We are a golf marketing firm specializing in communications, strategy, products and services


Friday, September 29, 2017

Sand Valley - America's Next Great Golf Resort

It's a long way from Milwaukee and even farther from Chicago....but, it's a whole lot easier to get to Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin than Bandon Dunes in Oregon. And I guarantee you will have just as much fun. Granted you won't see the ocean, but that's a small price to pay, as this new resort, created by Mike Keiser and his team and managed by Kemper Sports is magnificent.
There is currently one course open, Sand Valley, with the second, Mammoth Dunes, opening next year. When we visited, nine holes of Mammoth were open and we snuck a look at the other nine too. Mammoth is bigger and bolder, but essentially it's over the same piece of property, so like Bandon Dunes the bar room debate will rage about which is the best course.

There's room for several other courses and no doubt that is in the works as the property seems to go on and on as far as the eye can see. Actually a third course, the par 3 course does have six holes open and despite playing off mats was great fun. We found the holes to be almost too short and hopefully when all 17 holes are open the tees will be a little further back and I'm assured they will stretch to more than a wedge. We enjoyed the bunker homage to the Devil's you know what at the 17th. Here I am playing out of it.
We stayed in the clubhouse rooms and these have the luxury of having the putting green right outside the door and easy access to the restaurant and bar. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with lightning fast wi-fi and fabulous showers. After dinner we were blessed with a warm, clear evening for late night putting to LED lit holes. The opportunity to actually see the Milky Way is not something our city group often has and we did more looking up than looking at the golf holes. We were all a little surprised that the putting green didn't more accurately reflect the greens on the golf course - it's flat and nondescript. They would sell a whole lot more beer with a Himalayas style green and there is plenty of room to do it.

On arrival at the first tee of Sand Valley, guests are greeted by a delightful little rustic shack called Craig's Porch. This services the 1st and 10th holes and is staffed by delightful Wisconsinites serving good and very reasonably priced food. This includes an item that is already making noises - Nye's Ice Cream sandwiches. I managed one on the first and tenth on both rounds and my favorite was raspberry cheesecake. If I lived in Wisconsin I would be considerably larger than I am now - these people have great comfort food!

Sand Valley is designed by the magical duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and has their distinctive fingerprints all over it - large landing areas, a number of central hazards and greens designed to baffle. Miss the fairway and you will have no trouble finding your ball - our group didn't lose a ball in 36 holes - but you will be challenged with your next shot. The par 3s, in particular are wonderful and a couple are reminiscent of Pine Valley. The par 5's give you a solid opportunity to make birdie if you are sensible, act your age and play off the orange tees. We did look at the black tees, but really, we were there to have fun and despite the fact that we can all play a bit we still opted to play up and enjoy the game. A couple of the caddies mentioned that high handicaps feel like they are getting their money's worth playing all the way back, which is possibly the craziest thing I have ever heard! Move a tee forward people and enjoy hitting a wedge into the greens and not a 6 iron. That's what Coore and Crenshaw want you to do! (okay, I'm off my soapbox now)

Next year, Mammoth Dunes designed by David McLay Kidd will open in earnest. Yes, the dunes are bigger and this course does have the luxury of starting and finishing by the clubhouse. We collectively wondered why the second course had this premium position even though it was the second course and couldn't find a good answer from anyone. Rather like Sand Hills, the original Coore and Crenshaw masterpiece, a very short bus ride is required to get to the first tee at Sand Valley and also to return from the 18th.

So, there you have it, America's next great golf resort, Sand Valley. A return to firm and fast golf, classic style architecture, friendly people, good food, fun and knowledgeable caddies and gorgeous night skies.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Justin Rose - A Class Act

There was a time when I could beat Justin Rose on the golf course. Okay, he was 11 and I was 30 but who’s counting! When we met at North Hants Golf Club, Justin was shorter than the flagstick.

Justin grew up playing much of his golf at North Hants Golf Club. The club is in Fleet, Hampshire, about 30 miles south west of London. It was built in 1904 by James Braid on classic heathland and shares many characteristics of its more famous neighbors, Sunningdale and Swinley Forest. North Hants was a wonderful course to grow up on, as I did, and although not long it taught you to keep the ball in play and favor the left side. The heather was punishing and with the main Waterloo train line in play on 15, 16 and 17 you were well advised to keep it straight and true.

