Conversation with Tiffany Chaisson

A Quick Nine with Fairways Fund CEO, and golf blogger Tiffany Chaisson

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

Fairways

  1. You haven’t been playing golf for too long but you’re becoming well known as an avid player who travels the world and plays the game.   So what’s the story…how’d you get into the game and who should get the credit for getting you interested in the game?

I played 9 holes in August 2013 when I was visiting PEI Canada and renovating my house there. I shot 118 for 9 holes (yes I counted). My friend Jenny, asked if I wanted to learn to golf the following year when I moved to Canada. I love sports and needed a new sport as couldn’t play my usual (netball, touch football, surfing, or indoor rock climbing) so golf it was. I also hate being bad at anything so I was determined to improve. I started in July 2014 and by the time I left Canada I had shot 54 at the course I shot 118 on the previous summer. I was addicted and loved watching my improvement. This July I am celebrating my 3 year golf anniversary and as per the last two years to celebrate, I will play in the Club Championship.

  1.  I’ve lost track, how many courses and how many countries have you played?

I have now played 120 courses in 11 countries in less than 3 years.

  1.  I’m sure there are countless memories but is there one moment for you playing the game that stands out?

I have been very lucky that I have golfed with hundreds of people around the world and have so many fantastic memories however there is one that pops into my head. I was playing a solo round on the Costa Brava at Golf Platja de Pals in Spain and chipped it in for the first time. No one was around and yet it was sublime.

4.  You’re CEO of Fairways Fund.  An impressive title for certain but what is this organization and what is its mandate?

Fairways Fund is a nonprofit sponsoring underprivileged junior golfers all over the world. Our mission statement is Golf Without Bounds and we pay for membership, lesson packages and range access for underprivileged juniors to help develop golf at the grassroots while supporting golf businesses and professionals. We currently have 20 juniors in four countries, Canada, India, Nepal and Bolivia and in future we will also help our interested juniors transition into employment within the billion dollar golf industry be it as a professional, greenskeeper or hospitality. We want golf to be inclusive and any child to be able to play regardless of their financial limitations.

  1.  Where do you see the organization in 5 years?

I will be working for Fairways full time and I would like to have one of our Bolivian juniors secure a scholarship in the USA, see Pratima Sherpa in Nepal play on the LPGA and have expanded into many more countries supporting juniors who love the game but cannot afford to play it.

  1.  Is there a story from this work you can share?  Are you having any success?

How do you define success? Is it helping a junior transition into a pro golfer or is it watching young Tomy in Bolivia win a second hand shirt and pair of shoes in a golf tournament?

This week I have had three things happen which make me very happy and give me the knowledge I am doing what I am meant to be. Edwin in Bolivia sent me a message saying golf is growing in Bolivia because of me and my visit (I was there for 9 weeks helping with a junior clinic and getting our juniors into golf tournaments), I connected with Pratima in Nepal who has just been granted a visa so she can go to golf school in the USA for two months and I golfed with one of our Canadian juniors who was so very excited to meet me. His mother advised that he was delighted to have been invited to the winter lessons I had arranged and had been watching all my YouTube videos and had really come into his own through golf. He is currently 13 and he told me he would love to become a teaching professional and would like to travel and help teach golf to juniors in other countries through Fairways.

  1.  How can people get involved to help and support Fairways?

We have online sponsorship options available however this month we will be launching Awesome Foursomes, an online auction of donated four ball green fees from golf courses all over the world starting at 50% of the value. If you are a member at a golf course you can ask if they would like to support underprivileged junior golfers globally by donating four green fees that we can auction off while advertising and promoting their course via social media or you can bid on a course you have always wanted to play and get a discounted price knowing the money will help children play this wonderful sport.

  1.   What drives your passion for the game?  You play.  You travel.  You have a socially driven business.  What keeps you energized to do this?

I am not sure to be perfectly honest. I hear my voice raise in excitement when I talk about golf and I wonder who I am. I just love it. I am unreservedly happy with a fairway under my feet and while relatively new to the sport; if I can share my passion and help children continue golfing I will be satisfied.

I have always had a lot of energy -my family seem to think I have undiagnosed ADHD – and I have always been able to get a lot done while juggling numerous projects.  My background is project management.

We would not have been able to be so far advanced with the nonprofit in such a short time if it wasn’t for our COO Jeremy White, who I wrangled in to be my co-founder in April last year. We work very well together and at times he channels my passion but I enjoy meeting new people, traveling, helping people and now I happen to love golf. I just made myself a job where I get to do all of it.

