As we roll through the first year of this decade I've asked two standard questions to a few key players in our industry. I wanted to know their thoughts, from their unique role and perspective, on what we saw over this last ten years and what to expect in the ten to come.
I recently asked Pat Jones "Who is Pat Jones?", to which he replied: "I’m just an accidental tourist in the golf/turf business. Ended up in this crazy thing completely by chance 25 years ago and never left".
Pat Jones: The past 10 years have been nothing compared to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s during the height of environmental attacks on golf. I was in charge of GCSAA’s government relations and was smack in the middle of the whole Paul Harvey thing, lots of media attacks and various Congressional inquiries…and it sucked. It seriously jeopardized the health and reputation of the game for about 10 years.
We’ve actually done a pretty fair job of positioning ourselves over the past 15-20 years as being relatively “green” compared to other parts of the turf business and done some good lobbying at the state level. The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program has been an enormous and often under-recognized public relations boost for the industry as well. I can argue that my friend Ron Dodson almost single-handedly saved golf by dreaming that thing up.
That said, we’re not home free. It’s a flat-out, incontrovertible fact that our use of water will be more regulated, more limited and more scrutinized in the years to come. The pipeline is going to get smaller. There’s also growing concern that the same kinds of “cosmetic” pesticide bans you’ve seen in Canada will migrate south and cause headaches here. Fortunately, we have federal pre-emption laws that largely stop states, cities and counties from directly regulating chemicals, but the activists will keep trotting out kids with cancer and pointing fingers at us anyway. When that happens enough times it doesn’t matter how many studies we conduct or how many universities defend us… we will lose. Emotion and fear will trump science every time.
Turfhugger: What major changes will we see in the next Ten Years that will affect your role most significantly?
Pat Jones: I’m a magazine publisher and a writer. The biggest thing I’m dealing with right now and in the years to come is the inevitable transition from a print-centric world to a digital world.
Here’s what I mean by that: I am in the information business. We gather information and try to create compelling, useful content for superintendents and thereby offer a valuable marketing platform for advertisers. Historically, that’s meant well-written articles and lovely full-page ads all bundled up in this ink-and-paper thing that comes off the end of a big-ass printing press and gets sent to 30,000 or so “qualified buyers” each month through the U.S. Mail. That worked pretty well for about a century, but so did typewriters and rotary-dial telephones.
Today, the majority of folks in this market still strongly want to get the hard copy magazine but a growing number also like to get content on our website, through e-newsletters, our digital edition, videos, podcasts, webinars, events…whatever. Hell, we’d try skywriting if enough people preferred it. The idea is to put our content on as many platforms as possible in a really interesting way and – I’ll use a fancy word here – monetize those digital platforms the same way full-page advertisements monetize our printed edition. It’s all about the Benjamins…and no matter how good GCI is as a traditional magazine, print advertising as a concept will erode over time and at some point in the future it simply won’t be cost effective to publish an ink-and-paper edition. So, to survive, we need to gradually replace that old-school revenue with new revenue from all this cool digital stuff.
One thing I know for a fact is that a lot of other magazines, trade shows, conferences and such in our happy little market are going to die in the next few years. There simply aren’t enough marketing dollars available to pay for all the free magazines, cheap seminars and subsidized monthly chapter meetings superintendents have enjoyed in the past. The chemical and iron companies used to throw money at the golf business like drunken sailors in a dockside bar because the market was growing and the profit margins were good. Those days are over. Now, the majority of facilities are spending less, choosing generic products more frequently, holding onto equipment longer, decreasing fairway maintenance standards and generally dialing back on manicuring as much as their customer base will let them. As a result, suppliers aren’t feeling the love and they simply can’t justify all the ads, trade show booths and sponsorships.
Yet, I will humbly predict that GCI will survive because we are excellent content providers, we’re really good at the digital stuff and, most importantly, we’re a strong independent voice for superintendents and course operators. We have something different to say and we can speak the unfettered truth. My guess is that GCM will be around in some fashion as well because the association has an obligation to disseminate information to its members. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the other magazines can evolve fast enough to make it given the economy and the fact that they don’t offer anything unique that superintendents can’t get elsewhere.