I have a bone to pick. It’s with us, the golf professionals. There was a time when we were the stewards of the game.  The first golf professional, Alan Robertson of St. Andrews, was the best player of his era, although his young apprentice Tom Morris was not far behind.  Mr. Robertson ran St. Andrews and a clubmaking company. “Old Tom,” as he was to become known, took on a position at the newly-formed Prestwick Club upon being fired for playing the new guttie ball. His boss was manufacturing the feathery and obviously did not take kindly to his young assistant embracing technology. It was at Prestwick where Tom plied his trade and became the true founding father of the modern game. He designed, laid out and maintained the course, ran events, offered instruction, ran a club and ball manufacturing company and merchandised his equipment. He was a true steward of the game who later brought his trade back to St. Andrews, where he was instrumental in growing the game, mentoring future professionals, modernizing greenskeeping, and mentoring an up-and-coming course designer named Donald Ross. Other than a few whose stars shone bright, back in the day the golf professional was looked down upon as a second-class citizen. If you have been to Great Britain and particularly Scotland, you will notice how the pro shop is separate from the main clubhouse, which the professional was prohibited to enter. His shop was his domain for golf operations, ranging from starter to clubmaker to even his domicile in some cases. The clubhouse was for amateurs who could afford the extravagance of golf.  The golf professional’s role, however, of being the steward of the course and the game was not diminished. He was the person solely drawn upon for advice with all things golf, and this has held true until sometime in the 1980s. We are diminished folks, and I think it’s time we take back our stewardship. There is a reason I am writing this article, in which I will get to momentarily, but I must digress. The game grew throughout the ’80s and was becoming big business.  Golf carts, guest fee percentages, golf club storage fees, and sometimes the merchandise operation were stripped away from the professional as club management renegotiated contracts.  Smaller retainers and commissioned sales rates were offered for managing day-to-day golf operations, while the professional maintained all revenues derived from teaching and club repair. Moving forward, the business of golf today, although big, is specialized with thinner and thinner margins in all areas of the game. Competition for the golfer’s dollar is cutthroat, what with today’s difficult economy. Reinventing oneself to capture today’s audience, which is always looking for the latest and greatest while not discounting value for dollar, is no easy task.  Golfers are putting out their dollars in four distinct areas today: green/membership fees, equipment, instruction,  and travel.  Where do we fit in? If you’re not part of golf course management and are working within the “traditional” role as a golf professional, and I use the word traditional very lightly, you are earning a living with merchandising, and maybe travel, but more so instruction. Now, how competitive is the instruction market? Everyone and their uncle call themselves a golf instructor, and with all the free online video tips capturing an audience, it is not so easy. You know what makes it worse? It’s what spawned this article. FACE PAINT. That’s right, face paint! I’m sure you’ve seen the Taylor Made commercial and ads with various pros with their faces painted like warriors. To set the record straight, I have nothing against Taylor Made or their clubs. However, is this what the game has come to? Is this what we, the former stewards of the game, have let it become? Understandably, the golf professional no longer manufactures equipment, nor does he repair clubs, excluding the odd shaft replacement, lie and loft alterations, and changing grips. Golf professionals today are much more specialized, whether we like it or not.  We run tournaments and merchandise for a pittance and we teach. The problem is we are no longer perceived as stewards of the game, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We are no longer leaders; we are followers.  We grew the game from its infancy until we got run over by economics.  It was bound to happen. Many professionals went the route of club manager for a better paying position, and who would blame them? Now, there are but a few leaders in the industry to which the golfing public adhere: golf course operators, the media, and equipment manufacturers. Let’s get back to face paint, shall we? Golf professionals have become sheep following the herd. The manufacturers now dictate what the golfer needs. The golfer now believes that to play better he needs the manufacturer’s latest and greatest. The manufacturer tells the golf professional he/she needs to carry their clubs because of demand. The golfer demands the manufacturers clubs. The golf professional must carry the manufacturer’s clubs or he/she will lose a sale or a possible future client for lessons (maybe).  The golf professional’s margin on high-end clubs is razor-thin, but they are a loss leader. Without them in his/her shop, there is no hope of a client. What is wrong with the aforementioned picture? Simple: The manufacturers, starting with Callaway in the early 1990s, have dictated what the golfer needs. This is not to say they haven’t played a large role in improving the game via technology, but face paint?! Seriously? Are golfers now that stupid? Have we let them become that stupid? Are we that stupid for letting it get this far? Sorry for being blunt, but the short answer is a resounding yes! Business people with a vision placed the equipment manufacturers as the leaders within OUR industry. This IS our industry. WE started it, and through vision and passion built it. The real question that now confronts OUR industry (when I say OUR industry, I mean the industry of playing golf) is do we have the vision and the guts to become the stewards of the game once again? The almighty dollar is manipulating the perceptions of the amateur golfer.  We, however, as a like-minded group know better or at least should .Our role is to teach and not dictate. Our role is to lead and not follow. The future and integrity of our profession depends on us becoming stewards of the game once again.  I have a vision. Where are you, Old Tom? I’m calling on you.
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