Justin could be found on the back of the North Hants range most days being coached by his wonderful father, Ken. Even in those days Justin was well mannered, respectful and quietly determined. Both Ken and Annie, his mother, spent countless hours driving Justin around the home counties to play in junior and senior events. As you might imagine, he had great success at these events representing his county (equivalent of state) and GB&I in the Walker Cup as a 17-year old. His amateur trophy collection also includes the St Andrews Links Trophy, English Boys Stroke Play Championship and the Peter McEvoy Trophy.

It was in 1998 that Justin shot to world-wide prominence with his performance in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. A fabulous 66 in the second round shot him up the field into tied second place and headline writers jumped into action - “Rose Blooms”, “Blooming Rose”, “Early Bloom”, “Late Bloomer”. You name it, they wrote it! His fine play continued through the third and fourth rounds, holding his young game together when many others would have cracked.

In the final round, coming to the 18th hole, Justin was in 7th place and with the weight of the British golf public and media on his back he famously holed out from 50 yards over the left-hand bunkers for birdie to finish tied 4th. He memorably raised his hands to the sky in an old Reebok sweater that had seen better days!

And so, it began! The next day Justin turned professional and, unfortunately, didn’t sign with our agency! To most observer’s surprise, he played the following week in the Dutch Open and then the week after that and the week after that. It’s well documented that he missed 21 cuts in a row on the European Tour. I would see him at North Hants most weekends during that time and, despite the disappointment and the pressure, he remained positive and confident that it would turn around. Even with this adversity, Justin earned his Tour card the following year. Also, that year, the sports marketing agency I worked for bought the agency Justin had signed with. And so, for a couple of years I had the pleasure of working with him, signing some solid endorsement deals and getting to know him on a professional level as well as continuing our personal friendship. As his stock rose, so bigger agencies became more interested, including one who made him a financial guarantee our smaller agency could not compete with. No, this wasn’t the movie Jerry Maguire where I learned this news from someone else. Justin called me and said let’s travel together to the next event as I need to discuss something with you. He told me about the deal, the numbers and asked me what I thought. I told him it was too good to turn down and we couldn’t write that kind of check, so take the deal. It was tough to see him move agencies, but it was the right move for him and the way that Justin handled it showed his strength of character and class.

Since that time, Justin’s career has truly blossomed (see, even I can do it!) with 23 professional wins on all the six continents on which golf is played. In addition, he has had extraordinary Ryder Cup successes on four European teams. Of these tournament wins, a couple stand out and have establish Justin in the big league of world players capable of winning on the biggest stages.

The first was at Merion Golf Club, the Pennsylvania gem designed by Hugh Wilson. This was the scene of Justin’s first major victory in 2013. His final round play against Phil Mickelson was outstanding and he became the first Englishman for 43 years to achieve the feat. His long iron play during the week can only be described as legendary.

For the second tournament, I was driving to Atlanta listening to golf on the radio – few things are quite as exciting as that right? It was the last day of the 72-hole 2016 Olympics golf event in Rio and Justin was tied with Henrik Stenson coming down the last hole. Once again, my nerves were in shreds as I listened to the commentary of the 18th hole pitches from Henrik and Justin that would decide the gold and silver medals. On this occasion, Justin prevailed with a deft pitch and putt for birdie and became the first Olympic golf champion since 1904.

In closing, let me talk about this year’s Masters Tournament and another stellar performance by Justin. Like many, I thought his name was on the trophy, but it was not to be. An incredible back nine by Sergio and a wayward play-off tee shot by Justin proved to be his undoing in his continuing quest for the green jacket. It was a great win for Sergio, but I was genuinely upset for Justin. No one watching could fail to have been impressed by the sportsmanship shown by both players. The genuine warmth shown for each other was apparent and real. For Justin, in defeat, to exhibit this emotion was extraordinary and the mark of the man.      

It’s a pleasure to have worked with Justin and I am honored to call him my friend. It’s rare in professional sports to witness a combination of sheer talent, integrity and grace. Justin, you are class act.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tommy's Honour - A Golf Movie to Savor

Like many of you, I read Tommy's Honour by Kevin Cook many years ago. It tells the tale of the legendary father and son Morris duo, Old Tom and Young Tom. They were pioneers of the game of golf in the 1860s and 1870s and between them won when an extraordinary eight Open Championships.

