Here’s our conversation in a nutshell:
Rob: Talk to me about your career in golf. What got you started and what is your favorite part of the industry? And why are you good at it? How did you get started?
Ryan: I got started in golf when I about was 12 years old. I would go to the golf course with my parents and hang out with them in the evenings and ride around the course. My dad started working in the Pro Shop and snack shack area, I would hang out with him. Then my parents would play golf and I would hang back in the clubhouse. I would do things around the club, like take out the trash, do some other odd jobs around the course and make $20-30 bucks, and I thought “this is kinda a cool gig”. Luckily my middle school was right around the corner and during my time in middle school and high school in the evenings I would go to the nearby course to help out with landscape and just work as much as I could.
Ryan is well respected for his agronomic skills and has been called upon by the USGA to help set up US Open Courses as recently as 2015 at Chambers Bay. He’s pretty humble about it, but I am fairly certain in Opens since he would have been there as well had it not been for little things, like getting married!
Rob: Having been in golf then your entire adult life and more, what do you see as the biggest challenge golf as an industry has experienced in the last 5 years?
Ryan: I think the biggest challenge is simple, getting golfers out to play, growing the game through younger golfers and women, and keeping them coming back. For me, that is the biggest challenge.
Rob: Do you feel we have turned a corner and succeeded, or will that continue to be a major challenge for courses and the game as a whole?
Ryan: I think so. I think initiatives like what Topgolf is doing will continue to help. In my experience, they are reaching a point that they are getting people interested in going out to the golf course. I have heard some people that say Topgolf hurts the industry but I don't believe that. I think they are doing great things, and I think as a professional in this industry you're always going to have to do something to get new people involved. It’s not just the growth of our games, but sustaining our careers.
Rob: I think that is the case with any business. If you're not looking to grow your customer base you're probably planning to fail.
Let’s talk about technology and your mobile app - what impact do you think they have made on your course and your business?
Ryan: Technology is changing all the time. From agronomics to golf balls, to GPS, to golf balls with GPS! And smartphones - people are always on the phone on the golf course and instead of looking for ways to end that, we should look for ways to capitalize on it because we are not going to separate people from their phones. We have found they're looking for ways to keep score when playing, whether it's with our app or another technology, golfers are using it in their games.
There is nothing wrong with technology. It is a change and change is often tough, but people will adapt and change and if your business doesn’t adapt along with them, people will pass you by. As I mentioned in your first question, Rob, the challenge in our industry is getting people to golf, so accommodating their lifestyles and giving them something to enjoy in that mix is an important part of answering that challenge.
Rob: You have done some pretty unique things with your app, for example selling sponsorships in the tournament Portion of the app to help fund your investment. I remember you did the same thing with the tournament software registration, where you were selling hole sponsorships through a player registration page you altered to make work this way for you.
Can you talk about some of the ideas you have had and things you're doing to get outside of the box and separate yourself from what others are doing?
Ryan: It's always tough thinking of different ideas. We will often run a Skins competition through the app. It’s a quick and easy way to get people engaged, downloading, and using the app because it is something they understand and have been doing for years anyway. Skins competitions are the biggest thing we do in the way of getting people to download.
As far as selling the hole sponsorships I try to do that every year. It's a nice way to offer businesses a new way to reach people, more than just a sign in the ground. It may only be $200, but when you carry that out over a handful of businesses and a number of tournaments, it’s an easy way to cover the investment of our app each year.
The Loyalty programs you have built for us are working very well too. We are punching loyalty cards every day. So those golfers are using the app every day and they are seeing the hole sponsorships, playing in the Skins games, keeping and posting scores - each way contributes to us being connected to our customers and is worth the effort to separate ourselves in a challenging business like golf.
Rob: Let’s talk briefly about a challenge I hear way too often - the older demographic. A lot of courses, ones I am afraid are going to be closing shop in the next 10 years or so without an adjustment, tell us that the bulk of their clients are much older and just won’t download and use the app. What’s your take on this?
Ryan: You know when we first launched the app, I agree, the older guys weren’t using it as much as the younger guys. But with the development of the loyalty program in the app, we offered free golf after 10 rounds of golf, and the older guys end up wanting the rewards so they end up downloading the app. I would say my senior group has downloaded it just to get the rewards and I think enticing them with the rewards has pushed me over the edge to using all of the other features.
Rob: Any other predictions on technology in the golf industry in the next few years? Whether it's app, payments, upgrades to POS with the course?
Ryan: You tell me haha!