I met with Cathy Harbin at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January, 2012. At the time, Cathy was the Executive Director of “Golf 20/20,” a successful program that has introduced thousands of people to the game of golf. After learning that Cathy had been interviewed by one of the golf industry’s most influential bloggers, she was deluged with job offers from around the world. Cathy decided to leave “Golf 20/20″ for an executive position at ClubCorp USA. Good luck, Madam Vice President!
Golf Conversations: I have to admit, I’m a little confused. There’s “Golf 20/20”, there’s “Golf 2.0”, there’s all kinds of twos and zeros floating around regarding growing the game of golf. So please, tell me what you do…
Cathy Harbin: Enlighten you?
GC: Yes, please. Enlighten me.
CH: “Golf 20/20” is my gig. I’m the Executive Director of “Golf 20/20” and have been for about three years. “Golf 20/20” was formed in 2000.
GC: More twos and zeros!
CH: The intent was to increase awareness and participation in the game of golf. We have been fairly successful during that time period. The question might get asked, “We still see this decline, how successful have you been?”
The answer to that is, “What if we hadn’t been out there trying to do what we’re doing? Maybe the decline would have been greater.”
Again, the intent was to try to introduce programs to golf courses across the country that actually helped golf courses generate new players and new rounds. We’ve had different programs that have worked for different facilities.
In November of 2008, “Golf 20/20” introduced one program. We said: “This is the program that everyone should use to bring people into the game.” And that program is called “Get Golf Ready in 5 Days.” So for three full years now, we’ve been promoting and running this program, “Get Golf Ready in 5 Days.” It’s been highly successful.
GC: “Get Golf Ready in 5 Days.” I like the sound of that. I wish they’d had that program in 1993 when I took up the game. I entered into a different program: “Get Golf Ready in 19 Years.”
CH: The PGA of America has been very involved in the program; they run the infrastructure of the web site. We did a study through the National Golf Foundation about a year and a half ago. We wanted to find out, “Hey, are we making any difference? Are there really people out there who want to play golf or are we dreaming this?”
CH: Or are we spinning our wheels trying to get new people in the game when the general public is saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We did what we called a “latent demand study.”
GC: My therapist says I’ve got that.
CH: The study came back and the sample size was over three years – 40,000 people.
GC: For you folks keeping track at home, that’s 10,000 foursomes.
CH: It came back that there were 27 million people who said they’re either “very or somewhat interested” in playing golf.
CH: Another 50 million said they’re “mildly interested” but we just focused on the 27 million. And there’s 150 million that said “we don’t have any interest at all.”
GC: And then there are 200 million who said, “I’m very interested in searching for lost balls while Blumenthal watches me from the fairway.”
But seriously, those are some good stats.
CH: Good numbers. So it answered that question.
GC: “Get Golf Ready” is doing well. Good for you.
CH: It answered the question: “Do people even care about playing the game?” So three years later, what we can track is that players are staying in the game: 80% of the graduates are staying in the game in the first year. 75% the second year, and around 65% the third year. Not only that, but they’re playing a lot of golf.
CH: Which is great. We define a “core golfer” as someone who plays 8+ rounds a year. An “avid golfer” is 25+ rounds. Every single year, the students have played somewhere between 10 and 14 rounds of golf.
GC: And how is the “Get Golf Ready” program promoted? How do people find out about it? Especially people who know nothing about golf.
CH: We focused on a grass roots marketing campaign. You’re familiar with the expression, “All politics is local”? Well, all marketing for this program is locally driven. So far we have 1800 certified facilities. We’ve been a little cautious about going national and getting people excited and not having facilities in their area yet.
We’re working with the PGA Tour also. I think a lot of people say, “Why do a PSA with the PGA Tour; you’re already speaking with golfers”?
GC: PSA? Are you talking about that prostate test?
CH: Public Service Announcement! There are a lot of people – somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million people – who watch golf and don’t play.
GC: And who finances all of the marketing and administration costs?
CH: It’s an industry-wide program. We have about 65 investors from the industry. All the manufacturers, golf course management companies, and individuals have contributed to it. It runs the gamut of people that have a stake in the industry.
GC: The beverage cart girls, too?
So you need to do fundraising, obviously.
GC: Is this an ongoing thing, always trying to get someone to write a check for you?
CH: Well, we ask for three-year pledges.
GC: Get enough for three years and then come back three years later?
CH: Yes. It lets us put the fundraising behind us and focus on running the program.
GC: No wonder I can’t make a nickel from this damn web site. I’m not asking for the money upfront!
CH: The good news is that in three years, the participants are spending an extra $900 after they graduate for equipment and more rounds of golf. So we can track the additional revenue to the industry: $61.3 million. Those are hard numbers that people have reported to us. No extrapolation. So the program’s working.
GC: Extrapolation? Keep it clean, Cathy.
CH: It took me a while to learn the word. And now I have to use it!
GC: Use it? I’d like to hear you spell it!
I was reading a little bit about the “Get Golf Ready” program. It’s 99 bucks?
GC: For 5 lessons?
CH: Yup. “Fun, fast and affordable.” That’s our motto.
GC: That’s a great deal. I’d like to forget everything I’ve learned about golf and start over again for 99 bucks!
CH: Did you ever see that show where they wave a wand in front of you and you forget everything you knew before that? That’s what you need.
GC: Oh, man, I’d love one of those! They should be selling one of those down on the convention floor here. If they can convince golfers to wear ion bracelets to give them energy, why not a magic wand that makes you forget every golf tip you’ve ever heard?
CH: The golf magazines and the videos are ok. Just don’t listen to your buddies.
GC: Well, that goes without saying!
