I went to college on a football scholarship and majored in journalism. My Dad was a lifelong newspaperman and journalism was sort of second nature to me. My dad, Charley, had started a golf newspaper in Florida called Florida Golfweek in 1975. He literally published it in his garage and had a hard time getting it off the ground. He thought the state with the most golf courses in the U.S. should have its own golf publication.
In late 1980 I had just gone through a divorce and was looking for a new start. I told Dad I was going to come to Florida and help him run Florida Golfweek. He was delighted. We worked together every day and every night. He ran the editorial and I ran the sales and business side. A year or so later we expanded from Florida to the entire Southeast and dropped the word Floirda from the name. It was now just Golfweek. A year or two later we expanded to the entire country. We published every golf tournament scoreboard in every state. We listed every player, every score and every hometown. Dad said that if the golfers got their names in the magazine they would buy it. He was right.
In 1990 we sold Golfweek to a national publisher because we were growing so fast we couldn’t afford to keep up with it. The sale also allowed Dad to retire. I stayed and ran the publication until 1994 and then I quit to pursue something new.
Dave Overmyer, a former VP of Marketing with Acushnet and a good friend, had an idea that the golf industry needed a market research company that could track retail sales. He and I talked about starting such a company and decided we should give it a go. Between his background and mine we knew darn near everyone in the industry. We pooled our money and started Golf Datatech. Within a year we had retailers willing to give us their sales data in exchange for giving them back reports on the industry sales. We produced sample reports and showed them to the major manufacturers and they told us if we could produce these reports every month they would buy them. And so we did, and so they did, and Golf Datatech was launched. Prior to Golf Datatech the industry had no accurate sales data or market share information. In 1999, John Krzynowek joined us as a third partner and we began conducting consumer golf research as well as retail We now produce retail market research in the US, UK, Sweden, Germany and France.
MATT WARD: Describe the economic state of the golf industry now — domestically and internationally?
TOM STINE: The golf industry is healthy and strong. Its not growing, but its demise is greatly exaggerated. Golf is genetically connected with many facets of the overall economy in every country it exists. But it is also a game for a lifetime. Golfers can stop playing for awhile and then take up the game again. Many golfers quit playing or don’t play as much during certain stages of their lives, but they don’t quit forever. The game is supported by a high demographic of individuals and is played in every country in the world.
MW: Given the economics facing the world and the USA in particular — does golf run the risk in returning to its early 20th century elite days given the escalating costs associated with all of its key elements?
TS: Golf isn’t going away — because its roots are established in the infrastructure of towns and cities all over the country. People live on golf courses — cities are built around golf courses — kids grow up on golf courses. Is it an elite sport? For some people their whole life is elite. I played golf as a kid — but it certainly wasn’t elite. I played on Mondays because I caddied every other day of the week.
MW: The ’16 PGA Merchandise Show just concluded in Orlando a few weeks ago — do the leaders of the golf industry really have a handle on the drop-off of golf participations throughout America? For a number of years it appeared plenty of voices were simply saying the downturn was merely cyclical in nature and the focus was primarily on upper income white males who account for core players.
TS: The biggest downturn in the US golf market was a result of the real estate boom — the bust of the early 2000’s. Courses were built as real estate amenities to raise the price of the houses — rather than fill the need for more golfers. Too many golf courses were built by real estate developers just wanting to sell houses. People moved into those houses who had never played golf before. But now that they lived on a golf course they thought they would take up the game. They bought new clubs, new golf shoes, took some lessons. The bottom dropped out of the economy and suddenly they lost their jobs, or their company cut back, many lost those new country club homes. Their new found interest in golf and other leisure activities suddenly dropped. So the inflated number of new golfers that came into the game with the housing boom, left with the housing bust. And the level of golfers that were there before remain today.
MW: Speaking of the PGA Show — Nike and Mizuno, two of the leading equipment companies, were absent. Does that portend issues of future relevance for the show itself?
TS: The 2016 PGA Show was my 26th show. Over the course of those years there have been absences by nearly all the big companies for one reason or another. Nike and Mizuno weren’t there this year because they are managing their businesses. I bet they will come back to the Show, and the Show will continue.
MW: The ’16 season marks the return of golf to the Summer Olympics. Given your understanding of the golf world — can such a return to the Games really help golf in the long run?
TS: Yes, I think its going to help golf’s image and increase the interest of millions of kids in playing golf. How can it not?
MW: Back to the equipment side of things — are golf equipment companies hurting themselves when they constantly revamp entire product lines and thereby expect consumers to simply jettison previous equipment recently purchased for newer clubs?
TS: Golf equipment companies are technology companies. Their business is creating new products through new technology. It always has been. A long time ago it was the technology of new tools, new materials, new measuring devices which in turn led to improvements in the equipment. Now its computer technology which takes everything to a more finite level of improvement. And those improvements are what spark the consumers / golfers to purchase new models. The same consumers who buy new cars because the new ones are faster, quieter, bigger, smaller, whatever — consumers want the next best thing. There’s nothing wrong with their current car, but they want something new. Golfers are always looking for the next club technology that will help their game. It’s one of the great things about golf equipment, you can actually buy a better game — or at least for awhile!
MW: Golf courses closures have been ahead of openings for a number of years now. Does the supply chain of golf still have miles to go in order to deal with the diminished demand side of rounds played?
TS: No, I don’t think so. I think it is finding its level right now. There were too many courses built in certain areas, but there are still some areas that could use more courses. There were too many built and now there aren’t as many, and that’s a good thing. A painful thing, devastating to a lot of people, but a good thing for the overall business.
MW: What’s your take on such efforts as Top Golf, Hack Golf, Foot Golf, SNAG, Frisbee Golf, et al — to expand the reach from traditional golf to other ways to attract customers? Is there a metrics to demonstrate if someone entered the game in one manner and then becomes a part of regular golf for the longer term?
TS: I don’t have personal experience with all of these. I know of them. I know they are designed to promote “business” at the golf facilities. Will Foot Golf or Frisbee golf turn non-golfers into golfers? I’m not sure about that. But it can bring customers into a golf facility and that helps revenues. Any business would like to diversify its customer base. I think Top Golf is a terrific concept and has the potential to get non-golfers to try golf. Top Golf is entertainment through golf. It’s all the fun aspects of golf without having to chase the ball, or lose it in a pond. It focuses on the social aspects of golf and has to attract a certain percentage of non-golfers to want to take it to the next level of golf on a course. And if you are already a golfer its a pretty cool place to go and hit a couple of buckets of balls or take your kids, or your date.
MW: Golf has not really been able to get healthy percentages of players from various minority groups — save for Asians. Is there something missing key organizations are failing to do in order to boost such levels up?
TS: By definition “minority groups” are always going to be in the minority. Go to your local tennis courts, local bowling alleys, local 5K run, local flower show or local flea market — minority groups are going to be in the minority of participants or attendees. Now, that doesn’t mean that golf associations, organizations, corporations shouldn’t promote golf to minority groups, but the minority groups are going to be in the minority even when the recruitment efforts are successful. I think promoting golf in schools is the fastest and best way to get minority participation.
MW: How would you categorize golf’s future — half full or half empty and why?
TS: I’m a half-full guy. Work harder, make things better, adapt to change, have an open mind — keep you head down and swing hard!WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?