The Guardians Of The Game
Story published at 13:35, Friday, November 6th, 2015
Page last updated at 10:17 pm, Thursday, February 25th, 2016
From The HSBC Golf Business Forum in Shanghai; Andrew Cotter in conversation with Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A; Tim Finchem, Commossioner of The PGA Tour; Keith Pelley, CEO The European Tour; and Mike Whan, CEO of The LPGA Tour.
ANDREW COTTER: Welcome, gentlemen.
Keith, I suppose I’d like to start with you, as the newest member of the fantastic four, whatever we call you, guardians of the game, the challenges coming from Canada and coming from a background in ‑‑ well, in media and in hockey over there. How have you settled in and what do you see as the challenges in The European Tour?
KEITH PELLEY: Well, I settled in very well. My boy is now a proud member of the Bracknell Bees, so he has found hockey. And the other day when we were in the hockey rink and all the parents said, wow, this is a big commitment. This is like once a week. And he was coming from playing six times a week. So it’s not much of a commitment at all. The family has really settled in.
It’s been an enjoyable ten weeks. Many times when you come into a position such as this, you have a time to sit back and reflect and to perhaps then listen and learn, and then create a vision and then move into an execution stage.
This was kind of operational on day one. We obviously had a couple of challenges that we had. We had a conflict with the Bridgestone and then we had Rory’s injury. We got involved very much with The Asian Tour. So, there has not been a lot of rest or a lot of sleep or a chance to actually sit back, reflect and then give you what the vision has been. So, it’s been operational from day one.
ANDREW COTTER: So many topics you mentioned there that we will come on to.
Martin, if I can ask you, as well, getting your feet under the desk and what a level desk it is, too, sitting under the first tee at St. Andrews. Was it a very smooth transition, and did you have things from day one that you had to deal with?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, a bit like, sort of quite a contrast to Keith, really. I had six months working with my predecessor, who was extremely gracious and very generous with his time in taking me around the world of golf, meeting lots of different people and working through decades of paperwork of issues. So it was a slightly different introduction for me.
We’ve really focused ‑‑ has not exactly been quiet as we have moved our TV contracts both in the UK and in the US from ‑‑
ANDREW COTTER: We don’t need to dwell on that. But we will.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: That’s kept us pretty busy.
ANDREW COTTER: SKY Television do a tremendous job, well done. If there anybody is over there listening, I am available for hire at any point (laughter).
Talking to Keith, saying from day one, he had to be very active. But I think when you joined, there were difficult times for the LPGA Tour. But you took the decision to sit back for what was it, a hundred days, and say, I’m going to take up my position after that; but I’m going to listen and learn and then really take over.
MIKE WHAN: Yeah, you did your homework. That’s great. When I started in 2010, we were in a pretty major recession in the US. So I don’t think anybody loved the idea when I said I’m not going to make any strategic decisions for a hundred days.
But I was coming from a different industry. Funny, I was coming from hockey. And I was afraid that ‑‑ I had all the ideas and I was pretty sure I was a hundred percent right in all the different directions I thought we should go in the LPGA.
But I also thought that was kind of dangerous because I was so convinced I was right. I knew I was wrong with about 50 per cent, I just didn’t know which 50.
So, we agreed that for a hundred days, I was not going to be the decision maker. And after a hundred days ‑‑ I don’t know if I really made it through a hundred to be honest with you, but I tried as long as I could to just take it all in.
I find with organisations, they want clear leadership. They want strong leadership. But they want their voice in that leadership and they want to make sure that you’ve taken them in.
And people‑‑ I was a quarterback in football growing up and I remember a coach one time said to me: You can’t walk in the huddle and start barking out orders. First the team has to believe in you, and they have got to know that you understand what we are trying to achieve as a team.
Yeah, I took a little time in the beginning, and it wasn’t‑‑ as Keith alluded to, there’s nothing harder than time in the beginning. But it enabled me to at least listen to‑‑ I think in all of our jobs we have more constituents than we probably thought when we took them. In my case there’s players, media partners, corporate sponsor, retired sponsors; all of which feel like the LPGA is their organisation and if you’re not careful, you’ll let them disenfranchise from it.
But if you let them get involved you find you’ve got literally thousands of people pulling on the rope versus just you and a couple of staff members.
ANDREW COTTER: Talking about growth and development of the game and Tim, you go back, 21 years ago, 20 years ago you took over from Deane Beman, and the PGA TOUR has grown beyond all recognition, really, in that time, and a lot of that, I suppose, down to the success of Tiger Woods.
