As the Ryder Cup tees off amid raucous scenes at Medinah Country Club, golf business leaders have been squaring up to critical issues facing the game – and speaking out on the state of sport.
Gathering for the annual KPMG Golf Business Forum, just days before the Ryder Cup, HSBC’s Giles Morgan expressed his frustration at unregulated players’ agents demanding ‘unsustainable’ fees for their clients, Olympic golf course designer Gil Hanse weighed into the debate on sustainability in golf, and Sir Nick Faldo raised the possibility of mixed team golf at the Olympics.
Tournament golf & sponsorship – Giles Morgan, HSBC
HSBC’s head of global sponsorship, Giles Morgan, bemoaned players’ agents demanding unrealistic fees, when the bank – which has spent more than $300 million on golf sponsorship in 10 years, including the WGC HSBC Champions Event in China– has already put up the prize fund.
“At the Ryder Cup we will see tournament professionals playing for free, doing lots of man hugs and high fives and getting right into it – and we, the public, love it,” he said. “But in the men’s professional game I think this sportsmanship and spirit is eroding. There are unregulated agents and players’ managers who are now asking for enormous fees for golfers to play in tournaments and sell their wares.”
Giles Morgan continued: “The recession is not something agents are used to. What some of these agents are doing – not all, and they are not regulated, which is critical – is going back to a trough where they think the money is, and that means the tournament sponsor. As a title sponsor you pay for the prize fund, which is what the players win. When you are then asked to pay additionally, it feels like there is a biting of the hand that feeds – and I do not believe this is sustainable for the game of golf.”
According to Giles Morgan, 32% of golf sponsorship comes from the financial services sector and that unlike some sports, golf is sponsor driven.
“Professional golf, like any sport, is the fuel and oxygen for growth, and nowhere has this been better seen than in China where, when we introduced the HSBC Champions event in 2005, we just needed to bring one golfer, Tiger Woods, along with 77 others. The publicity went bananas – he was the world’s greatest golfer and the crowds followed, and the tournament was a success.
“The professional game has a massive responsibility for the whole game – it is the showcase and the catalyst.
“Golf doesn’t have a divine right to succeed – it has to innovate, move forward, making its products become entirely attractive to outward investment.”
Mr Morgan concluded: “There is a storm coming and I beg the game of golf to discuss and consider.”
Sustainability – the war over water – Gil Hanse
Asked during a debate on sustainability what the priorities for golf are, architect Gil Hanse, selected to design the course for the Rio 2016 Olympics, said: “It’s all about water. It may force the hand of green golf – and I mean the colour of our courses. We’ve heard that, in the future, wars will be about water rather than oil. Ultimately, that will be the war that the golf industry will have to fight – the availability of water and constant restrictions, it will eventually tip our hand. Until then, we have to make the delivery of water more efficient, that’s the war we can fight behind the scenes, but it will be difficult to change the minds of golfers.”
Hanse was responding to research indicating 72% of golfers in America want pristine fairways and greens. It was also in context of the statistic more than 150 golf courses in America closed in 2011.
Hanse explained that sustainability, brown fairways, a par-71 public golf course and the use of caddies instead of golf cars were all features of his blueprint for the Olympic golf course.
“There were three pillars to our presentation – design, legacy and sustainability, explained Hanse. “We purposely made it a par-71, not the typical 7,400-yards par-72 championship course, as we wanted something that wasn’t the norm and would be in context of an emerging golf market. Our vision also encompassed a lot of brown grass. I’m sorry to see that statistic about golfers wanting green greens, but we felt that if the face of golf and the course in this Olympic competition, could be somewhat off-colour, as it will be Brazil’s winter time, the course would feel a little more links-like, something natural. We also talked about a walking course and trying not to have cart paths. The course is fairly flat and it should be easy to walk. Having caddies would help grow the game.”
While acknowledging the sport’s shortcomings, Hanse spoke boldly in golf’s favour: “Golf is an easy target. In the court of public opinion, golf doesn’t produce anything – we don’t produce crops. Yet, as an industry, we know we produce millions of jobs globally, billions of dollars of economic development, often tourism related, but we don’t do a good job of letting the public know that. All they think is that we are a bunch of rich, spoilt people with bad outfits hitting a ball around green grass. We need to prove that the golf industry is an important part of the economy, otherwise water restrictions will be much more easily placed on us.”
Olympic golf – Sir Nick Faldo
Interviewed on-stage by CNN anchor Don Riddell, Sir Nick Faldo spoke candidly about his playing career and his business interests, and analysed the opportunity the Olympics offers golf – and the importance of creating entertainment and excitement on TV.
“I hope we have time to consider the format for the Olympics,” said Faldo. “Personally, I was surprised that it was going to be 72-hole individual strokeplay. The Olympics is so much about the team, and we have the girls playing at the Olympics as well. We have mixed doubles in tennis, and there are mixed foursomes in golf, so it’s a question of what we could do. I hope it’s not too late to change the format – it’s still four years away. I think they need to sit down and brainstorm some ideas because we are in Rio for two weeks, we have our own site, so why not use it for the whole two weeks? I would like to see them make a decision to play a few more events.”
As a golf commentator for the Golf Channel and NBC, Faldo said that he had come to understand the importance and influence of golf on TV as entertainment – and pondered whether different formats of golf could be broadcast to add excitement and interest: “Maybe there should be some events that are purely a show. What about a par-3 tournament? You could play a six-ball. It’s about putting on a golf show rather than a tournament so it entices people to watch golf and think, ‘Wow, this is really cool!’”
Continuing on the theme of the way golf is portrayed on television, Faldo said: “If we get the players on board, and they know they are there to entertain, it’s great for them, great for their brands, and great for the sport. If they want to give something back to the future of their sport, it could be it even bigger and better in 10 years time, and a few of them understand that.
“The younger players like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler get it. If you look at what a Formula 1 driver has to do in terms of interviews before he sticks his helmet on and goes into the first corner at 150 mph, it’s a bit lame for golfers to say they can’t talk before going to play. But if you explain the importance to players, they will understand.”
KPMG Golf Business Forum
More than 220 delegates from 30 countries attended KPMG’s ninth annual Golf Business Forum at the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, Italy, 17-19 September, the golf development industry’s most important annual event of the year.
Other speakers included hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, Italian golf legend Costantino Rocca, Stuart Robertson, creator of Twenty20 cricket, and KPMG’s Global Head of Innovation Adam Bates, who spoke on technological and geopolitical trends impacting on business.
Opportunities for golf development in Italy and the Mediterranean was another key focus for the Forum, with KPMG publishing a new Golf Benchmark Survey for Italy (available to download free of charge from www.golfbusinesscommunity.com)
KPMG Golf Business Forum www.golfbusinessforum.com