Global Edition

The Business of Golf …….. Putting Together the Pieces

6.35am 13th March 2020 - Opinion

Putting from the Rough: Part 1 by John Cockayne

During a previous discussion in this series – Innovation or Stagnation, – with Stuart Gillett, the then GM of Golf At Goodwood, Stuart commented about the positives in seeking advice, or discussing problems, often being viewed as a sign of a lack of competence or even ‘weakness’, which it is patently not.

Most successful business people will tell you that you learn something new every day.

Those people in business, or on boards, who think they know it all are walking ‘heavily’ on very thin ice.

In general business and golf management terms, it is not uncommon to find yourself in a business situation, which is not covered by any textbook, or your own personal past experiences.

Indeed, it might also not be covered by any of the more orthodox solutions that might normally be considered the ‘best’, or even the ‘right’ answer to the problem faced.

Faced with this type of challenge, the next step would be to ask around your network, on the basic premise that a problem shared is a problem halved, to see if anyone else might have some inputs based on a similar past experience.

These types of input could be likened to a player discussing a problem shot with his or her caddy and debating various solutions and the possible outcomes.

To continue the golf analogy, in many ways, an annual financial statement can be seen as the business’ scorecard for the year.

A club’s or business’ board, or management committee will look through the year, on a month by month basis and will ordinarily be happy with the end result and keeping the overall strategic goals in play.

They will be happy, even if the results had been achieved by the employment of an innovative or unorthodox solution, or even two, to unanticipated problems, that might have arisen during the course of the year.

The business’ financial year plan, and the course plan for a round of golf, will have set out the overall strategic needs.

As an overall theme, these will then be kept in mind, both when on course and during the business year.

However, there will be those occasions, when special circumstances, and the problems emanating from unanticipated events, will need to be addressed.

These will take various forms, both in golf and business, such as coping with the outcome of an unfortunate bounce, a temporary liquidity problem, or mishit shot.

These challenges will need to be seen, in terms of ad hoc round management principles, or business tactics, rather than in the specific terms relating to the goals of the overall strategy.

This is a time in which the focus will need to be taken off the broader strategic goals, until the immediate and unforeseen problem is resolved.

To continue the golfing analogy often a situation will demand that you assess an unanticipated challenge, dispassionately and objectively. The solution may well require you to improvise and innovate to get around the problem. This will be with the goal of putting the overall strategy back on track and might include putting from the rough.

Another golfing parallel also applies, in many ways, to a business’ financial year.

This would be that no round of golf can be perfect.

Even with a score of 59 there will always be at least one ‘what if’, or an ‘if only’ involved….and there are always going to be some ‘off’ and slightly misdirected shots along the way.

Walter Hagen was a natural innovator and never let a bad shot put him off balance.

A poor shot had no demoralising, or surprise effect on him, because Hagen expected some missed shots in every round.

This meant that when he inevitably hit a misdirected shot, he remained un-perturbed by the experience, regarding the problem as little more than a hiccough.

He would just assess the next shot, on its own merits, and then calmly get on with the job in hand. This would have been to make the necessary next play and continue to try to compile the best final total over 18 holes that he could i.e. get the overall game plan back on track.

Most managers and golfers, of all ability levels and seniority, have faced with these types of challenges and survived.

Survived that is, at least until the half way cut score is determined, or the interim business performance or the complete financial year is under review.

Some have achieved this by sticking gamely to their original pre-game strategy for the round, aka budget and year plan – ‘come what may’.

This will have been regardless of changes and ‘surprises’ within the roll out, and they will have ridden their luck to a successful conclusion.

This approach has its own inherent dangers, but it is also important to remember that developing no plan (even a ‘bad’ one) is in fact planning to fail, so that firefighting cannot be the everyday norm, but only a response to the unexpected.

This last comment refers to management styles, which do not plan, but innovate and use the unorthodox almost all the time and in the process turn what should be safety net into a trampoline!

However, there will inevitably come a time when our imaginary golfer is faced by a golf course that is really challenging.

It will be one where reliance on luck and a gung-ho attitude, will not bring the required results.

It will not be the player’s home course, where he or she knows every bump and hollow.

It will be new territory – a previously un-played layout, which is long, with tree lined fairways, unforgiving rough, complete with hidden challenges and where the player’s local knowledge is limited.

In this scenario, the overall game strategy will not encourage or reward the ‘seat of the pants’ type strategic approach.

If we substitute this on course scenario for the changed trading environment most businesses have found themselves dealing with, in the business climate, post the economic and financial problems of 2008 and 2009.

These changes of a business’ flow have made demands on many golf clubs’ firefighting abilities and their agility, in being able to revaluate their strategic plans, priorities and devise alternative strategies.

This has applied across a wide swathe of areas in the business of golf from increased input costs, to lowered rounds’ numbers, difficulties with membership growth and on to the increasing challenges in finding sponsors and brand partners.

The old saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees comes into mind.

Sometimes being too close to the job makes it very difficult to see the problem in its proper focus and this is the ideal moment to call on the services of a consultant.

Part 2 of this Business of Golf Discussion Series piece will continue to explore the benefits of using a consultant’s’ services. John Cockayne Mobile 0027 (0) 73 8967931 & Email

John’s eclectic business experience in tandem with his writing skills – makes him much sought after as a business consultant and writer. In terms of the latter, and amongst a number of current roles, he is the golf editor with, or a columnist for, a number of top platforms and publications including Destination Golf Travel Global, GolfVistaSA, GolfRSA and Business Day.

John is a very experienced event manager, has had extensive marketing experience, worked as a project consultant on three continents and has developed and run a travel agency and two tour operator businesses. He is also a Founder and Life member of the PGA of South Africa and is no stranger to working inside the ropes having held operational roles as a head professional, director of golf, club manager, coaching director and as a tournament official on the Sunshine Circuit.

There will be occasions when the problems emanating from unanticipated events, need to be addressed’
‘Walter Hagen was a natural innovator who never let a bad shot put him off balance’
John Cockayne
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