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FORE Magazine: Meet TaylorMade’s Vice President of Product Creation Brian Bazzel

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Editor’s note: Here’s my profile of TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel for the winter issue of FORE Magazine. I’ll post a digital link when one comes available.

How much further can you go? It’s the question on everyone’s mind at TaylorMade Golf. Whether it’s referring to such things as golf ball distance limits or other technology thresholds, Brian Bazzel has been hearing some version of the question ever since the first day he started in the research department of TaylorMade nearly 18 years ago.

And for that entire time, TaylorMade has had answers, sometimes coming from Bazzel himself as he’s worked his way through nearly every department of product creation. Now, with his recent promotion to vice president of product creation, he’ll expected to have more answers than ever.

“We hear that question every year. And it’s a great question,” says the man known as “Baz” to his co-workers. “But believe it or not there are always places you can go. There are always opportunities and doors that are open to improve upon our products despite the restrictions and regulations that are put upon us.

“Sometimes when you plow throw one door of innovation, it’s like one or two more open that you couldn’t see before. Something you thought that before was impossible now is possible and you set a new goal. I’ve seen a lot of that, especially the last two or three years.”

Recent breakthroughs have produced such category leaders as the multi-material M2 Driver and the Spider Putter made popular by Jason Day. As 2018 and a new equipment season dawns, Bazzel promises more game-changing breakthroughs to come – but he isn’t tipping his hand just yet.

“We have some incredible technologies coming out that I can’t wait to tell the world about,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant year.”

In a way, it has already begun. The new equipment has already been tried and tested by TaylorMade’s armada of Tour pros. Their feedback and input is a major source of inspiration for future TaylorMade product, so their buy-in and belief is critical, Bazzel said.

Thus presenting product to Tour pros being Bazzel’s most nervous moment of the year.

“It’s like your baby being born,” Bazzel said. “It’s the moment of truth.”

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That moment can be three to five or even more years in the making. That’s how far out TaylorMade’s product planning and R & D extends. In actually, though, a product’s life truly begins 2 years out when it’s put into a planning and production cycle.

Now more than ever, Bazzel, like an NFL general manager planning a draft, will be the one making those selections.

“We have several ideas that are 3-5 years out, but you only have so many people and so much time so you have to choose correctly,” he explained. “Some of those ideas will never see the light of day but you hope that most of them will.

“Two years to 18 months is when we get really serious about a product.”

Bazzel is uniquely positioned to make those decisions in that at one time or another, he’s worked in every equipment category at TaylorMade, but upon announcing Bazzel’s promotion, TaylorMade CEO David Abeles especially lauded Baz’s work in metalwoods.

“For five years, Brian has been the driving force behind our metalwoods product creation team, creating groundbreaking products that have invigorated the industry,” Abeles said. “His vision has helped position TaylorMade as the industry leader in metalwoods innovation and performance.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that under his guidance the TaylorMade brand will continue to see exceptional growth and forge a lasting position as an industry leader across all product categories.”

Bazzel developed his knack for product design after a stint of playing competitively and then caddying. Bazzel played high school golf in Rancho Bernardo before going on to play at Division III UC-San DiegoSD, where the team captured third in the NCAAs once during his playing days. Bazzel competed in SCGA amateurs and on the mini tours before taking a caddy gig at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe.

A caddy client noted Bazzel’s knowledge and knack for the game and suggested a career in the industry. Armed with his playing experience and an electrical engineering degree, Bazzel embarked on a career with TaylorMade.

Bazzel’s love for the game was fostered by his step father, a scratch golfer. His influence has carried over to Bazzel’s design career in that he’s the audience Bazzel says he has in mind when he’s creating a product.

“When I think of an authentic golfer, I think of him,” he said.

Bazzel said his love for the equipment side of the game came later in his playing days, but he recalls clearly his first real set of clubs, which were TaylorMade irons he purchased at age 13 with money earned washing dishes.

“They were long irons, foam-filled, Tour-preferred,” he says with a smile. “I paid $300 and sold them for what I paid them. I wish I still had them.

“I was proud to have them and eager to hit them.”

That’s the emotion Bazzel seeks to conjure now each year from golfers.

Thanks to advances in technology, the process of product creation has changed drastically during Bazzel’s time at TaylorMade, but the process of gathering ideas remains largely the same, he said. He keeps his eyes and ears open at all times, he said, especially when talking to Tour players.

“You find inspiration everywhere,” he said. “The ideas we have implement can come from anywhere. You’re always listening for insights, especially when we’re talking to our PGA professionals from around the world.

“But we have to be within the game and close to the game at all times so we hear those things.”

The objective for the staff of 15 that Bazzel now oversees is clear, he said.

“We ultimately want to have the deepest understanding of what golfers want and then also have the deepest understanding of what our brightest minds have come up with it,” he said. “Then you want to align those two things and hopefully surprise them at times.

But for all the planning and research, Bazzel says it’s sometimes the staff who ends up getting surprised, as was the case with the Spider Red mallet putter that Jason Day rode to world No. 1 and has become popular on Tour.

