For manty of us inside the business, the best day of the year is that Thursday in April when Jim Nantz says “Hello Friends…” and the old legends hit those ceremonial shots at Augusta National Golf Club. Most years that marks the beginning of the traditional golf season and sets the cash registers ringing around the country. Obviously, this has not been one of those years so far as spring has simply not arrived as of May 1. Which sucks … but that’s not the purpose of this column.
This column instead celebrates another important day in the larger, longer-term scheme of golf’s success: National Golf Day. It’s the day when our industry tells its story to the folks who can help make or break our future through legislation, taxation, regulation, frustration, vexation and enough dumb ideas to drive you to inebriation. I speak, of course, of the federal government.
I finally managed last month to make it to National Golf Day in D.C. Overall, I was pretty damned impressed. Yet, we have plenty of work still left to do. Here are my thoughts …
This was the 11th of these “day on the hill” events. Pretty much every industry does these (the lawn care folks have been doing them for years) and it was apparent that at any given time there are a dozen or so associations or trade groups descending on America’s real seat of power: the Rayburn Office Building where many legislators and committees are officed.
If you saw any pictures, you’ll note that golf’s leadings organizations – under the We Are Golf umbrella – set up a bit of a sideshow at Rayburn to attract the attention of senators, congress members, and an endless stream of impossibly young aides and interns who wandered by. There was a putting contest, a golf simulator and little displays right there under the watchful marble eyes of a statue of the late Rep. Sam Rayburn, the longtime Speaker of the House. Trivia: Rayburn famously said during a budget debate in the 1950s, “A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
Also, along for the sideshow were about 200 folks. The vast majority of them were superintendents from around the United States and top staff from GCSAA (which was awesome and we’ll return to that in a minute). Also attending were Steve Mona, my old boss and the very capable leader of We Are Golf, and a handful of executives and leaders from other associations, including our good friend Justin Apel of the GCBAA. There were also about a dozen golf course owners and maybe eight to 10 PGA professionals, including current president Paul Levy.
I have to say I’m torn between being impressed at how effectively GCSAA and the superintendents have taken this event over and being flabbergasted by how little support it gets from other major golf associations, particularly the PGA of America. On one hand, it’s just a great opportunity for superintendents to take their skills and their profiles up to a new level, so I’m thrilled to see so many rising to the challenge and coming to D.C. to talk intelligently with their elected representatives. On the other hand, I’m appalled that other professional associations seem to view this event as unworthy of their time. That’s bogus.
The superintendents – many of the top national and local association leaders from around the country but also those who signed up simply because they are passionate about their profession – were magnificent. They took the event seriously and attended the online briefings in advance. They studied their briefing books and met in small groups prior to heading off to multiple meetings with their elected officials from their states. They showed up early to volunteer to help spiff up America’s front lawn – the National Mall. In short, they stole the spotlight and had fun doing it.
As I reflected on the event (which, by the way, was a superb networking opportunity), what I felt most was pride that turfheads are leading the way when it comes to stewarding our future as an industry. I think back 30 years ago to when I was managing government affairs for GCSAA and how difficult it was to get anyone to come to D.C. to help defend our practices. Now, we’ve had hundreds who’ve not only made the trip but contributed mightily to keeping the larger golf business healthy and properly regulated. Amazing.
I suspect many of you reading this are just as passionate and just as committed as the hundreds of superintendents who participated in past National Golf Days. If you are, start planning now for #NGD19. You’ll be glad you did.