On the March 2nd episode of the Stick and Hack Show, the guys spoke with Alyson Johnson, the President and CEO of The Gilly Group to discuss marketing in the golf business. Listen here to hear Alyson discuss women in the golf industry, as well as landing endorsement deals. 

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Check out the full interview here.

S&H: Alyson, despite a global pandemic that we’ve been going through, the golf business really has had one of the best years on record this last year. How do you think the golf industry can take advantage of the momentum right now and sustain it into the future?

Alyson: So we’ve been very very fortunate in the industry. Rounds played have been up, rounds started for women- women entering the game- has been up dramatically. I know for myself, I was playing between two to five times a week, which I’ve never done before just so that I could have meetings because that was the only way that we could do it here in New Jersey. Equipment sales and products are up. We really need to make sure that as an industry, we’re capitalizing on that- not losing people who have just either come back to the game, started the game, or really have found that passion point for them. So I think that’s an ongoing conversation for us. One of the things that we need to do is continue to figure out how we can make rounds a little bit faster so that when we do go back to normal life, and we’re working in the office, we still have the time to spend on the course. 

S&H: Your point about taking meetings on the golf course has been something I’ve done for 15 years. But now it’s not “frowned upon”. The height of golf is not just due to the pandemic, it’s also due to the way golf is so accessible now. You’re seeing the younger crowd utilize golf with TopGolf and some of the entertainment aspects like Five Iron Golf (the simulator guys that were on our show a while back). There’s just more avenues for people to enter the game. Does that excite you as somebody who’s been in the space for 15, 20 years?

Alyson: Absolutely. I think that we have done a disservice in the golf industry of making people think it wasn’t accessible. There are courses that I’ll play with business associates and people from the industry, and then take my kids to the local municipal course because I’m not embarrassed if they’re messing around or whatever. So there’s a time and place for everything in golf. We have a simulator in my garage. One of the things that I love about the game is that it gives me an opportunity to teach my kids manners and etiquette and all that kind of good stuff. I think that there’s a place and a purpose for everything, so if I’m going for business I’m going to go one spot. If I’m going to introduce the game to a group of women, we’re going to do it differently. If I’m playing with my kids- they might hit five tee shots and mess around and putt twice. I don’t care. I just want them to have fun, and so I think that’s something we need to focus on in general. 

S&H: Let’s talk about the logos on shirts for a second. So we talk a lot about the multi-million dollar business of sports marketing and these brands that pay athletes to endorse their products, but in the golf space we only see three or four logos. But there’s a lot that goes into that. It’s not as easy just paying somebody to put their logo on your shirt- these are long-term deals. A lot of times these golfers and the top golfers are utilizing it, but it’s those in the bottom 50, 150, 200 that really need those endorsement dollars to keep playing golf. We think of all these guys that make millions of dollars a weekend just in endorsements, but it’s the players that are trying to make a career out of this, those are the people that really need the dollars to keep playing the sport they love.

Alyson: When you do a sponsorship deal, there are a lot of different ways that you can do it. In talking about the logo on a certain kind of stuff, typically what will happen if you are a brand from a company looking to sponsor someone, one of the first things you’re going to do is talk to players that you think fits your brand characteristics. So what are you looking for, what type of brand you are. There’s brand characteristics that go into it, but then you have to look at what other things you are getting with your deal. So are they going to do player appearances for you and talk to your audiences- whether that’s your employees, your shareholders, your customers, or clients- all the way down to when you’re on site somewhere. What does that look like, how many impressions are you going to get from a media standpoint, so then the legal teams get involved, and the marketing people get involved, and communications people get involved. There’s a lot that goes into it on the back side, but just as long as some of those deals can take and how multi-faceted they are. There are situations where it’s like you luck out and it works out really well and then there are others that are very, very tedious and there’s a lot of due diligence and you really are making sure that it’s the right thing. 

S&H: Alyson, we talked about earlier how big of a year golf had last year. Where do you see being the biggest growth areas in the industry over the next few years?

Alyson: Let’s face it- in culture right now, “women” is the topic of discussion in a lot of ways. So what I have said to people that I know is, “Listen we got to keep our foot in the door and knock it open now because right now is the time- between the disparity of payment both in sports as well as in corporate.” Before the pandemic there were a lot of ongoing conversations, so this is really a time where a lot of people are focusing their dollars and their marketing efforts on women in the golf space. Women are really getting the opportunity to do things that they haven’t done before. There are a lot of different experiences that are out there right now, whether it’s growing your personal brand and using golf for business, or being introduced to the game. For the Ladies is a program by Abby Leventhal that has done really, really well on getting new women into the sport and letting them feel excited and engaged. Those types of programs are really important in getting women into the sport. It’s the way that they’re going to come in and we need to keep them there. It’s exciting.

S&H: The golf industry in general, not just for women, how do we make it more welcoming for those that have either been away from the game for a while, or for those that are new to the game? 

Alyson: I think really, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people feeling empowered and confident. I know that for me, one of the first things that I like to do is take a lesson because it just gets me feeling a little more confident. Even if it’s just at the local course and you’re going to go once, just to get your legs under you. There are so many different beginner programs and clinics and just having that baseline confidence really makes a big difference. But the thing is, you don’t even have to leave your house now. Between golf simulators and the online apps where you can take lessons, there are so many different ways if you want to start playing, or you feel like you’ve been away and you want to get back to it. It just takes a little bit of research but every state has a PGA section that you can go to, so that’s a really great place to start if you want to get into the sport, or if you have kids and you want them to get in. Operation 36 is another phenomenal teaching program. You can go online and look up their locations, but it’s also got a little bit of reward and gamification so kids tend to like it a lot. There’s so many options.

Listen to the rest of the episode here to learn more about golf marketing and sponsorships. The guys are thrilled to announce their new podcast “The Business of Golf,” hosted by Alyson and Adam, which will be premiering in March. Also, join in to hear Adam, Mike, and Alyson discuss which Tycoons they would want in their foursome. 

Key Takeaway: It’s easier now, more than ever, to get into the game of golf.

Ashley Guenin

Ashley is from Indianapolis, IN and is the hackiest of hacks. She has only practiced the sport for less than a year, but enjoys it and once had a really good drive. When she's not chunking up the driving range, she delights in cooking, film studies, and exercising.