Day requested a few design tweaks to the original model, Bazzel said, adding that the red color choice was Day’s entirely, a decision that he says initially drew skeptical glances from the staff.

“It looked a little different and a little funny,” Bazzel said. “But then he starts make every putt on the planet and suddenly we can’t make them fast enough.

“So for all the planning we do, there are still some things you can’t plan for.”

But Bazzel said the product was ultimately a triumph for the culture of TaylorMade, where each product category has a group leader, but Bazzel said that doesn’t limit the staff’s ability to contribute across other product lines.

“Everybody fits the culture of TaylorMade, but yet is each uniquely skilled. The talent in this building is incredible and there are no egos,” he said. “We want people to feel like they can contribute anywhere at any time.

“We’re always willing to help each other because we’re all ultimately going after the same thing, which is to create the best-performing, hottest golf products on the planet.”

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19th Hole Media: Q & A With iliac golf founder Bert LaMar

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Editor’s Note: This post was written for Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club’s blog to introduce iliac golf to their golf shop. Photos are courtesy of iliac golf.

Arroyo Trabuco is excited to announce the addition of iliac Golf to its pro shop line up! Iliac is a luxury lifestyle brand that has existed only online and the exclusive clubs (Pine Valley, Royal Portrush, etc.) since its founding in 2005 but has established a loyal and sizeable following.

Founder Bart LaMar says he is now bringing the brand public at a select number of Southern California courses, including Arroyo Trabuco, to better serve his existing customers and grow the exposure to the product.

“I feel like I owe it to my customers,” said LaMar, who’s based in Carlsbad. “We have a big customer base on the web site (www.iliacgolf.com), but they don’t have a place to go and try it on, unless you can get into a Pine Valley.

“So I think it’s really important to put it in a few places, but I’m putting it in places where I can still be really hands-on. I want people to discover the quality and the brand.”

The Iliac line started with a specialty in premium leather head covers and uniquely styled shirts – you’ve likely seen one on the back of PGA Tour pro Jimmy Walker – and is now a full-scale lifestyle brand (shoes, pants, belts, etc.).

Arroyo Trabuco Head Golf Professional Michael Block said the brand is a natural fit for Arroyo.

“It was a no-brainer for us to work with Bert and iliac because their style fits so well with our culture at the club,” Block said. “To be able to offer the iliac brand in our golf shop is just one more way that we can set ourselves apart, not only from other golf clubs, but even local clothing stores.

“It’s a unique and exciting opportunity to offer that label at Arroyo Trabuco.”

In this Q & A, LaMar shares the story of the founding and growth of the iliac brand, educates you about its merchandise and apparel and discusses the launch at Arroyo.

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Q. You had previous successful ventures in skateboarding and snowboarding. Why the move to golf?

A. I’m a golfer and tried to turn pro for a few years, but didn’t make much money at it. I fell in love with the vintage classic style of the sport and wanted to do something that honored golf’s rich tradition. Everything iliac is rich in tradition.

I started by making luxury leather head covers and shirts and basically pioneered the head cover category.

Q. Zach Johnson and others have donned the brand on the PGA Tour. What do you think the appeal is to Tour pros?

A. I think us being fashion-forward inspires a lot of these guys and the flavor of it. It’s different. I don’t make khaki pants and striped shirts.

There’s also a higher level of support, design and service that you don’t get from the biggest companies.

Q. Jimmy Walker is one of the current Tour pros to have worn your apparel. How did that relationship come about?

A. He was ranked around No. 100 in the world at the time and nobody really knew him about and he dressed like everyone else. Our clothing was a big step for him. He started with blacks and solids and was getting a lot of compliments.

His game started to ascend at the same time, and I really think there’s a connection between looking good and playing well.

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Q. What’s the best benefit you and the brand get from your clothing and apparel being on Tour?

A. From shirts to pants to belts to shoes, I’m always kind of inventing things out of Tour necessity. I’ve sometimes solved a problem they didn’t even know they had. That’s designing from the highest level. The Tour is where a lot of my ideas come from.

Q. How does that process and the appeal of wear Tour-quality apparel trickle down to the amateur player?

A. This is Tour-level high fashion but also the technical performance of the product carries over to the amateur. We’re for people who are serious about their game and serious about their apparel. There’s also a learning curve with the product because it’s different than anything else out there.

But once people become an iliacker, they’re usually and iliacker for life.

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Q. You didn’t make the brand public until just the year. What do you hope the biggest benefit will be?

A. Our brand was under the radar for a long time. We didn’t even have the name iliac on our gear until two years ago. We just had a red crest.

We were promoted mostly by word of mouth. But to me, it’s like a good restaurant. If it’s good, people will tell people.

We’re vintage, but we’re also very fashion-forward.

But we want to bring golf’s classic style to today’s golfer.

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landscape

19th Hole Media: 10 Prime Sources Of Golf Course Social Media Content

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For decades, if not longer now, the indispensable and universal marketing tool of golf has been the flyer. Holding a tournament? Make a flyer? A membership special? Make a flyer? Pro shop holiday sale? Make a flyer.