Can you remember the challenges when you took over, and what in particular has been the most difficult thing for you to deal with in your term?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, when I became Commissioner, Peter Jacobsen was quoted as saying that, “Tim won’t have any problem. Deane left him the Mercedes. He just needs to keep his foot on the pedal.”
It may not have been that easy. I had been Chief Operating Officer for five years, so I already knew the operational side of the business, and it was just a step, a step into somewhat different day‑to‑day activity.
But as these fellas have mentioned, it comes back to the same basic blocking and tackling and setting a strategy, trying to maintain a long‑term view. To Mike’s analogy with football, you need to get the right people in the right places. If you don’t, you’re going to suffer. And you need to communicate.
In golf, golf is different than most professional sports in the extent that we have a variety of golf organisations. I mean, if you could imagine the NFL having an amateur body write the rules for the game. That doesn’t happen. But it’s a system that’s worked but it requires communication.
And to Mike’s point, there are an awful lot of stakeholders in our sport: Sponsors, fans, television partners, communities, and communication is key. You have to discipline yourself and the organisation in terms of communicating and bringing the stakeholders along as you try to affect change.
I think we’ve done a reasonably good job in that regard.
ANDREW COTTER: Mike, talking about sponsors, that’s one thing that you’ve targeted. Obviously everyone knows how sponsors are, but just little things like you’re making aware to the players who the key figures and the sponsors are each week so they can pancreas cancer them. I told the story about Christina Kim recognising a sponsor outside the ropes and nipping out to say hello and say thank you. Because without sponsors, is there is no professional golf.
MIKE WHAN: You know, in my hundred days, one of the things I realised pretty quickly at the LPGA is we have a lot of people in the building that could talk to you about pin placements and tee boxes; we had people who could tell you about great camera angles; and we have people that could explain the rules of the game.
What we didn’t have was a lot of people that knew what it like to be a cheque writer. Before I became commissioner, all I had ever been was a cheque writer. I remember saying, we instituted something called, R2 which is role reversal, which is every time we have a meeting at the LPGA, no matter what the topic, the first 50 per cent of the agenda has to be dedicated to the person who is writing the cheque that makes that event possible.
So, if we are going to talk about the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, we are going to talk about HSBC for the first 50 per cent. So when we started going down that path of how are we going to create better rate of return ‑‑ because if you really want to play tournaments long term, you take care of these people before you take care of pin placements and tee boxes.
A couple of players came up to me and said, “I heard about role reversal, what does this mean for us?” And, you know, knock on the head, you’re right.
So when an LPGA player signs up for a tournament on a Tuesday, the first thing she gets is a two‑sided five‑by‑seven card, and on the top of the card it says: What three things does HSBC, Kia, ANA Airlines need from you this week. And then it will talk about who is HSBC, why do they do they do this event.
It will say the three things HSBC hopes you say this week when there’s a microphone in your face. It gives the mail and e‑mail address of where to send your thank‑you notes. I always say, it doesn’t say, should I send thank‑you notes, but where do you send your thank‑you notes.
And then it shows pictures of the most important people that are in the tournament that week. And yeah, that’s what we found out pretty early is players would look at those cards, read those, and when they would identify from that picture, they would walk up and thank that person. And I can tell you, from somebody who has been a sponsor for 35 years before I was commissioner, I sponsored a lot of athletic endeavours. I’ve never had an athlete thank me.
So our goal is to get a hundred physical thank‑yous a week and a hundred written thank‑yous a week just because we know that would make us completely different than almost every other sport. There’s a lot of athletes getting paid a lot of money, but no one is asking them to write a thank‑you note after the activity back to somebody who sponsored them. And I hope they never do because that’s our competitive advantage.
ANDREW COTTER: One thing that perhaps Mike doesn’t have to worry about quite so much is the conflict of scheduling, we touched upon already with the Olympics and again a lot of positives with the Olympics coming in, but it does bring headaches in, as well, in the summer. July next year is as chaotic ‑‑ is scheduling ‑‑ that’s the best way of putting it. Is it your biggest headache, Tim, and Keith, scheduling the tours?
TIM FINCHEM: Take it away.
KEITH PELLEY: I think it comes back to what Tim said earlier about the rules of the game and the communication. I think, and we have already had this conversation. The Bridgestone was definitely a one‑off. The Olympics will always propose somewhat of a challenge.
But as we both grow the game, scheduling is continually going to be a challenge, which comes back to the magical word of communication, which we’ll just work that much closer together as far as communicating our schedules.
TIM FINCHEM: I agree with that. I think the question, and a little bit too much has been made of this in terms of the impact on our relationship. Because it was a one‑off. We said no to the Olympics for 15 years because of the difficulties it placed on our schedule, usually in the summertime.
