A leading golf course management company
A top sports marketing, content marketing, event
marketing and public relations agency
Founded in 1978, KemperSports is a multi-faced company with divisions specializing in management of resorts, private and public golf courses and lodging venues. KemperSports manages more than 100 facilities across the United States for a broad range of clients including public agencies, investors, real-estate developers and private owners. Its award winning portfolio includes Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Chambers Bay, host of the 2015 US Open, Streamsong and Harbor Shores, site of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
In addition to KemperSports, Steve Skinner serves as CEO of KemperLesnik – a public relations, content marketing, event marketing and sports marketing agency. An active member of the Chicago community, Skinner was one of the founders of The First Tee of Chicago, a youth initiative dedicated to providing educational programs that build character and instill life-enhancing values through the game of golf. Skinner also served as a National Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He currently serves on the executive committee of the Chicago Sports Commission.
THE SKINNER STORY —
I began my career as a lawyer working for a multinational law firm in Chicago. I worked with great people and clients, but something was missing. I had always had a passion for sports and with a little prodding from my wife, I knew I had to find a way to marry that passion with my career. Around that time I met Chuck Reeves, another former lawyer who had teamed up with Michael Jordan to start a golf company. For a Chicago kid who loved sports, there couldn’t have been a better combination. As the second full-time employee of Michael Jordan Golf, I was able to pivot my career to one in which I used sports as a way to build a business. It was a very entrepreneurial environment which taught me a lot and also exposed me to the biggest personal brand in sports at the time. Much of what I learned in those early years, I carry with me today at KemperSports.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
My passion is to help people be successful – both our clients and our staffers. I encourage others to ‘love what they do’. I know firsthand the importance of that mantra and I fully believe that if you enjoy your career you will find success.
Many companies routinely tout the importance of customer service. KemperSports has a number of key golf clubs in its portfolio. Define the term and how it is implemented on a daily basis?
Our mission is simple. We hire great people and empower them to deliver genuine, helpful and friendly service to our guests. But we do more than talk about customer service – we live it. All KemperSports staffers begin our proprietary TrueServiceTM customer service training program on day one and the training doesn’t stop. Great service is what sets our properties and company apart in a competitive market.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Allow improvements in equipment to make it easier for beginners to learn the game, which would allow everyone to play better and have more fun. I am receptive to bifurcation of the rules on equipment and technology. I would also suggest shifting the focus of golf from stroke play to match play, which would once again allow people to have more fun.
What’s the most pressing issue facing the golf industry and what are you doing as CEO to deal with it at KemperSports?
The most pressing issue facing our industry today is growing our next generation of customers. At KemperSports, we spend a lot of time and energy on grassroots efforts at our properties to make golf welcoming for beginners – from formal programs like our annual Player Development Month in June to customized programs at our properties that are designed to eliminate the perceived intimidation factor. We offer free lessons and clinics along with many programs to get beginners on the course and allow players of all levels to improve. We also work hard to make the experience at our courses fun. As an industry, we are fighting for consumers’ entertainment dollars, and we need to deliver a fun and compelling experience to our next generation of customers.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, LPGA, PGA TOUR — are all seeking ways to attract new players to golf. This is particularly so for Millennials, women and minorities. If you were advising them what you recommend be done?
The industry would do best to focus on some simple missions, such as improving equipment and instruction. The industry needs to support grassroots efforts at local clubs and courses. Big national programs aren’t going to move the needle. We need to build our base of golfers at the local level, one golfer at a time. This is a great time to be a golfer. We are in the new golden age of architecture and we need to capitalize on this by making the game fun and welcoming.
Biggest pet peeve is what?
Curious to know — how much do you play golf and where? And have you ever elected to be paired with golfers you don’t know at one of your facilities just to get a sense of their comments firsthand?
I would like to play more, but I currently play about 20 times a year. I mostly play at the Onwentsia Club in my hometown with friends and family. When I visit our courses, I will frequently spend time around the clubhouse to speak with guests about their playing experience, and receive great feedback every time.
In the golf arena KemperSports works closely with Mike Keiser — the man responsible for the golf facilities at Bandon Dunes and Sand Valley. Describe the nature of the relationship and what it means to be working together.
Mike has been a true visionary when it comes to golf development over the last two plus decades. He has a unique ability to understand what the “retail golfer” wants and has a great vision for creating successful destination properties.
Outline the biggest challenges facing KemperSports — short and long term?
The biggest challenge KemperSports’ faces is growing our customer base at our properties. We are still in an oversupplied situation in just about every golf market. As operators, we need to continue to innovate to attract new players and to get existing golfers to play more. And it doesn’t have to be 18-hole rounds. It could be 3, 6, 9, 12-hole rounds or at the driving range. It is all about entertainment and fun. Long term, we must adapt to the changing desires of our customers and to continue to offer compelling value and a great experience.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
From my wife Anne: “do something you love!”
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