I now see that mentality transferred into the social media accounts of many golf courses, particularly country clubs. Frankly, 10 years or so now into the rise of smart phones and social media, that strategy is as dated as hickory sticks. Flyers are black and white television in an HDTV world.

The information these materials convey is still essential, but you need to re-consider your presentation. What matters most in social media is visual appeal – and flyers are a triple bogey on that front. And they are flagged as advertising on Facebook, which makes those posts unboostable – and boosting is increasingly critical to social media reach.

So where else would we get visual content, you ask. Well, it’s actually all around you. Here are 10 sources of content at your course that you should be incorporating into your social media.

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The Course – This one might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many accounts I see where the course seems to be a rumor. Your course is your best friend when it comes to social media. It’s the visual cue that evokes the emotional response you want from your golfers, which is to come play golf. You should be showcasing it weekly, if not daily, to drive rounds and branding of your course.

If you don’t have a marketing budget that provides for professional photos, here’s the good news: Smart phone photos will totally suffice. Point your phone at your course often, including the wildlife and landscape (flowers, waterfalls, etc.). You’re looking to paint a visual picture that captures the ENTIRE experience at your course. And recruit your staff. Who knows? There may be a budding nature photographer amongst them.

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The Driving Range – Whether your range is beautiful or bland, it’s still where practice and teaching take place. Social media is a GREAT place to teach the game and promote instruction. Lesson videos are the best content, but simple forms will still convey the message, but lesson videos are worth the time and effort. And if they’re not great at first? Practice!!! It’s the range! Your golfers will reward your attempts to educate.

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The Golf Shop –
This is where the low-hanging fruit of social media lives. Courses are constantly swapping out their golf shop inventory. Are you sharing your changes with your audience and enticing them with sales and visuals of new merchandise? If not, why not? You have no excuse not to, especially when professional promotional images by vendors are readily available. FYI: Promoting your rental clubs, which I rarely see anyone do, also falls under this category.

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The Kitchen – Food has a HUGE audience on social media, far larger than golf. Let what comes out of your kitchen entice diners AND golfers to your facility by taking food photos. This is the best way to get non-golfers to your property and foster a loyal dining following. And this is the department most prone to the flyer. But instead of that bunch flyer, how about this? Show the food! There’s a reason food photos complement restaurant menus – diners want to see the food!

The next time you cook or dine at your club, take a second and snap a pic! When you share, you’re encouraging your diners to come join you do the same!

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Wedding Photographers – This could go much higher on this list, considering that weddings are the second biggest source of revenue for many courses, but this is secondary source of content so we’ll leave it here. Wedding photogs create some of the most beautiful, and often most progressive, content in the business. If you’re not gathering galleries taken at your course, you’re hugely missing out on a valuable trove of content.

One reason is the look, but the second is the cost: Free. The couple has paid for the service. Simply acknowledging the source usually satisfies most photographers and double as branding for them for additional business.

Wedding photos taken on the course are the best of both worlds because the course and couple always look great. Capture this content and spin it forward to recruit future brides.

Your Golfers – Social media is a two-way street. If you’ve got a healthy relationship with your followers, they are sharing at a rate equal to or exceeding what you’re sending. And sometimes what they create and share is really good. Never before have I shared so much user-generated content as in 2017 (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).

By re-posting this content you are doing two things: You are celebrating your golfers and encouraging other golfers to do the same. That’s called a social media win-win. Be active and your golfers likely will be too.

Your Web Site – Just like the course photos this is another obvious one that isn’t so obvious. At a bare minimum, you should be promoting your online booking engine, but anything you’ve deemed worthy of your web site is worthy of your social media. You’ve already declared your marketing intentions by creating one. Capitalize on that investment by promoting it on social media.

Outside Reviews – Be it by an outside professional reviewer or one of your patrons, positive reviews are fodder for promotion. You especially want to seize on any unique critiques of your course. Share them or partially quote them to encourage and promote future play.

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The Tour – The PGA Tour is the No. 1 promotional vehicle for golf. Share photos and encourage talk about the Tour, especially during the majors, to engage that sector of your audience. Since the Tour never stops, this can be an especially valuable source to courses who don’t have a year-round golf season. Use the tour to talk about equipment trends, the game, etc. and remain engage with your audience during the off season.

Third-Party Content – You could probably make a case that the prior two categories could go under this tab, but I’m going to break it out on its own to expand on the point. There’s a wealth of golf content on the Internet that you can re-purpose for your purpose, such as lesson pieces if you don’t have the capacity to produce them on your own. The ultimate goal of social media is provide value and value is where you find it. How valuable are you being to your audience?

So those are 10 types of content readily available to your course. How many are you using? Let 19th Hole Media help you discover your content possibilities by contacting me (corey.ross@yahoo.com) or Zeb (Zeb@zebwelbornmedia.com) for a free consultation.

