve had 4.7 million participants, there are less kids playing golf in the U.S. today than there were the day it was founded.  (2.8 million in 1995 vs. 2.5 million in 2010 - National Golf Foundation data.)  Instead of opening their doors and offering support/resources to other youth programs, industry leaders are doubling down on their single all-in bet.  That, to me, is a decision made from the wrong side of the haimish line.

Then, earlier this week, Finchem proposed a change to the Q School format. One of the great things about professional golf is that anyone can pursue their dream of making it on Tour. You don’t need to get drafted, you don’t need an agent, you don't need to be a certain age … you just need to pass through Q School, which is open to any good player. The new format would be a 3-tournament series that is only available to select Nationwide and PGA Tour players, thus eliminating the opportunity for college golfers, club pros and anyone else who’s been working meticulously on their game to bypass the mini Tours and go straight to the big leagues. The new format benefits existing tour players, adds three new tournaments and their corresponding revenue, and undoubtedly builds more prestige in the Nationwide Tour (which, perhaps coincidentally, is in need of a new title sponsor after this year). But nevertheless, it's a closed format. Derived from closed-minded thinking that, to me, comes from the wrong side of the haimish line.

On the flipside, Golf 2.0 has done a great job of identifying golf’s many challenges and it has the industry’s undivided attention.  Its presence is everywhere at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando this week.  The much harder and more important part is to now identify viable solutions and execute on them.  Nevertheless, I applaud the PGA for hiring Boston Consulting Group to provide them with a sobering analysis.  I also applaud them for recruiting the perfect person to lead Golf 2.0 in Darrell Crall.  These are all things happening from the right side of the haimish line.

Additionally, the PGA of America clearly has a new social media strategy on Twitter that is much more active and open-minded.  Historically they would only tweet well-manicured PR messages but now they’re engaged in an active dialogue with industry members, including retweeting criticisms and all.  I’m also a big fan of the hashtag they’ve been promoting - #growgolf.  These are smart, engaged decisions made from the right side of the haimish line.

All of these topics require further discussion and there are other smaller examples as well, but the point I want to get across is this concept of this haimish line.  The golf industry has been operating from the wrong side of it for too long.  And it’s understandable – industry leaders don’t pay for golf, probably haven’t experienced a six hour round in their professional careers and aren’t working shoulder-to-shoulder with the PGA Pro who’s folding shirts in the shop and struggling to get by.  It’s good to see that they’re taking steps in the right direction to understand and address the challenges being faced by golfers, industry members and the game as a whole.

With that, I have a challenge for everyone, myself included - let's make sure we spend 2012 on the right side of the haimish line.

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