I am so thankful and blessed to have carved a career around a sport I love and have a passion for. If it wasn’t for this great game of golf, I certainly wouldn’t have this career I have now. I wouldn’t have my family and my wife — who I met my wife while working in the industry — nor would I have been blessed with some of the amazing experiences I’ve enjoyed. Those experiences range from playing a quick nine with my daughter, doing buddy trips with my friends to truly remarkable golf destinations to traveling with my wife to stunning golf locales. It is tough for me to spell out one or a few mentors who’ve assisted me with career progression, as I have learned from nearly every “boss” I’ve had in golf. Certainly mentors such as Dana Garmany, John Easterbrook and Ryan Walls have been key contributors. All have decades of experience and have seen Troon grow to the size and reach it is today. As someone who has a focus on selling and marketing golf, I’ve just tried to convey my passion and love for the game — done things that would resonate with myself — if I were the recipient of an email, or new package offering. As a golfer myself, that perspective — along with the many lessons learned along the way — has helped me be better at what I do .[slideshow_deploy id=’21348′]
MATT WARD: What’s the key lesson or lessons learned from the great recession the world experienced in ’08 as it impacts the golf industry?
KRIS STRAUSS: From an owner / operator standpoint it showed how those efficient with their operations and creative in their packaging, offering, marketing weathered the storm. Certainly the operations that had support structure in place and additional resources to draw on recovered quicker than others. During this time, what was encouraging to me, was those that truly had a passion for the game continued to travel / follow their passion. There was still leisure play, private club professionals were still taking their members on golf trips. Yes the corporate spending slowed, but those with a deep passion for the game still spent dollars pursuing their passion.
MW: What specific approaches has Troon implemented given the climate that exists today?
KS: Troon brings a value proposition to an owner that provides owners with stability during downturns and the ability to maximize revenue / results during stronger economic periods. The purchasing power we deliver to an individual owner always amazes me — whether it is retail items, agronomic equipment, seed, insurance, or the like. Plus there are truly experts in every discipline of golf / hospitality management. Golf courses and or resorts are really like a collection of businesses under one roof and Troon provides experts in every area — whether it be Operations, Retail, F&B, Agronomy, Tennis, and so forth — for our associates to lean into and be successful.
KS: Certainly the quantity of just truly great golf. There are so many courses to choose from no matter preference or budget. Agronomic conditions are certainly strong relative to other winter destinations, service levels are some of the highest in the industry and, of course, the weather rocks — especially in our prime November – April months. The combination of great golf, amazing resorts, cuisine/night life and sporting events put Phoenix/Scottsdale at the top of many golf trip bucket lists.
MW: What are the greatest challenges facing the region?
KS: The challenges in this region are no different than others. We are impacted by downturn in travel patterns, economic fluctuations, etc. The good thing about Phoenix / Scottsdale is it is relatively easier to get to, regarded as a safe destination and one that offers variety options — on both the golf and lodging side — to appeal to all.
MW: What impact do you see happening in the years ahead dealing with overall water usage and golf course consumption — especially in a desert environment ?
KS: Obviously very critical to our industry. Here in Phoenix / Scottsdale utilizing reclaimed waste water is the standard. Across our industry new grass varieties are using less water, can tolerate poor quality water, and along with new technologies is improving the efficiency of irrigation systems. We’ve incorporated best management practices in course maintenance resulting in less water use, design concepts minimizing maintained areas with grasses requiring less water. We’re going in the right direction. According to GCSAA “Since 2005, U.S. golf courses have decreased water use by 21.8%.” We need water to provide a product, drive tourism, create jobs. And we need the boarder audience — outside of our industry — to understand and realize we’re managing this precious resource that encourages and supports conservation, sustainability and being the most efficient way possible.
MW: Is there too much product available and not enough consumers available to justify that all operators remain in business in the greater Phoenix / Scottsdale area? Is more consolidation and downsizing still being carried out?
KS: Course closures in Phoenix / Scottsdale have mirrored the national trend — with a small percentage of operations going away, with some others repurposed for another usage — case in point — the 9-hole municipal Riverview being repurposed for the Chicago Cub Spring Training complex. Along with new recreational opportunities, you have new retail, new hotels, to name just a few other usages. I personally do not see to many more courses closing or being repurposed. Maybe one or two — here or there. It’s hard to re-purpose land initially created as a golf course.
As it relates to the supply / demand side. Yes we have plenty of supply June-September, but when demand is highest — January through April — we have the correct amount of supply for the demand. With Phoenix’s growing population base and appeal from a domestic travel standpoint we continue to be positive on golf in the market and the supply we have today. We do see more individual owners/operators turning to professional management in a quest to gain more of their share of the market and take advantage of the many benefits Troon may bring to a golf course owner. That sort of consolidation is still on the table.
MW: How does golf attract a younger audience — particularly those born after 1990? Is golf still relevant to them as a recreational pursuit?
KS: Golf is an aspirational game in nature. We will see more rounds from Millennials — as they age — get more established in their careers. That trend has been true through most all generations. However, we as an industry need to push more relaxed dress codes, promote more 9-hole rounds and quick experiences. We need to encourage the usage and integration of technology, more of what this audience wants and expects.
We need to convey what younger folks can do on the course at their club and not slam them with a list of what’s not allowed. Relaxing dress codes is just one element — but is symbolic in many ways. Look at churches today. They don’t care if you come in wearing a golf shirt, football jersey, T-shirt, They just care you’re there. If we take a similar approach to that we will keep future players interested and engaged. We don’t see the core of the game changing — such as big cups put into every day practice. The core of the game will remain — hopefully with some evolution — how we package, promote, support, and operate around those core elements keeping the game relevant.
MW: If you could change one element within golf what would it be?
KS: Not a Troon perspective but a personal perspective: I favor two sets of rules, one for professionals and one for amateurs. They do it in basketball, football, etc. There is no reason why it couldn’t work in golf. That and give me relief from a divot. Always a bummer to hit a great drive and find you are in the bottom of someone else’s crater.
MW: Talk about today’s golf consumer who travels to the Phoenix / Scottsdale area. What is it they specifically want in making their visit memorable?
KS: Great golf and lots of it. A recent Scottsdale Golf Traveler survey we did found the average Scottsdale golf traveler staying 6 nights and playing 6 rounds of golf. Players want a varied offering of golf courses. They certainly gravitate towards the amazing “wow factor golf”– what you see at Troon North, The Boulders, Quintero, SunRidge Canyon and the like. Amazing visual appeal. After golf they want great restaurants — a vibrant night life. That’s why Scottsdale has such a great appeal to golf travelers.
MW: Are national organizations such as the PGA of America, USGA, NGCO, NGF, playing an effective role? Is there more each of them can do to build the game in the 21st century?
KS: The World Golf Foundation and golf’s governing bodies have introduced key initiatives to grow the game, including Get Golf Ready, The First Tee, LPGA Girls Golf, Drive Chip & Putt and PGA Junior League.
These initiatives have proven they can introduce new players to the game and provide “runways” for the future. However, even the WGF would admit: while golf is global it is local first. Our courses, our golf professionals, and our teaching professionals are the ones introducing players to the game each and every day. They often use these national initiatives to create the framework and/or provide the inspiration, but ultimately it is up to them (and us as operators of the clubs) to push forward and keep working to grow the game.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?