We got convinced in ’08 with a study we did that indicated that some 85 countries where governments invest in sports only do so if it’s on the Olympic Programme. So we moved in that distribution primarily because of the impact it could have on growing the game. But then we got more and more excited about what it does from the standpoint of the Olympics being a real forum for our athletes, men and women.
But, in fact, what we knew is going to be a problem, was a problem. It causes huge scheduling difficulties and we work through most of them. This one we couldn’t quite get to a solution, and hopefully we’ll do a better job when we go to Japan in 2020.
In the meantime, just to finish on the Olympics, I think it’s worth the price. We have a good golf course coming together. All the golf organisations work very closely together on this. It’s just one more example of how things can work really well when we do get together and work together.
I think clearly the athletes, men and women, are 100 per cent committed and excited about the opportunity. And, you know, you can do a lot of different things in this game, but it’s when the athlete communicates to the fan and the sponsor that you really get results.
So having the athletes as excited as they are is going to create a very positive climate for golf. It’s a real opportunity for us to talk about and underscore that golf is one of the few sports that’s played everywhere, and it does bring us back to the question of focusing on golf as a global endeavour. And I think all of that is going to be very positive for us.
So if there is a scheduling difficulty here or there, I think we just have to grin and bear it and get past it and make sure we’re doing the fair thing.
ANDREW COTTER: Martin, the Olympics, we will touch upon it tomorrow in greater detail with a full Olympic discussion. But from the R&A’s point of view, it’s always been a positive thing in terms of spreading the game worldwide and getting it into the Olympic movement.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I mean, I think Peter spent a lot of his time, and Tim was very involved, as well, in pushing the Olympic movement. And it is a great opportunity. There is no doubt ‑‑ we all know about sort of the increase media attention that will come about, but also, there’s a lot of people who enjoy sport who necessarily don’t know about golf will be introduced to the game.
But it’s not a given that that will drive mass participation. And I think it’s paramount on all of us and many other people to really focus on how do you take the Olympics and what will happen in Rio next year and then Japan in four years’ time, and translate that into meaningful improvements in the number of people playing the game.
And there are many sports out there that have not had a massive uptick, and I think that would be probably a huge opportunity missed.
ANDREW COTTER: And how healthy is the game in terms of people playing? Because there are two ways of looking at it: People who are members of clubs, and that’s the old way of playing golf. But there’s also, I suppose, people who will just go along and maybe just hit balls at a range, or take some interest in golf in some other way.
But what is the state of the game? I suppose you particularly look at the UK, but you look beyond that, as well. Is golf in a healthy state in terms of numbers playing?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think the beauty of our game is it’s at so many different levels. If you look at the professional game, I don’t think it’s ‑‑ it’s in a very, very strong position than it’s been for the last 15 years. There’s some wonderful players both male and female who are doing some fantastic things on the course.
I think if you look at the elite amateur game, I think it’s also in a very good state. The number of amateurs that are now making the transition from the amateur game into the professional game, and having an impact very quickly, is growing.
So, there’s a lot of very good stuff going on there. I think the participation, general golf, there’s been statistic, statistics and there’s more statistics about this.
KEITH PELLEY: ‑‑ ten weeks ago, and I had heard over and over again that the game is declining. We did this commissioned study just in the UK and it didn’t look at the traditional game on its own. It looked at all facets of the way people are participating, and what we found was is there was 3 million people playing 18 holes, but close to 12 million people participating in the game in the UK alone. And now we are going to commission that study across Europe.
But the way they are participating is far more than just the 18 holes. They are participating in pitch‑and‑putts, mini golf. I know, I think the president of Adventure Golf is here, which is Top Golf. And I can tell you my 12‑year‑old and his friends want to go to Top Golf every single week.
And for those that don’t know what it’s about ‑‑ because I had no idea. But every week, I end up going to Top Golf now, and it’s a little chip in a golf ball at a driving rain. The first time we went, we had a 20‑minute wait. You hit it into targets. It’s immediate score up, so it’s immediate gratification, which is exactly what the youth is looking for these days on the computer screen.
And so I think that our game has never been healthier, and when I look at the fact that our attendance ‑‑ and I know it’s happening at the PGA TOUR, as well, is growing every single week. I believe that this declining game notion is a complete fallacy, and I believe that people are just participating in our game in a completely different way.
ANDREW COTTER: You’re not answering the key question which is, did you lose to your 12‑year‑old at top golf.
KEITH PELLEY: The biggest fear I have is that my 12‑year‑old is getting very close to beating me in the regular game, and it’s going to be incredibly depressing.
ANDREW COTTER: Yes, it will, but that time is coming, and soon, Keith.