The movie of the book is due out next month and, as we all know, many so called authentic golf movies prove to be anything but, with awful golf swings, inappropriate golf dialogue and cringe making historical context. Tommy's Honour is different. It pulls off the golf elements in style and the story moves forward with pace. I hope it is a huge success for the game of golf and also for my friend, Keith Bank who had the vision to bring the book to the screen.

I had the chance to sit down with Keith at the recent PGA Merchandise Show. I asked him about the process and he patiently explained that it is threefold - time consuming, costly and the chances of success are slim. Well, that sounds like most things that are really worth doing. And Keith along with great support managed to pull it off. He's been in the movie business before, 28 years ago, and swore he would never do it again, but this wonderful story proved too much for the enthusiastic golfer to resist. He spent more than three years raising the money and then set about putting together the dream team to bring the story to life. The director is Jason Connery (Sean Connery's son) and the lead actors include one of my personal favorites, Sam Neill. The attention to detail, so sadly lacking in most golf movies is evident here. Keith's team even built a couple of rugged looking golf holes to accentuate the authenticity and had the actors work with bona fide golf teachers to keep the golf swings looking real. The extreme effort and long, long hours have paid off! If you are a golfer and have an interest in the great history of the game, you owe it to yourself to know Old and Young Tom's story. I would also say that non-golfers will enjoy the drama, the love story and the story telling of this magnificent period piece.
Keith Bank
Prior to the WGC Dell Matchplay on March 25th, NBC is airing a 30-minute segment about Tommy's Honour. Included within the segment is a piece featuring Jordan Spieth and his father dressed in full 19th century clothing playing with hickories - sounds like more fun than the WGC! The Golf Channel will also be screening the piece, so look out for that. In the meanwhile, here's the preview.
The movie premieres on March 27th in three cities with the benefits going to The First Tee. The movie then opens in 32 cities across 137 screens. Tommy's Honour comes out on general release in the US on April 14th. The official website is here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

MacDuff's Top Eight Picks from the PGA Merchandise Show

My annual tradition continued as I walked (and walked) around the unforgiving, cavernous Orange County Convention Center at the PGA Merchandise Show, so you didn't have to! Drum roll, here's our Top Five from The PGA Merchandise Show. Oh, and there's a bonus company or three well worth looking into.

1. Callaway Golf - New Drivers. It was an epic Callaway launch for sure, but was the club epic? Well yes, but at the same time the marketing folks are going to confuse the heck out of people. There are actually two GBB EPIC drivers and both have green trim and from the top look very similar. One has a slightly deeper face and the other is slightly broader looking from the top. The deeper face driver has a movable sliding weight and the other one has two weights on the bottom that can be changed. Okay, so what's the problem? Well, literally the only branding that differentiates the drivers is the word "sub zero" in a tiny font on the hosel that I defy anyone under the age of 40 to be able to read! Why not just add the words Sub Zero to the sole and be done? It's just trying to be too cool and it doesn't work. So, despite this minor criticism, the "sliding weight" GBB EPIC, i.e. not the Sub Zero is gorgeous and feels fantastic. Read More Here.

2. Dormie Workshop - Leather Head Covers. I know, I know, more leather head covers! Aren't there already a ton of companies making leather covers? Yes, there are, but none like these. Have a look below at just a few of the funky options made by the likable Canadian company started by the Bishop brothers in Nova Scotia. Read More Here.

3. Fifty Fifty - Insulated bottles. You have seen insulated hot/cold bottles before, but I thought these would be great for golf. They are rugged, come in great colors, have a large mouth, so you can fit in ice and have a terrific carrying handle. We all need to drink more water when playing golf and they look like they will survive the rigors of numerous kid soccer and basketball practices too! Read More Here.

4. Signs by the Sea - Signage and Accessories. I'm a little biased, because our Links Candles Company already works with SBTS. They created our point of sale material and did an amazing job. Their team creates unique, handmade pieces for member guest events, pro shops and they are coming up with cool and unique items on a regular basis. And they are the nicest people! Read More Here.

5. Volvik - Golf Balls -  I know what you are thinking - Bubba and pink golf balls. I was thinking the same, but I must say the new VIVID golf balls in high intensity colors look terrific. They are three piece balls and perhaps better suited to lower swing speeds, but I'm still read to try them and hopefully love them. Read More Here.