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FORE Magazine: Strawberry Farms Dining 19th Hole Feature

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On a sunny Thursday morning in September, the tink of golf shots and the clink of forks intermingle on the patio at Strawberry Farms Golf Club, which overlooks its driving range.

It’s a scene played out every day at Strawberry Farms, which has been a destination for golfers and dinners in Irvine ever since it opened in 1998.

Strawberry Farms Director of Special Events Patti Ross said the club has done a robust restaurant business since day one and continues to, catering to largely a loyal lunch and breakfast crowd.

Follow the link to read the rest of this story in the digital version of FORE.

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No. 2 Presidio

19th Hole Media: 5 Ways To Make Your Golf Course’s Social Media Better Today

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So it’s nearly the end of summer 2017 and your golf course’s social media program is still lacking, listless and inconsistent. Instead of settling for more slow play on your course’s social media progress, do you want to get your course’s program on track and more on par with your competition? If so, this post is for you.

If you hired 19th Hole Media, here’s how we’d jump start your social media and get you more followers and ultimately more golfers this year and in 2018. The following is a list of five strategies that will improve your course’s social media today.

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More course photos/videos – When it comes to social media, your course is your best friend. Social medium is a visually driven medium, which is great news for golf because we’re the best looking sport out there. You need to leverage that advantage to your advantage as much and often as possible. Golfers simply don’t get tired of looking at your golf course.

This tip might strike you as intuitive, but I see many accounts who seem to miss this most basic of basics. I’ve seen Instagram accounts for resort courses where the course itself is a rumor. I believe this is largely due to marketing departments that don’t know golf (more on this is point No. 2), but whatever the reason, your course can’t gain golfers online it has no presence on your social. It’s like running social media for a restaurant and showing photos of only the parking lot or the bathroom. You wouldn’t do that. So don’t do that to your golf course.

Instead, invoke a Pavlovian response from your golfers and entice them to come play, especially when your course conditions are at their peak.

You can also further following and engagement by …

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Talking about golf – A short list of topics golfers like to talk about: golf. What are you doing to encourage this conversation and recruit golfers to your course and deepen loyalty of your members? You can start by asking simple questions about your course such as, “What’s your favorite hole/favorite tee shot/club?” and move on to more advanced topics such as how you’d play a certain hole/shot.

This is where the golf know-how many marketing departments seem to lack comes into play. If you don’t know the game, you’re already behind the ball because it also means you can’t talk the game. Mis-steps in golf terminology/lingo are a major turnoff to your audience and, conversely, being able to speak their language turns them into your golf buddy – and you want as many golf buddies possible.

This is the one of the major things that separates 19th Hole Media from many of the agencies – we know golf. Don’t discount how major that is for interacting with your audience.

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Create more content – Most courses simply don’t produce enough content, which is obviously the lifeblood of social. It’s really easy to underdo content, but it’s very hard to overdo it, so you shouldn’t be shy about posting, although the one channel you don’t want to overload is Facebook. By posting more than three times a day, you cannibalize your own content.

There are many sources of content, but, besides your course, the low-hanging fruit is what’s in your golf shop and kitchen. Take photos of what is likely right in front of your face and use it to recruit followers and expand your audience by adding talking points to your social media.

Be active – This follows naturally from the previous point but it doesn’t mean just posting more content; it also means engaging with your audience. The more you put out, the more will eventually come back and you need to have someone dedicated to fostering that engagement to capitalize and convert on your efforts.

Remember this: Your audience will mostly mimic your habits and will only have the expectation you give them. And avoid the start/stop social media that plagues many course accounts and will make you seem like a bad boyfriend to your followers. Consistency is key, which is why you need to …

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Have a plan and stick to it –
Besides identifying content, the first step to creating a plan is being realistic about setting a posting schedule you can maintain. With a limited staff, that might not be that often, which is a great reason for outsourcing. 19th Hole Media has the time because that’s ALL we do.

Daily posting on Facebook and at least 3-4 times a week for Twitter/Instagram is a schedule has gotten great results for our course clients, but that might be more than your staff can sustain on its own. It all depends on where the social media responsibility on your staff lies. If it’s with someone who has five other jobs, I can tell you from experience that social media is unlikely to be a priority – and it needs to be.

Without someone on staff who has a social media mindset, opportunities will be missed and your social media will continue to underperform. 19th Hole Media can be that person by encouraging social media involvement and fostering goods habits and awareness of social media opportunities. Who’s ready for a conversation that will change your course’s social media game today?

To receive a FREE social media consultation from 19th Hole Media, please contact Zeb (zeb@welbornmedia.com) or myself (corey.ross@yahoo.com).

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2017 PGA Championship Preview

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Photo: www.golfdigest.com

Jordan Spieth’s finishing flurry to claim the British Open title ended the revolving door of first-time major winners and instead put the Tour awesomely back on the doorstep of major history.

With a win at this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, Spieth would become the youngest player ever to achieve golf’s career Grand Slam. Spieth has been installed as the co-favorite according to this site here to do just that, along with Rory McIroy, a past champion at Quail Hollow and the course record holder.

Were Spieth to pull it off, he’d bag an avalanche of career accolades the likes of which even Tiger Woods can’t match and also put himself squarely in the driver’s seat to be the Tour’s player of the year. He would also further threaten Dustin Johnson’s position as world No. 1.

Will Johnson, McIlroy or another world elite stand in the way, or will Spieth make some head-turning history that would give the Tour a dramatic finish to the major season?

We’ll start to find out on Thurs. Here’s a look at the top storylines heading into the week.

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Jordan Rules? – By going 5-under over the final four holes at Royal Birkdale to claim the Claret Jug, Spieth put the Tour back on some refreshing historical footing. Only five men have claimed the career Grand Slam and Spieth is gunning to become the sixth and faster than any of them.

Spieth enters the PGA on a run of consecutive victories and aiming to topple Tiger as the youngest player ever to claim the career Slam, doing so with some Tiger-esque moments such as jarring a 50-foot eagle putt at the British to spark his final charge.

Spieth’s impeccable putter and short game have earned him his place in history. But on a long and difficult driving golf course, will it be enough to get the career Slam up-and-down?

One of the few reasons to doubt:L He doesn’t have a track record here (he’s only played once in the Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship); his co-favorite does.

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Rory’s Quail Tale – Though he hasn’t won on Tour in 2017, Rory is listed as co-favorite largely because of his track record at Quail.

Rory has two victories and six top-10s at Quail Hollow and holds the course record (61). After a slow start at the British, McIlroy rebounded to show flashes of his old self. McIlroy has battled a fractured rib much of the season, but he and his game finally look healthy again. At the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, McIroy set a 54-hole record with 38 drivers over 300 yards.

That particularly matters going to the PGA at Quail Hollow, because …

Bombs Away – Quail Hollow is a bomber’s course. The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee noted to start the week that the majority of past champions at Quail can be found atop the driving stats for the week.
The recently re-designed course sets the tone with an opening par 4 that plays to 524 yards. It’s one of three for the week playing over 500 yards for the week.

That plays to Rory’s favor, but it will also have other tour big boppers, such as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, looking to cash in and capture the year’s final major. Johnson’s driver is never in doubt, but will his putter hold up? Same goes for McIroy, who’s playing with a new caddie, a switch that didn’t go so well for Phil Mickelson at the British Open.

In a close contest where every stroke matters, will Rory’s decision come back to haunt him? The door is certainly wide open for second-guessing. If Rory wins and slams it shut, he’ll have major momentum going for his own career slam again at the Masters in 2018.

Will There Be Reign or Just Rain? –
As of now, the forecast for the week is a major bummer. A wet week seems in store, with a projected 100 percent chance of rain on Friday. The Charlotte Observer says a solid 50 percent chance is in the forecast for every day up to Sunday.

Who will dodge the bogeys between rains drops and make birdies when the sun shines? Will the elements even more favor a player with a track record at Quail Hollow? If so, besides McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson head that list.

Or will the wet Bermuda roof tilt the advantage to strong iron players? If so, advantage Spieth. But a soggy slog to the title seems certain for someone.

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Hello, PGA in May – New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is looking to shake up the Tour schedule, which has major implications for the PGA Championship.

The Tour announced the PGA will move to May starting in 2019, placing it between the Masters and the U.S. Open with its vacated August date allowing for early start to the FedEx Cup playoffs.

You’ll undoubtedly hear the changed debated during the 2017 PGA broadcast, which seems ideal Thurs./Fri. rainy day talk. When it turns to the weekend, however, Spieth will be the most talked about Jordan since Michael in North Carolina if he’s got the Grand Slam in his sights. Can he just do it? We start to find out on Thurs.

Final Southland

19th Media: RIP Southland Golf – And What It Means For Your Golf Course

Final Southland

Southland Golf published its final issue in July. The outcome is one I’d anticipated for years and unsurprising given the decline of print media but sad nonetheless.

Southland gave me my start five years ago and I owe much of my success today and the direction of my career to those beginnings. My first Southland assignments helped further familiarize me with Southern California golf and also helped me identify the opportunity that existed in social media marketing for golf courses that is now the basis for my business today.

Additionally, I have many connections and clients that were formed from those assignments that have been invaluable in the growth and development of my career. For that especially I will always be grateful to Southland and Editor Al Petersen, who became a great colleague and friend during my days writing for the magazine. I’ll always remember Al for being relentlessly reliable to answer his phone and always taking the time for any story idea or inquiry and being eager to share in kind. Al and I discovered quickly in a our first phone call that we grew up close to each other in the Midwest and we got along swimmingly ever after.

The eulogy, however, stops here and turns to the narrative I’ve been preaching to courses for years. If this isn’t a wake-up call that it’s time to start telling your own story, I don’t know what is. Similar resources are only going to become fewer going forward as publishing continues to find success elusive in a digital environment. The majority of these publications are eventually going the way hickory clubs.

Social media is your new titanium. While the print world declines, the social media world only creates more and more tools to help you tell your story if you choose to seize the opportunity. With Facebook recently topping 2 BILLION users and Instagram on pace to hit a billion users in 2018, it’s time to face facts about where eyeballs are at these days. They’re on the Internet and particularly in their phone – and their coming directly to you. How good are you at telling your story in the digital age?

In the early days of writing for Southland, I gained interviews and appointments easily as course officials relished a visit from the “story fairy.” I appreciated the time and access as I often conducted two interviews: the first was for the story; the second was about the state of their marketing, particularly social media. Those insights proved invaluable.

Many of the first posts you read here were companion pieces to my Southland articles. They were written in part to help courses see the opportunity in creating their own content and narrative. Guess what? I worked. And it still does.

The mentality of the magazine, especially a lifestyle magazine, is the mindset required for successful social media. You have to become introspective and take yourself on as your own beat and be your course’s biggest fan. If you’re not the one MOST excited one about your course, how many can you expect anyone else to be? Lead and content creative with passion and your golfers WILL follow.

Take your club on as your own “beat,” in magazine parlance. Scour the course, the kitchen, the golf shop and your wedding, events, tournaments, members and visitors for stories and insights into your club. That’s the “magazine” every course should be seeking to create to gain readers/followers.

Golf courses will long outlast modern publishing. How successful they will be, however, depends on how well they connect to their audience in the way magazines/newspapers, etc. once did. Are you ready for your social media to read like hot-off-the-press and go to work for you? Let 19th Hole Media help you discover you inner Southland Golf and thrive.

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2017 British Open Preview

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As the pros travel overseas to Royal Birkdale for the year’s third major, the name of the championship seems particularly fitting – The Open.

In a year lacking a dominate player, parity has become the norm on a wide-open Tour. That’s best illustrated by the majors, where we’ve now seen eight straight first-time major champions after Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open.

Will a former champion step forward to claim the Claret Jug or will first-timers continue to break through? And if so, who? Rickie Fowler? John Rahm? Tommy Fleetwood? Hideki Matsuyama?

Last year, it was Henrik Stenson’s turn after an epic duel with Phil Mickelson, who opened the tournament with a 63 and lost to Stenson’s 63 on Sunday. Conditions don’t seem so conducive for scoring this year. Blustery weather is in the forecast.

Who will weather the weather and the unique tests of links golf? We’ll start to find out on Thurs. Here’s a look at the top storylines going into the week.

Major Parity – Rookies rule right now when it comes to major championships. But rather than celebrate the depth of the Tour, the media has instead clamored for someone to seize the season.

A year ago, Dustin Johnson began a run of dominance after a win at the U.S. Open that led to him being named Player of the Year. If you had to vote right now, who’d it be? Rookie John Rahm? He’s one of the few to have multiple victories and consistent strong showings on Tour. Otherwise, many of the Tour’s best have either been hampered by injuries or inconsistency.

Stenson is among those having a ho-hum season. If he can get his game together, he has a chance to be the first repeat Open champion since Padraig Harrington in 2008-09.

But eyes will also be on last year’s runner-up because of …

bonesphil

www.cbssports.com

Phil’s Major Change – Mickelson stunned the golf world after the U.S. Open (he didn’t play because of his daughter’s graduation) when he announced the end of his relationship with long-time caddy Jim “Bones” MacKay, who was on the bag when Phil won his last major at the British in 2013.

This time, Mickelson’s brother Tim will be on the bag and MacKay will be in the booth working for the Golf Channel. Having listened to MacKay on a few Callaway Golf podcasts, I for one am excited to hear his unique take on the game and insights from 25 years of touring with Mickelson. (What’s the over/under on Phil stories told during the tournament?)

Will the change help Mickelson rediscover his winning ways? He hasn’t won any Tour event since that victory in 2013, even though he’s played some of the most consistent golf of his career.

After skipping the U.S. Open, will Mickelson be rested or rusty? He’s professed a new-found love of links golf. Will it love him back again this week?

Can Rickie Shake His Case Of The Sundays? – Fowler was in contention on Sunday at the Masters and the U.S. Open – and never made a charge. Similarly, he failed to make a move Sunday at the Scottish Open.

A few analysts criticized Fowler for overly conservative play on Sunday at the U.S. Open. Will he find the formula to finally contend and close at Royal Birkdale?

At just age 28, Fowler finds himself carrying the mantle of best player to have never won a major. Will he change that at the Open or carry the title onto the PGA Championship and maybe into 2018? Sunday will be the key if Fowler contends again. Will he muster the effort to finally conquer a major?

courseart

www.royalbirkdale.com

When It’s Breezy … – It hardly seems like an Open without a spot of weather. This year, the forecast is dry but high winds are predicted.

Will that forecast favor the Europeans, who are used to these conditions, or possible a Texan (Jordan Spieth?) also accustomed to playing in the wind?

Given the usual penchant for parity that comes with the bounces and breaks of links golf, a windy forecast makes a wildcard winner seem an even more likely outcome.

Where’s The Beef? – Heavily bearded Brit Andrew “Beef” Johnston became a cult hero during last year’s Open and a running subplot amidst the Mickelson/Stenson duel.