The shortened form of the game, that’s something that the R&A must be looking at, I’m sure the USGA is looking is, as well, because we are all short of time these days. And no one really ‑‑ do people don’t have five, six hours to commit to playing a full round of golf and lunch or whatever afterwards. But get out and hit balls, half an hour or an hour. Is that something you’re investigating and thinking, can we find a six‑hole form of golf, finding a short form of golf, the equivalent to test cricket, that sort of thing.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The real answer to that is we have to have a menu of playing the game, from the purest form of 72‑hole stroke play down to what attracts a 12‑year‑old to go out and spend ‑‑ my 12‑year‑old in those days had an attention span of probably about 15 minutes.
And when they played golf with me, we would play one hole or three holes until they were bored. And when I grew up playing the game, it was ‑‑ very rarely did we play 18 holes. I think it’s become de rigueur, and it’s come because of the growth of the professional game in many ways. I do think that golf clubs who are starting to look at offering three‑hole options, six‑hole options, nine‑hole options, playing as families, I think those are going to be the future.
And people who choose will then move on and play 18‑hole stroke‑play. They may well be quite happy at that point to take our for five hours playing a game of golf, and to me it’s a progression through the game, and we should be able to deliver different values of the game that suit your situation and your needs at that particular point.
ANDREW COTTER: You’re all responsible, as well, three certainly in terms of the professionals and in terms of the short windows of the game; the people playing who can attract youngsters into the game.
Tim, I was wondering, actually, I won’t say the decline of Tiger Woods, sounds rather terminal, but with him rather sliding further off the spectrum because he was such a great attractor to young people to play the game, are you happy now that you have the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, because it’s about attracting youngsters into the game as much as anything else.
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I’m happy because our television ratings are up 20 per cent all year long‑‑ so I’m happy about that.
ANDREW COTTER: Drove up significantly‑‑
TIM FINCHEM: About a year and a half ago, if you talked to anybody who spends money in the advertising world, they always want to reach young people. So when they are studying any kind of programming or broadcast in sport, they want to know the extent which you’re reaching young people because it impacts their thought process as they grow.
We have now probably the best cadre of communicators from the professional sport to young people that we’ve ever had. These are players who can relate and do relate to young people through social media, through other digital forms.
But there are also players who the older part of the fan base really like watching play. When you consider that Tiger was really not a factor except a couple weeks last year, and the numbers did what they did, it’s just an affirmation that that’s the case.
I think this isn’t just new. This has been coming on for three or four years, and my personal theory on it is that if you take a Jordan Spieth, who was two or three years old when Tiger came out, who was eight years old when Golf Channel came along; so much golf became available online and through digital forms, that these young players are eight, nine and ten, the Lydia Ko’s of the world, start devouring the information.
And when they come to us now, they are much more knowledgeable about the players that came before them, about what the top players do, schedule‑wise, dress‑wise, their own marketing arrangements‑wise and charity‑wise, because charity is a huge thing on the PGA TOUR and most of the top players have their own charities and foundations.
And these players are confident. They are ready to go. They have had systematic development as good, young players, and it’s really changed the landscape that we are looking at. We are I think headed for a long period of parity with a lot of stars being developed, and in today’s world, you can become a star in a hurry; witness Jordan Spieth. And it’s a great thing.
I think that golf, as has been said here, the professional game is in exceptionally good shape, but I think the next ten years are the most exciting period that we’ll ever see up until this point in time. Just because of the depth and quality of the players from a golf standpoint and the way they prepare themselves and conduct themselves.
So it’s very, very encouraging. And that will also translate into getting more young people into the game. Keith’s statistics are echoed by the stats that we looked at in the National Golf Foundation in the United States. I think Top Golf has six to nine million visits in the United States last year and is growing. The National Golf Foundation indicates that there are 25 million people just in the United States who do other forms of golf, who don’t actually play the traditional game; they are at Topgolf, they are at simulators, they are at par 3s. And there’s 35 million people who don’t play the traditional game but want to.
So it’s also a challenge to bring the game to those numbers, how do you create the facilities. And that’s one of the head winds we have in the United States, because for 40 years, a lot of golf courses were built as a product of the housing industry, and that has really fallen away. That’s the one criticism in the media that I accept; it’s a real headwind. The other criticisms are just off‑base. There is so much interest in the game. We had ten million kids go through the First Tee Programme in the last ten years, so the interest is there. We just need to be able to harness it either through alternative means, as has been discussed with bringing more facilities to them, but these young players are going to drive that interest in a way that we haven’t seen before.