  1.  What course tops your Canadian bucket list and what is your dream foursome you’d love to tee it up with?

What province? There are so many good golf courses in Canada. Around here it would have to be Cabot Cliffs/Links as I continually hear how good they are, however I am sure I will find a hidden gem others consider a goat track that I will fall in love with and play golf for the soul.

My dream foursome?  Hmm well Jimmy Fallon would be fun to golf with, Seve would be interesting golf chat (and I could practice my Spanish) and Hogan would be wonderful to watch. You didn’t say they had to be alive right?

MJ – no, not at all.  Thank you for your time and I wish you all the best with Fairways and expanding your course count.  Have a great summer.

You can learn more about Fairways by visiting their website here or their site on Facebook.  And you can follow Tiffany Chaisson and Fairways Fund on Twitter

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Conversation with Snell Golf Canada

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

I am pleased to share my conversation with Snell Golf Canada President, Ron Stenzl.  Snell Golf Canada is celebrating it’s first year of operations in Canada and I wanted to catch up to learn how the first year went and if there’s anything new for people to learn about and look forward to.

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  1. You’ve just celebrated your one year anniversary of sales in Canada.  How would you categorize the past year?

In a word, educational.  There are many differences between operating in Canada and the US.  First, economies of scale play into decisions.  Shipping is much more expensive in Canada, so we’ve had to figure that out. We’ve experimented with free shipping and it looks like that really is one of the best ways we can create value for golfers across Canada so we likely will keep that in place.  Of course most of Canada has a much shorter season than in the USA, so we’ve had to deal with that.  We are finally launching a French language version of our website; that has been difficult to get right but it’s really important.  Quebec has many very avid golfers.  And we are refreshing the look of our site as well.  So basically the first years has been about getting systems in place and working out the kinks. And we’ve learned a lot about golf balls too!

2. You had a strong presence at the Toronto Golf and Travel Show this past winter,       including a visit and a couple talks from Dean Snell himself.  What has the feedback in Canada been to Dean’s messages on golf ball technology?

The Toronto Golf Show was a great weekend for us to launch the season and I know that those who attended really enjoyed meeting Dean and especially if they listened to his presentations on the main stage. Dean is so knowledgeable and cuts right through the marketing hype and makes it real.  To him it’s not that complicated, if you want to be serious about your golf, you should play a top line ball. The reason many people don’t is simply cost.  That’s why our model is attractive – we’ve stripped out all the marketing costs, player contracts, middlemen and agents and passed that savings onto the consumer. And the Canadian golf public gets it based on the social media following we’re getting and the many positive comments.  It does get back to the shipping though, people want to try the product and some hesitated when shipping charges were added, so offering free shipping gets people trying the ball, talking it up with playing partners and then re-ordering, usually multiple dozens at a time.

3.  While operating as a Canadian subsidiary to a global company based in the United States what are some of the challenges and opportunities this provides for you?

Every country has its own rules and regulations, so there are no unique challenges related to Snell USA. We do acquire our balls based on US Dollar pricing, so we do have to manage exchange rate. The benefit is our ability to utilize some of their marketing material and share ideas. Snell is now in 13 countries and we are able to get some ideas from around the globe from other independent distributors like ourselves. And as Dean Snell has grown his company, he gains more strength at the factory level to leverage his relationship and orders to get priority treatment and best pricing. So for example, even though exchange rates to buy US$ rose significantly since last year, with Dean’s help we were able to hold our pricing the same as last year and hope to be able to get through next year 2018 also without a price increase. We want to be consistent in our mandate to grow the game of golf and do what we can to make it affordable.

It’s often the case that Canada lags behind the US in certain trends. One trend that still exists in Canada, but has been abandoned in the USA is pro shops signing exclusive contracts with suppliers, usually Titleist but also TaylorMade.  Pro shops in the USA finally came to the conclusion that these agreements mostly just benefit the supplier and not them and certainly not their members who they cater to. It limits availability of certain products that golfers want.  And it drives them to places like GolfTown, which is one of the biggest complaints pro shops have about their members, yet it’s their actions that contribute to this.

  1. You are an active support for junior golf in Canada.  Please share more about this and why is this so important for Snell Golf Canada?

Mike, we need to applaud you for asking this question!  Supporting Junior Golf was an easy decision by the Snell Golf Canada team.  It really starts with Dean Snell wanting to grow the game.  All of us were fortunate to be exposed to golf and the majority of golfers actually do enjoy it, so why not expose the golf lifestyle to the younger generation?