Playing on home soil, Johnston seems likely to have a sizeable and vocal gallery this week. That actually seems the only safe prediction coming into a week where the Tour and trophy are there for the taking if someone can rise to the occasion like Stenson did a year ago. As always, it’ll be great fun to watch it all start to unfold across the pond on Thurs.

St. Mark clubhouse

Four Observations About The Playing Experience At St. Mark Golf Club

St. Mark clubhouse

I started playing St. Mark Golf Club in San Marcos about five years ago when I was a student at the Golf Academy of America. To be honest, though being close by, it wasn’t one of my preferred tracks, largely due to spotty course conditions after years of neglect, including hard greens that often wouldn’t hold approach shots.

I recently returned to St. Mark for the first time in more than two years and am happy to report a greatly improved experience after a major investment in the main course and clubhouse as well an impressive renovation, and really re-invention, of the executive course.

The playing conditions on the main course, including an aesthetic upgrade to the tee boxes, were on par with some of the best in the county and made for a most enjoyable experience re-discovering St. Mark. Kudos to the new management for their vision and execution and for breathing new life into the place. For those who’ve never been, here’s an overview of the playing experience at St. Mark.

No. 1

1. A short course – or is it? – At 6,398 yards from the back tees, I don’t think of St. Mark as a long course – by comparison, that’s the yardage at Maderas Golf Club, one of the long courses in SD, from the white tees. Yet St. Mark has one of the longest holes in the county – the 606-yard par 5 12th – and two long par 4s – the 447-yard 4th and 460-yard 10th – that seem to play longer. A lot of holes here are practically dead straight so they play to their full distance.

You definitely need to hit driver well to score here, but the course is wide open enough that accuracy isn’t an absolute must. In the review world, we call this a course that will test your entire bag, which frankly you don’t see coming from the opening holes. This is where St. Mark throws you enough surprises to keep you on your toes.

2. My Nemesis – Excuse the personal aside here, but I’d be less than forthcoming if I didn’t disclose my struggles with the par 4 4th – and I know I’m not alone. This hole is a 447-yard downhill slight dogleg left that often plays into a Pacific Ocean breeze. This is the classic draw hole where my draw won’t draw and I end up with some sort of crazy recovery behind a tree, from an awkward lie, etc.

And when I do hit the fairway, I always seem to have more golf hole left than I should. Forget birdie or par. I honestly can’t recall if I’ve hit the green in regulation here. If I had, that’d be a victory. I certainly didn’t during my last round, where I revisited my classic struggle and scuffled to a six, the first real blemish on my card.

If you get through 4 and 5 – another downhill par 4 – mostly unscathed you’ve got a real chance to get through the front in good shape. The scoring opportunities are there if you avoid the bogey potholes.

14 tee St. Mark

No. 14

3. 12, 13, 14 – These holes are the heart of the playing experience at St. Mark and frankly a stretch you never see coming given the previous 11 holes. The aforementioned 606-yard par 5 12th, a gradual dogleg left with a tricky green, starts this stretch and I’ve seen the mere sight of a “6” on the yardage sign cause people to come undone on the tee. It has psyched more than a few golfers into a snowman. Duff a drive here and you’ll be playing catch up the whole way – and likely never will.

Then a relatively flat course makes a surprise elevation change to an elevated par 3 with a partially blind approach before the course comes to the figurative and literal apex of your round – the elevated 369-yard par-4 14th. With a pond sitting out there dead ahead at around 260 yards, this hole is the ultimate risk and reward. You’re either going for it or you’re not.

In another state and another climate, this hole make a fine ski slope, but it’ll play like a black diamond to you if you can’t make the carry. If you can, you could almost putt your way to par.

There are a lot of great elevated par 4s in San Diego but I can’t imagine a more unexpected one than 14 at St. Mark because it so deviates from the rest of the course. But in that way, it also makes it a tee shot you anticipate and a thrill if you crush it. There’s something to be said for that. Overall, brute distance and a little local knowledge goes a long way in this stretch.

No. 13

No. 13

4. Nemesis Two – If you get through 12/13/14 in good shape, you’ve got a serious chance to post a number on the back. After that stretch, the course reverts back to more of what you expect.

If you don’t trip on the par 3 17th, which is 210 yards but provides room to miss and recover, you come to No. 18, which is another hole where I have a troubled history.

I’ve had a few good scorecards turn bad here trying to do too much here. This par 5 plays to 480 yards, which is a tempting enough number to get you dreaming about a big finish – which can be a big mistake.

The tee shot is straight and sets you up for approach that teases you go for it, despite that gigantic bunker on the left, which is really the only trouble on the hole. The other trouble is all in your head, which again is trying to do too much.

The oddest outcome I ever had here was ripping a 3-wood right at the green – and never finding the ball. (I think we mentioned earlier that the greens previously didn’t always hold shots.)

The smarter play is to try to set yourself up with ideal wedge distance for your third – but where’s the fun in that, right?