ANDREW COTTER: And Mike, you’re in a very interesting position, because obviously the LPGA Tour, firmly based in the US, but you have a sort of global selection box of stars because you have your Stacy Lewis’s, Lydia Ko. But also, you have your Inbee Park and you have a huge, huge number from Asia, from Korea in particular, Shanshan Feng from China, as well. So you have the ability to really spread the gospel around the globe.
MIKE WHAN: Yeah, on this topic of growth, as an industry, sometimes, you can get caught up in a year, in a region, in a rescission. There’s a reason why brands around the world try to go global, because when their brand is global, a falloff there could be off‑set there.
At the end of the day, if you really step back and think about golf 25 years ago and golf today, it’s a hundred per cent different. I mean, we are borderless today. We have strength all around the world. When our teams get together, we are talking about global opportunities. We’re not talking about opportunities in Dallas or Canada or the UK.
I think Tim’s leadership and the leadership that was there before I joined this group that brought golf to the Olympics has turned out to be a huge win. As Tim said, I hear the term “podium sport” all over the world where governments and agencies want to get involved in sports where their country might stand on a podium and quite frankly, I’ve just simply ridden that wave; that we want to make sure that young women all over the world strive to make it to the LPGA.
And when we were going global, I could talk about the LPGA, but I think golf probably at the same time. When you’re going global, there’s a lot of reasons to not enjoy it. There’s a lot of people telling you to go back because it’s kind of scary to go global. You make a lot of mistakes along the way. We are still trying to figure out expansion in different countries including China to really knock the lid off of this opportunity.
But I think if you just keep going, the other side of it is pretty great. 25 years ago if you would have told anybody at the LPGA that we would have players every week from 33 countries competing in every event, you would have thought they were nuts. If you would have told them that 175 countries would watch us every week on TV, impossible. We would have been excited to have two countries watching us on TV every week.
So what’s happening to golf is really what’s happened to a lot of our sponsors and brands. We’re going global and as a result of going global, our opportunities are in every market, not just one market reporting on how last year’s results are. You’re going to have recessions and economic growths in regions all the time. But the beauty of what’s happened and happening in golf is we are becoming so global that like other global brands, we won’t talk so much about regional blips and up and downs. We’ll talk about capturing opportunities and making sure the world is paying attention.
I was saying to Martin this morning that what’s exciting about the Olympics for women is I love watching the Olympics. I love watching kayaking and women’s gymnastics and things you wouldn’t normally watch. But after I watch them, I have to wait four years to watch them again. I really don’t get the opportunity to see them again.
What’s nice about golf is we’re going to showcase this sport to the world’s audience, and if you love it, we are all going to put it on TV next week and for the next 50 weeks afterwards.
So, we have an opportunity I think as a sport to capitalise in the Olympic movement like other sports simply can’t. They just don’t have the opportunity to put on their global sport week‑in and week‑out after the big week. In our case, we are going to have a big week and have an opportunity to bring them home for the 52 weeks after that.
ANDREW COTTER: Keith, is one of the biggest challenges for you, talking about representatives of the Tour, your biggest assets are your players. How big of a challenge is it to keep hold of the players? There’s been a trend, a bit of a slide from the very top players going across and trying to do both tours, sometimes it’s not easy. But for The European Tour to thrive it has to hold onto its very best players.
KEITH PELLEY: There is no question that our players are global. And many of our top players play in the US on the PGA TOUR, and quite honestly, that showcases them globally, as well.
I echo Tim’s comments in that we have a lot of young, great upcoming players. I think you’re seeing one emerge right now in 21‑year‑old Matthew Fitzpatrick who won the British Masters and, who performed well last week, and even this week at the Turkish Airlines. I think he’s 15th now in The Race to Dubai. And again, an unbelievable young man with great roots, great parents, understands how to promote the game. And he’ll be with us for the next three or four years (laughter).
ANDREW COTTER: Paws off (to Finchem).
KEITH PELLEY: There is no question that from our perspective, we work very closely with the PGA TOUR. Obviously that is something that has happened over time. There is no question that I would applaud everything the PGA TOUR has done in terms of developing a very sophisticated, robust tour.
We have some great opportunities ahead of us, so stay tuned.
ANDREW COTTER: Could you see the rules being relaxed‑‑ I know exception was made for Rory McIlroy with his football‑related injuries. But could you see it bringing it down to fewer tournaments, or would you just not want to‑‑
KEITH PELLEY: I think what you do, Andrew, is we’re a member’s organisation. So I’m in the midst of talking to all our members, and you really ‑‑ it’s very important to understand that it’s just not about the elite players. It’s the elite, medium and low‑ranked players. I’m in the midst of doing a listening and learning session with all of our players.
Obviously eligibility rules is something that often comes up. We talk about it. And I will continue to talk about it over the next couple of weeks with some of the key players here this week and in Dubai. It’s something that you’ll always be reviewing.
The bottom line from our perspective is we have 47 tournaments in 27 different countries in four regions of the world. They are all growing. The prize purses are growing. The participation is growing. Our stars are growing. I believe that we are incredibly healthy right now and we only have one way to go and that’s up. And I believe that we’ll continue to provide viable alternatives to the PGA TOUR for our European players.
But make no mistake about it: They are no longer European players, PGA players. They are global players and we encourage our players to play globally.
ANDREW COTTER: Global players; do you see the PGA TOUR perhaps, Tim, becoming a more global tour, certainly last week, playing in Malaysia, European Tour has a lot of tournaments in Asia already. Is that somewhere that you would like to see develop in PGA TOUR terms?
TIM FINCHEM: You know, it’s a tough one because we have excellent markets in the United States and great sponsors. We don’t see ourselves going on a direction to play a lot outside the United States in terms of number of events.
What we’ve done is fairly selective and strategic. We did PGA TOUR China specifically to help develop elite players in China. Hopefully get them to the Olympic level. We bring the national team over to Florida every year for the last five years to train and we play matches against good college university teams.
Same thing in South America. We would like to see a gravitation to more players from South America to the United States. But that’s the only part of the world where we feel that way. We actually would be more interested in helping develop the strength of tours outside the United States so there’s a better balance.
In the long term, it really doesn’t help grow the game if the players from South Africa, Australia, wherever, all migrate to the United States. That makes the professional game in those areas most difficult. It’s a challenge for Europe, too. We don’t know exactly what the solution is, but over time we would like to see a balanced competitive environment where aspects of it come together in different ways.
And I’ve said publically a number of times in the last ten years, I think the way to get there is for a more global focus between the golf tours and organisations, and a lot has been discussed in that regard. So we’ll see what develops.
But our event in Southeast Asia was to do exactly what it’s done, be a strong beacon in Southeast Asia for what can happen with growth. But we don’t see adding. We have a full schedule. We’re comfortable with our schedule. We put enough pressure on some of the other tours. We’d like to be going forward even more collaborative.
KEITH PELLEY: Let’s be honest, if we were to be really candid, Tim and the PGA TOUR have done a terrific job of creating consistent prize purses. And if you’re a young up‑and‑coming golfer, the way to make the most money is to move to the PGA TOUR.
And there is no doubt that we are not going to be able to duplicate that week over week based on even just the size of the golf market in Europe and some of the other areas that we compete in versus 60 per cent of the golfers in America.
But we do need to raise our prize purses and that’s something that we need to then provide a great value proposition for sponsors going forward. And as Mike alluded to, when he came into the LPGA, he had great people to pick pin placements. We have a tremendous amount of people that can tell you the speed of the greens.
Again, that is an area that we need to focus on because we are going to need to raise prize purses so that some of our players are encouraged to stay here a little bit more often.
ANDREW COTTER: I mentioned obviously there are quite a few European Tour events already played in Asia. Can you see a time, and some co‑sanctioned events, as well, can you see a closer tie between The European Tour and Asian tour.
KEITH PELLEY: I think we have a natural extension with The Asian Tour. We have been involved with them for 16 years. We are obviously in an exclusive negotiation period, and a confidential period at that, so I won’t comment on that too much.
But there is no question that although we are a European Tour, as far as name goes, we are really a global tour as far as the reality of where our tournaments are. Again, 47 tournaments in 27 different countries. And Asia is a critical part of us. We have two major events here in China. The third one obviously being the partnership with HSBC and the other Golf Federations.
But Asia is definitely a growth area for us and certainly a key area that we are looking closely at.
ANDREW COTTER: Martin, let’s come to the exciting topic of equipment, because this is something Peter Dawson used to roll his eyes at whenever the reining back of the golf ball was talked about or Coefficient of Restitutions ‑‑ or was it Coefficients of Restitution? I don’t know what the plural of that would be.
But is the golf ball, can that be ‑‑ everybody says, look, if you could bring lots of the old courses back to where they were, you don’t need to extend courses or put new bunkers in there, if you just rein back the golf ball a little bit. Is that possible at all to decrease distances in the game now?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You talk about the Coefficient of Restitution, I must say, it takes me back to my engineering university days and some of the conversations we have.
Then there’s the basic facts and there’s the discussion around it. And the basic fact is we monitor very closely, not just new equipment that’s coming out, but the hitting distances of all three of these tours, as well as the amateur game, as well.