Anyway, so when you boil it down, “Golf 20/20” is really the “Get Golf Ready” program?
CH: Currently, it is. That’s the main focus.
GC: So it has nothing to do with your eyesight?
CH: It does not! You can wear glasses and be in the program.
GC: So who is behind Golf 2.0?
CH: The industry as a whole. It’s being led by the PGA of America, but the industry is totally supporting it: National Golf Course Owners, LPGA, Club Managers Association, Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, World Golf Foundation are all behind what Golf 2.0 is doing. It’s a very strategic way to increase participation in golf.
GC: But they’re not saying to “Golf 20/20”, “You guys should come in with us and let us administer this?”
CH: The Get Golf Ready Program, we are actually moving that over to Golf 2.0. And “Golf 20/20” will still do what it does: our mission is to incubate programs. To try them out, pilot them, then hand them off to the association most likely to be able to successfully run them in the future. We did that with the National School Program.
GC: So you’re doing other things besides Get Golf Ready?
GC: You’re experimenting with other things.
CH: Yes, trying to find that magical thing that’s really going to make a difference in increasing participation.
GC: Well, this is your lucky day, Cathy.
CH: Oh, good.
GC: Because I have a new program that you guys can test.
CH: I want to hear it. I’m ready!
GC: Ok. First of all, if you decide to do this, we’re not using any twos or zeros. No two-oh this, two-point that.
There are 77 million dog owners in this country. And you told me before that you’re a dog lover.
GC: If you could have brought your dog to the convention today, would you have done so?
GC: I have a dog also. We take him to restaurants. We take him to the bank, the dry cleaner, to Lowe’s. Dog lovers love going places with their dogs.
CH: You’re correct.
GC: As you may know, in England, Scotland, and Ireland … many golf courses allow you to bring your dog with you. US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, when he’s back home, he’s walking the course with his dog.
CH: On a leash or not on a leash?
GC: I think in his case, not on a leash. I don’t think he’s on a leash.
CH: You could be right.
GC: When I go to the driving range at home, I’ll bring my dog, Wolfie, with me. He’s very well behaved. He sits quietly, watches the golf carts go by, watches the geese waddle around and crap on the grass.
Now just imagine if you could take a small percentage of those 77 million dog owners who never thought of playing golf. And you told them that they could bring their dog with them … that might be kind of fun.
So what I’m suggesting – and this is the germ of the idea – you work with a golf course and the local animal shelter. You tell them you’re having a Doggy Day at Blank Golf Course on February 15th: “Bring your dog with you to the golf course. You’ll get a free group golf lesson. The dogs will get treats.” And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hook some people who never hit a golf ball before. Of course, you need to have a well-behaved dog.
CH: You have to have a well-behaved dog to go to PetSmart, too.
GC: That’s correct! In England, if the course allows dogs … you have to bring the dog into the Secretary’s office and demonstrate that the dog can be controlled by voice command. So crazy dogs are not allowed, dogs that bite other dogs or people aren’t allowed. The dog needs to be up-to-date with his shots.
You can walk with the dog on the course or let him ride in the cart. There are just so many dog owners who love to do things with their pets. Maybe they’d enjoy being in the beautiful outdoors with their dogs. Wouldn’t it be cool to play golf with your dog?
CH: It would be very cool. I’ve taken my dog out on the golf course because I’m the manager of the golf course so I get to do that. When I had a golf course under construction before it was open, I took my dog out there when I played.
GC: What’s your dog’s name?
CH: I have two dogs, actually. One’s called Taylor – from Taylor-Made. The other is called Max … from Max-fli!
So they’re golf names but they’re not obvious golf names. One’s a husky-shepherd mix and one’s a border collie.
GC: Not only would it be fun for the dogs to be with you on the golf course, I think it would help you as a golfer. If Taylor is sitting there in the cart by the green and you just four-putted … instead of being angry, you look at the dog who’s wagging his tail at you and the four-putting doesn’t seem so important anymore.
CH: Robert, that is an excellent idea. Especially if you started it off with just a day.
GC: It has to start small for sure.
CH: Sunday afternoon at 2.
GC: Anytime when it’s not busy at the course. If there’s anything I can do to help you with this idea, please call on me. There are a zillion dog lovers in this industry.
CH: You’re right.
GC: Including Jim Flick. He told me, “I am pathetically in love with my dog, Charlie.” So I think there are a lot of important people in golf who could get behind this. It might spark some interest.
CH: Excellent idea, Robert.
GC: Ok, if you want to sign me on as a consultant for just $10,000 a month…
CH: You would take it?
GC: I would take it but I’m telling you right now: I’m not releasing my tax returns!
Get Golf Ready starts in the springtime each year?
CH: It’s going on right now in the South. In Orlando, I’m sure there are Get Golf Ready classes all over the place today.
GC: Does it go all year ’round?
CH: Yes, it’s all year-round for the golf courses that operate 12 months a year. The golf courses run it in a variety of ways; they might run five days in a row or 1 hour five weeks in a row, or Tuesday/Thursday/Tuesday/Thursday. They run their own programs and people are teaching all year ’round.
GC: Do you guys supply the signage?
CH: We give them the posters and the brochures. And tips for running it successfully and tips for retention. It’s been very successful and the courses really love it.
GC: Good for you. Congratulations.
CH: Thank you.
GC: What if someone who’s reading this is interested in participating…
CH: Finding out more?
GC: Is there a web site?
CH: Definitely. www.GetGolfReady.com. Put your zip code in and it’ll tell you the facilities in your area that are hosting this program.
GC: Perfect. Thank you for helping to grow the game we love.
CH: Thank you for the dog idea.