And there’s the real trick to mastering St. Mark – knowing when to go for it and knowing when to humbly bag the hero shot and play for par or bogey.

The course is at a length that tempts you, but it has a way of taking strokes back that leaves you sometimes feeling you left a better score out there. Thankfully now that you won’t be feeling like the course conditions cheated you and you’ll admire and appreciate the hard work that has gone into recovering and re-creating a great playing and social experience.

tee marker

EH-Overhead-LoRes

2017 U.S. Open Preview

EH-Overhead-LoRes

Photos: www.erinhills.com

Like Chambers Bay in 2015, Erin Hills is a first-time U.S. Open venue and a relative unknown to the pros as it has little tournament history. It hosted a U.S. Amateur in 2011 as a preparation for the Open.

The heavily bunkered, tree-less course, which opened in 2006, by description sounds comparable to Oakmont, last year’s U.S. Open venue, where Dustin Johnson’s length and short-game prowess powered him to a break through major championship.

That win catapulted Johnson to the most dominant stretch of his career and the world No. 1 ranking. That momentum was stalled at the Masters after a freak fall caused him to withdraw with a back injury. Can he return to form on a course that will play to his strengths – namely length? Or will another big bomber raise the trophy?

On Thurs., we start to find out. Here’s a look at the leading storylines heading into the first U.S. Open ever in the state of Wisconsin.

walking

The Unknown – The knowns are these: the rough is thick and the course in long, because that’s what a traditional U.S. Open set up is. But practically everything else about the longest course in U.S. Open history (7,741 yards) remains a mystery.

The pros will be using their practice rounds to get used to the new layout and particularly its treacherous bunkers, of which there are three types, the nuances of its rolling terrain and the sight lines for a number of blind semi-blind approaches.

The course is such an unknown that ESPN golf analyst Andy North, a Wisconsin native, gave a 30-shot range for predicting the winning score.

“We really don’t know if it’s going to be closer to 15-over or 15-under,” he said.

Of note: the last major played in Wisconsin, the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, saw Jason Day post a major championship scoring record of 20-under.

Will someone solve Erin Hills and go on a similar birdie binge or will it be a week that sees a barrage of bogeys? We seem to have a true wildcard course on our hands, but there’s no such mystery about the favorite: It’s Dustin Johnson.

A Double For D.J.? – There hasn’t been repeat champion at the U.S Open since Curtis Strange defended in 1989. Will the 117th Open see Johnson snap that streak?

The fairways are reportedly twice as wide as the ones Johnson dominated at Oakmont a year, so the set-up is friendly to his prodigious length, but it’s his improved wedge and short game that has really been the game changer for his 2017 dominance.

Johnson, however, hasn’t seemed to have quite the same sharpness since returning to competition after the Masters. He missed the cut at his last event (the Memorial), but some analysts viewed that as a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to get a head start on his Open preparation.

We’ll soon see if that extra preparation pays off and Johnson can reclaim the dominating form he had going into the Masters, before which he had reeled off three straight victories.

If D.J. is right, are you betting against him? His putting has improved as well this year and he’s part of a Tour trend.

Rory TM putter

Photo: Golf Digest

How They Roll – Rory McIlroy is the latest to add a mallet putter to his bag in a last-minute equipment change this week. The mallet is becoming the preferred style on Tour. Putting is always key, but a hot putter could really get on a roll this week due to the impeccable course conditions.

Erin Hills has been closed since October to ensure premium conditions for the Open, especially on the greens, which, unlike Chambers Bay, are yielding compliments from the pros. The pros who figures out the greens the fastest could gain an early edge. Martin Kaymer solved Pinehurst once by putting from off the greens.

Who will wield the magic wand this week that will lead to victory this week? Will it be a past major winner or a championship newcomer like it has been in the previous six majors?

Break On Through, Take 7? – Sergio Garcia’s win at the Masters pushed the streak of first-time major winners to six. Can another first-timer get hot and continue the streak? Rickie Fowler? John Rahm? Justin Thomas?

Understandably, the Tour’s top bombers dominate the list of favorites. Will one of them prevail if D.J. can’t recapture his A game? If bogeys abound, it could turn into a real scramble (think British Open) and the bounces could favor another first-timer. But if U.S. Open experience prevails …

patio

Can recent history repeat? – Before D.J., the previous three U.S. Open winners were Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose. Rory McIlroy is also a past champion and the holder of the Open scoring record, 16-under in 2011.

Rose is on something akin to a major hot streak of his own. He finished runner-up to Garcia at Augusta and previously won the gold medal in the Rio Olympics playing under course conditions that sound a bit similar to what he’ll be facing this week at Erin Hills. GolfWeek actually has Rose listed as its No. 2 pick behind D.J. and ahead of Jason Day to raise the trophy this week (that’s a TaylorMade trio, by the way) and then rounds out its top five with Spieth and McIlroy.

Will one of the favorites prevail or will we major-victory rookies resume their rise at the majors? We’ll start to get some clues when the major fun begins on Thurs.

US Open trophy