We are very open and transparent as a group around those numbers. And since 2003, it has not moved that much. What we are seeing at the moment is a fairly consistent percentage, which has been consistent for about the last five years, of some tremendous athletes who are hitting the ball further than the average.
But the percentage of them is unchanged for the last five years. And the average on the Tour is a lot less than most people in the media talk about. The average, and it only has moved three or four yards in the last ten years.
So, no, we are not ‑‑ there is no burning desire on our part to make any changes on that. And I think, you know, I’m a great believer we need to celebrate and enjoy the talents we are seeing on the TV every week, whether it’s in the ladies game or the men’s game. Sometimes I sort of think, if you think about it in terms of athletics, you’ve got one of the greatest sprinters this planet has ever seen at the moment running the 100 metres but you don’t see their sport talk about slowing down the track or making it 110 metres because he’s too good.
So let’s enjoy the fact that we have got some wonderful players playing at the moment. And the averages aren’t moving that much. In the amateur game, it’s a difficult game as it is. I think the amateur game doesn’t need to be made any harder.
KEITH PELLEY: Isn’t that a ludicrous statement? Don’t people like to see people hit it 350 in when you look back at the U.S. Open this year and 17 when Dustin Johnson hit that drive, everybody loved to see it. It’s amazing. I have been around athletes for 25 years. I’ve never experienced what I’ve experienced in the last ten weeks. These are unbelievable, personable, fantastic ambassadors for our game, but most importantly, they can do what us mere mortals can’t do.
And everybody likes to see the skill, and I think we should applaud the skill. And I love to see ‑‑ I love to see somebody hit it 325, 350 and hit a driver ‑‑
ANDREW COTTER: Come watch me hit my 3‑iron afterwards.
KEITH PELLEY: I think it’s terrific.
TIM FINCHEM: Could I just toss in there, a couple things. One, I’ll just underline it again: The professional game is as strong as it’s ever been. So if that’s the case, you don’t try to find ways to change things competitively.
I do think that if we get to a point where 75 per cent of the field are hitting it where Dustin would hit it, who are phenoms, and it gets a little boring, and we start to see signs that it’s affecting the reception of the sport or the integrity of the sport, then that’s a different matter. But right now, I agree totally. We shouldn’t do anything.
I will just make this side comment; that I think the USGA and the R&A in the last few years have been exceedingly positive from an openness standpoint. They are totally transparent in terms of their thinking in these areas. I think that’s extremely helpful, and going forward ‑‑ because this is a situation where the professional game continues down the path where they don’t control the rules of the game.
But we have enough input and enough dialogue and enough cooperation, enough understanding of everybody’s viewpoint where I don’t really see any big challenges in that regard. And that has not always been the case.
So, my hat’s off to the R&A and the USGA for being as open as they are right now.
ANDREW COTTER: I’m tempted to say Coefficient of Restitution just to see the translator’s box explode in the corner. There’s no translation for Coefficients of Restitutions; smoke coming out of it, as well.
Can we close by going through where would you like to see the respective tours, and, indeed, the game be in five years’ time, ten years’ time? Seems it’s in fairly robust health according to the statements over the last hour, but where would you like to see the PGA TOUR be in five years’ time or ten years?
TIM FINCHEM: I think we’d like to continue to grow the impact in communities where we play. We were going down a path where we have longer‑term commitments from our sponsors. We’re averaging about eight years out now. We have a good number at ten. And that is a very positive sign of the marketplace, so we’d like to increase that.
But I think overriding right now in the next five years or ten years is we’d like to maximise the impact the young players can have using digital media to connect to fans, to draw a closer nexus between the fans interest and the younger players. And there’s a hundred different ways to do that.
We’re announcing something on that tomorrow, a new programme here in China. So we’d like to spend more energy and resources in a one‑to‑one relationship with the fan. We think that will create positive dividends down the road.
And then we’d like to make progress in talking to the other tours about what golf should be on a global standpoint in ten years, and there’s lots of different ideas in that regard. But I think we’re prepared to put more energy into those discussions regardless of where they lead, to determine whether there’s a better way to build that mouse trap.
ANDREW COTTER: And Keith, you’ve said you expect The European Tour to grow significantly over the next few years. How is that going to happen and where do you expect it to grow?
KEITH PELLEY: Well, I obviously can’t give you all the strategic initiatives, first of all, because I don’t have them all. Having been here less than three months.
I will say that ‑‑ and it’s been an interesting couple of months, based on everybody has constantly said, you’re now working in the golf business. And I don’t see it that way and haven’t seen it that way. And it kind of plays to what Tim was talking about.
We’re in the content business and we’re in the entertainment business, and we’re a content entertainment company, and our players happen to be our theatre and our stars and our actors. And I think that the game will thrive over the next five years if we can make those stars global and continue and understand that all of us are a members‑first organisation. We all have a players‑first philosophy.
And as Tim mentioned, we now have an unbelievable opportunity with some of the youth that are just hitting the ball so far. They can get up‑and‑down from almost anywhere and they can now communicate that, and when you look at somebody like Justin Rose and how robust his social media commitment is; that is the way for him to engage with the youth.
And I come back and I look at so much through my 12‑year‑old, and he engages with all of the pros via social, and all his friends do. And whether it be on Instagram and so forth.
And I believe we have an unbelievable opportunity working closer together to even make this even more of a global game than it already has. The Olympics will help. But what we really have is we are in the content business with the greatest ambassadors, which are our athletes, who do something special week‑after‑week.
ANDREW COTTER: Martin, do you have a Twitter account, I don’t know, not sure, you’re looking as if you’re not sure what Twitter is.
What would you like to see from the next five years to ten? Diversity is a big thing for the R&A, as well. It’s not just getting certain type of people involved in the game. It’s about getting all people involved in the game.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think I’m the first R&A executive to have a Twitter account. Doesn’t get used very often but I do have one.
I think the subtext of what these three gentlemen were talking about, which I find so encouraging and so exciting, is two phrases that they have used. One is global. I think it’s fantastic to hear the game being talked about in that context.
And secondly, it’s a game becoming a sport. The tournament at the professional level, it’s already a sport. And I think that when we look at the younger people today and the values that younger people have, I think they more closely associate it as a sport. It may to some feel semantic, but actually I think it’s fundamental. And I’m very encouraged by that and we will continue to help push that down into the amateur game, as well.
But the key thing I would like to see happen over the next five years is that the game becomes more accessible, more affordable, and some focus on facilities so that it generally becomes a people’s game.
ANDREW COTTER: And Mike, closing remarks, fitting, as well, as sort of guardian of the women’s professional game in the United States, but again, around the globe with your stars from Asia, as well, that must be a real source of pride for you that women, that young girls can take up the game and see your stars as role models.
MIKE WHAN: Yeah, it’s funny when you use the term guardian of the game. I think on the women’s side, my job as guard is to look the other way and leave the gate open. Because I think we want to just keep seeing this game become more and more borderless. I was thinking about your comment about five years. Back in 2010, if you asked me where we want to be at the end of 2015, I would have under‑shot. So I almost fear laying out five‑year goals because I don’t want us to think too small.
But I’ll give you one specific example that I would like to see take off. A couple years ago, we introduced a new tournament called the International Crown, and it came from ‑‑ John Solheim is here. And the Solheim Cup on the women’s side, which is essentially the women’s equivalent of The Ryder Cup, is about our biggest showcase event for women’s sports in terms of viewership, on‑site fans and just love of the game watching players play for country.
So we introduced a new concept called the International Crown and we had three basic premises: One is we wanted to make sure countries played for countries; not regions, not rest of world, not made‑up flags. We wanted anthems, painted faces and flags.
The second thing we decided is we weren’t going to have a selection committee. There was not going to be anybody got together in a room and came out and said, these are the countries that get in. And we wanted to make sure that the event could evolve as the women’s game evolves.
So in our first event in 2014, we essentially ‑‑ what we do at the end of every year is we take the top four players from every country in the world, and we add those four players World Rankings together, and that combination ranking gives you a country rank. And the best eight ranked countries in the world get in, and over the course of four days they play against each country and we crown one country the International Crown winner.
What’s really cool, in our second time, we’ll be playing next summer. You’ll be seeing that some countries are in and some countries are out that were in it in 2014. I really hope that when we get to 2020, 2022, 2024, maybe five, six, even seven countries have exchanged in and out of there. Because as these countries grow their women’s golf programmes, as these women strive and reach the stop level of the game, they are going to engage not only young girls, but they will engage country pride.
And I think the International Crown will be another, on the women’s side, another opportunity like the Olympics where the countries can have incredible pride in the sport, not this game, but in this sport. And that pride tends to lead to ‑‑ 0and we’ve seen it in the women’s game now for 20 years. That pride, that success, that growth, leads to a lot more young girls grabbing a golf club for the first time.
So, I’m hoping the International Crown can be another Olympics to kind of spur growth all around the world.
ANDREW COTTER: Thank you very much and thank you very much to all of you. A privilege to have all four of you together to chat about all aspects of the professional game and the game of golf in general.
To the Guardians of the Game, a round of applause, please for Tim Finchem, Keith Pelley, Martin Slumbers and Mike Whan.