PLUS 3 Bonus Picks - EvnRoll, H & B and Itobori
6. EvnRoll - Putters - This is Guerin Rife's new company and his putters feature a new groove system that creates an amazing roll and actually helps keep the ball on line. Trust me, I was skeptical too, but the technology really works and there was a real buzz on the booth. Read More Here.

7. Holderness & Bourne - Apparel - The two gents who are the H and B, Alex Holderness and John Bourne continue their well-planned progress in the golf business. They have created "modern classics" in apparel and luggage and I can attest to the high quality having worn and washed their clothing for over a year. Read More Here.

8. Itobori - Clubs This one is way out in left field, but I loved the look of these ultra-premium Japanese forgings. I couldn't really figure out if they were art or clubs as they were displayed as you see below. The heads alone will set you back $380 each. Oh, and then you'll need a shaft and a grip, so figure on $500 + per iron. But, you will have the coolest clubs bar none! Read More Here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Top Tips to Survive (and Thrive) at the PGA Merchandise Show

The PGA Merchandise Show is imminent and everyone in the golf business is frantically printing, packing and making meetings for O Town. It is the time to meet old friends, make new ones and take a look at the 2017 lines of the major hard and soft goods manufacturers as well as the up and comers. This year there will be no Nike Golf hard goods, no PXG and we'll observe a changing golf media landscape. So here we go with my Top 10 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) at the PGA Merchandise Show.
1. Wear comfortable shoes...this is no time to break in your FootJoy teaching shoes
2. Don't sell on other people's booths. They have spent thousands on the space and months preparing for the show - it's just not cool. 
3. Drink plenty of water. Monster Energy drinks are not going to help your hydration! There are water fountains and it may well be the only free thing in the cavernous Orange County Convention Center (OCCC).
4. If you want to do business, dress appropriately. Smart casual is perfect and don't pretend you are Ricky Fowler.
5. Eat a good breakfast at your hotel because the food in the OCCC is like a hot dog in a movie theater...overcooked and overpriced. I did find Chick-fil-A last year, so that's a step up from previous years. The queues were monstrous, so eat early or late!
6. Be very specific about where to meet your appointment. Pick a booth (and a specific location on the big booths) so you maximize the chance to actually find the person you are meeting.
7. Be prepared to stand and talk. There is nowhere to sit down in the OCCC. My annual note to the organizers; people are here to meet, so you may want to invest in some chairs.
8. It's a long way from the 1000 aisle to the 6000 aisle so don't make three appointments in 60 minutes in three locations. It's like trying to get from uptown to downtown in Manhattan at 4:00 p.m.
9. Be patient. Everyone is busy and often running a few minutes behind. Whether you are buying or selling they will come.
10. Take some time to wander the floor. Go see the New Products section and marvel at the entrepreneurial spirit in our business.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Custom Club Candles - Perfect for Your Club

We have been having fun with Links Candles, the project my 12 year old daughter, Lily and I started. Our latest iteration, Custom Club Candles is specifically for clubs looking for gift items or for their member guest tournaments. Here's all you need to know - you can download the PDF here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The 2017 Majors Venues

As the snow descends on the ground here in DC, it's time to think about the golf season ahead and in particular the four major championships. There are a couple of new venues in the mix with Erin Hills in Wisconsin and Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

April 6-9
The Masters, Augusta National, GA
There really is nothing left to say about ANGC that hasn't been said, although the press will try hard as they do each year - it's their job after all! The traditional golf season opener is always magical on one of the greatest venues on the world's stage.
June 15-18
U.S. Open, Erin Hills, WI
I played Erin Hills when it was new a few years ago and at the time if you had told me it was going to host a U.S. Open in future, I would have asked you for a drug test! In the ensuing years, it has undergone a renovation and looks ready for its big test. 
July 20-23
The Open Championship, Royal Birkdale, Southport, England
One of the great links golf courses in the world and the site of Padraig Harrington's 2008 victory. Birkdale is in an area of outstanding golf in the north west of the UK. It's neighbors include Southport and Ainsdale, Hoylake, Formby, Royal Lytham, Wallesey and more.
August 17-20
USPGA, Quail Hollow Club, NC
Built in 1961 by George Cobb, but somehow it looks more modern, due to modifications by Arnold Palmer and then Tom Fazio's redesign in 1997. You'll be familiar with the club from the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour.