After witnessing the September 11th, 2001 attacks from across the Hudson River in Hoboken, I decided to move back to my California roots to be closer to my immediate family and start a career doing something I loved. While trying to figure out life as a displaced 26-year old, my little sister Marlena was sifting through after school program offerings at her school in Los Angeles. When I realized golf was not one of the offerings, I conducted local market research and concluded that such a program did not exist in any private or public school. It was the first week of August 2003, school was starting in four weeks and I had been home since April with little job prospects that peaked my interest.
Within two weeks I put together a curriculum and some marketing materials and began calling school districts and private schools. The typical responses from the school administrators were, “How are you going to teach golf at my school?”– “Won’t the balls break everything?” and “There are golf courses in the area, can’t you teach there?” After demonstrating the program using limited flight / softer balls that could be run in any confined space indoors or out, and evolving a station based, multi-level enrichment curriculum that included education subjects and character development, TGA launched at 6 schools in the fall of 2003.
In 2006, we conducted programs at 60 schools, summer camps, holiday camps, spring break camps, parent/child events, mom programs and youth play days. Our revenues hovered above $300,000 for the year with more that 2,000 participants, and our phone was ringing once a week with people who were interested in duplicating TGA in other markets across the country.
TGA was changing lives through sports and creating a proven model to grow golf. Our Player Pathway introduced students and their parents into the game at non-traditional locations and transitioned them to traditional golf course programs. On top of that, I was building equity in a business that gave me a chance to pursue my passion and have freedom with what I did.
In 2007, TGA created a franchise model giving others the opportunity to follow that path. Today, we have had over 500,000 kids go through the program in the U.S., and have also launched the model internationally in Canada and Spain.
MATT WARD: What makes your efforts stand apart versus others trying to do similarly?
JOSHUA JACOBS: For years growing junior golf was a philanthropic, charitable, or volunteer effort that came with little success, meanwhile other sports like tennis, soccer and lacrosse were growing using models opposite of the industry thinking. TGA stands out because of our sustainable business model to grow golf through local entrepreneurs and coaches who become stakeholders in the growth of the sport. The more successful they become and the better the programs are in the area, the more golf grows. TGA also stands apart as the only one stop shop in the industry delivering programs and providing our students with a complete line of boys and girls junior golf equipment.
MW: The big name golf organizations — USGA, PGA of America, etc, etc, – have espoused greater efforts in the junior area — but frankly it seems the same profile / demographic groups are the only ones involved. How does your effort change that?
JJ: I think recently the big name golf organizations have come together to support industry initiatives such as Drive, Chip, Putt and PGA Junior League Golf. All of TGA’s participants can feed into those programs. Just because middle to upper income families have the means to play golf, doesn’t mean they do so. With less than 8% of American playing there is tremendous room for growth across all demographics. Our efforts expand on the perceived profile / demographic groups by providing parent funded programs in middle to upper income areas (same as most sports) and grant funded programs through our 501c3 charitable foundation in under-resourced areas. This allows us to create a complete golf ecosystem and player pathway within a community so anyone who wants to play, can.
MW: Curious to know — how did you get your start in golf?
JJ: I got my start as a player when my grandparents put a club in my hand when I was three and I haven’t put it down since. They sparked my passion “the golf bug” that propelled me to play competitively in Los Angeles during high school and at Emory University. I got my start in the golf industry by recognizing and filling a void for introductory programs that make golf available to the general public, and a lack of business ownership opportunities dedicated to growing golf.
MW: In today’s ever cluttered world and one in which time is squeezed for many people and is often the most important element – can golf really succeed long term in such a setting?
JJ: It can if the golf industry creates programs that engage parents and kids at the same time, as well as embrace the importance of courses that take less time to play. (Par 3 and executive courses.) With almost 70% of TGA participants and their parents being new to golf, we have found that parents of TGA students either take up the game or play more because their kids play. Golf is seen a solid family activity partly because of the time it takes to play.
MW: Your efforts are geared towards young elementary students but can golf really ever penetrate the urban core area given the combination of a myriad of other issues impacting lives there on a 24/7 basis?
JJ: Golf can thrive in many forms, whether it’s TGA’s model of bringing golf to schools and community centers or through alternative teaching and playing facilities. What matters is the participant’s experience and the ability of the company delivering that experience to engage the customer through golf. TGA, Topgolf and the golf simulator business are great of examples of golf thriving in urban areas. From there, you hope people cultivate their passion that transitions them to green grass facilities. One thing is for sure, no two urban areas can grow the same way.
MW: Why have past efforts in stimulating junior golf development failed to really take off and what have you learned from them?
JJ: The golf industry has done a great job concentrating efforts on competitive players, (juniors, college students and PGA TOUR pros) that’s where the money and sex appeal is. The industry has failed to incubate scalable, replicable and self-sustaining introductory and recreational programs with coordinated efforts from the major associations. The overall health and success of golf courses, equipment manufacturers and PGA and LPGA Professionals are impacted more by the recreational and core golfers as opposed to the competitive golfer. We’ve learned golf is grown by creating local ecosystems through stakeholders with an entrepreneurial mindset.
MW: Best advice you ever got and who was it from?
JJ: The best two pieces of advice were from my father, Michael Jacobs. “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” and “Be part of the solution — not the problem.” Through them, I’ve worked hard over the years the become a better listener and learned how to strip away the noise and clutter to simplify situations and find solutions.
MW: Customer feedback is an essential feature many companies crave. How do you solicit it and what role does it play in your future program efforts?
JJ: All of TGA’s participants get a one question survey at the conclusion of their program. “Rate us 1-10, and would you recommend us and why?” It allows us to listen to what our customers want and anticipate what they need before they need it. Through this we have implemented online progress reports for students, integrated STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) into our programs and launched a junior golf equipment line for boys and girls. The future could hold additional TGA programs in other sports.
MW: How important a role do PGA, LPGA Tour endorsements play in such efforts? Are you seeking them out or looking elsewhere for connections to others who can expand your efforts?
JJ: Having the PGA or LPGA TOUR endorsements or other connections could certainly provide TGA increased visibility and we would welcome them. In addition to securing endorsements, TGA’s model succeeds by creating strong value propositions for our franchise business model, for our community partners where we run programs, and for our participants their families. Respectively, this enables us to increase the value of the TGA brand and our businesses, makes it easier to expand our program offerings and increases the probability that parents and kids are going to select golf as an activity and sport to participate in. The golf industry has learned that TOUR players increase the demand for people who want to play golf, but they do not move the needle when it comes to participation. What moves the needle is communicating with those potential players and providing accessible and affordable programs for them to get into.
MW: If you had the power to change one thing in golf — what would it be?
JJ: I would get rid of the term and the number “par”. Golf is difficult to learn and play, and people are more concerned about how good they are rather than if they enjoy playing the game. Ask someone if they play golf and they will almost always tell you how good or bad they are rather than if they play or how much they enjoy playing. Getting rid of “par” which judges someone’s skill level could make the game more approachable and enjoyable.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?