Filling divots during last month’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier evening maintenance shifts offered glimpses into how the PGA Tour uses data.
When my eyes wandered toward greens, I noticed industry professionals hand watering greens based on soil moisture meter readers. Besides moisture, teams collected speed and firmness readings, allowing agronomists to provide PGA Tour members with desirable playing conditions.
The data enhancing competitive aspects of a tournament is more impressive than anything on the agronomic end. Omnipresent ShotLink cameras track every shot, giving fans, players and officials hole, tournament and season statistics. Numbers are crunched instantly, providing PGA Tour devotees with access to millions of data points. ShotLink information adds to a fan’s enjoyment and allows players to refine their games by assessing strengths and weaknesses.
A few weeks after returning from The Greenbrier, I read Ben Reiter’s “Astroball,” which examines how the Houston Astros mix data with traditional baseball philosophies. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow’s rebuilding efforts included hiring data analysts to supplement the organization’s scouts and advisors. Everything I read somehow links to golf. Go figure. While studying a chapter titled “Growth Mindset” on a bench alongside a fairway of a former private golf club turned public park, I started pondering how a golf facility operates compared to the Astros.
Leadership positions fit into an industry-wide template: superintendent, general manager, golf professional, and food and beverage director. There’s little deviation in these titles. Baseball also operated the same way, with organizations employing a general manager, major-league manager, scouting director and farm director. “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about the underfunded Oakland A’s success, led to the emergence of advanced metrics and philosophical changes in baseball decisions. The Astros, though, accomplished something last fall the A’s “Moneyball” teams failed to achieve: they won a World Series.
Everybody knows data can boost the operational and competitive sides of golf. But how many general managers, superintendents, pros and chefs understand how to interpret and incorporate data into their decisions? So much potential data. So many possibilities. So little time. Superintendents are moving toward integrating data into various practices such as irrigation, although this month’s story, “Life by the drop,” suggests commitment levels waver. Data conundrums also reside inside clubhouses and pro shops.
Innovative and well-funded facilities should consider adopting the “Astroball” model and add a data analyst to their leadership teams. A trained analyst can review departmental data traditional managers are too busy or tepid to study, thus creating efficiencies in labor, purchasing habits, resource usage, customer relations and marketing. Good data analysts pay for themselves – and boost revenue. They also complement industry lifers.
Systems blending data and instinct put modern businesses in positions to succeed. Employees with growth mindsets view data as a tool to boost job performance, not a threat to job security. Managers ultimately make key operational and personnel decisions. Data will help golf facilities remain viable in a fast-evolving entertainment marketplace.
Collecting and coordinating data requires a commitment lacking in most segments of the industry. Proactive tactics – beyond ShotLink – will demonstrate the industry understands how data can boost facilities. The Houston Astros aren’t just a championship baseball organization. They offer a structural model worth emulating.