Most adult golfers see the terrific kids that are now playing golf.  Playing competitive and recreational golf is an activity that exposes kids to so many challenges, opportunities and aspects of life. Paying forward the last 12 months has significantly elevated our awareness of the committed junior tour volunteers, golf clubs, golf professionals and the industry who actually get it.  Our company has a role and we want to ramp this up even more, so we hope your coverage gets more junior golf tours realizing that companies like us would like to help.

5.  Many golfers are active on social media.  How about Snell Golf Canada?

Snell Golf Canada embraces social media with open arms. From the very beginning we have made considerable efforts to ensure we publish great content on a regular basis as well as respond to any inquiries in a timely manner.  People seem to love our profiles as our follower base is growing more and more every day. We are on Twitter @SnellGolfCanada, Facebook @Snell Golf Canada and Instagram @SnellGolfCan we do promotions, contests, weekly spots on products features, and lots more on the way.

6. In my conversation with Dean this winter, he mentioned opportunity for courses to buy direct for their members/customers.  Is this something you offer?

We launched a pro shop re-seller program and have had quite a few folks join us.  We offer them a discount that provides them enough (profit) margin to make it worthwhile.  For us it helps build the brand and provides some convenience to members of participating courses.

7.  I’m not expecting you to share company secrets but I’m curious about new product development.  Are you engaged with Dean around this?  Can Canadians expect quick access to any new product?

Dean is always thinking ahead and does have a ball in the design and test stage.  It will be a high end ball, probably 4 piece that will align more closely with the Pro V1x.  What Dean won’t do is create a whole range of balls. He sees this as confusing to the golfer (“What ball should I play?”) and says creating that confusion is part of most ball makers strategy.  He keeps it simple, a high end ball that is playable across a broad spectrum (My Tour Ball), and a low spin, low price ball (Get Sum).  Both balls are made with only the best materials.  The new ball, when launched will likely be positioned at the very top of the Tour Performance scale so will be best suited to the low single digit handicappers.

8.  MTB or Get Sum?

My original introduction to Snell was in Florida playing the MTB. But I started playing the Get Sum a bit last summer, I wasn’t happy with my swing and thought a low spin ball would help. It didn’t really.

This winter I went back to the MTB full-time and with practice my swing improved but my short game improved leaps and bounds!  I’m pitching the ball better than I have in years, I have confidence in my chips because run out is consistent which is what you don’t get with any 2 piece ball, and my putting is better too!  I even had a hole in one in April.  My index dropped from 9.3 to 6.1 by the time I came back north!  Getting used to northern grass, long rough and it’s been wet so I must confess my index has risen some, but will go back down soon as it dries out.

So I now adhere to Dean’s basic philosophy, play the best quality ball you can! It will make you a better player.

  1. Outside of your home course in Cataraqui in Kingston, where would you love to tee up your Snell golf balls in Canada?  What courses top your Canadian bucket list?

I’ve been fortunate to play many great courses.  Deerhurst is a favourite; Lora Bay and Georgian Bay Club in Collingwood are spectacular, as are many of the top Toronto courses. I played Credit Valley last summer and loved it! Brantford Golf & CC is an old favourite. Glencoe in Calgary is special.  If you want to play a hidden gem, play Innerkip Highlands, near Woodstock. I want to play Vancouver Golf Club where the LPGA played a few years ago. I was there watching Brooke Henderson in her first Canadian Open when she was still amateur.  I’ve played in PEI and want to go back and play more of those courses.

36aday – An impressive list.  Thanks for your time Ron and best wishes to you and the team at Snell Golf Canada for the 2017 season.

Conversation with Dean Snell – Part 3

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

This is the third of this three-part conversation with Dean Snell, owner and inventor of Snell Golf balls.  In this segment Dean discusses his approach to ball fitting, his upcoming visit to Canada at the Toronto Golf and Travel Show and his dream foursome.

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7. Golf ball companies are getting aggressive in their marketing of ball fitting approaches. What is your response to this and what would you suggest for someone who would like to determine what Snell golf ball is best for them?

DS – So when I mentioned before being a hockey player there are certain pet peeves that make me want to pull the jersey over their heads and start throwing uppercuts.  This is one of them.  Having someone fit for a golf ball by hitting three golf balls into a net with a driver is absolutely wrong.  Today we’ve done so much work in getting the spin rates and ball speed and launch angles correct.  And off the tee they all go about the same distance.  Hitting a few balls and judging a bad shot compared to a good shot and then say, ‘this is the ball for you, you gained six yards’; it’s just the wrong way to do it.  Over time those golf balls will be about the same distance.  But where you’ll notice it is in the short game.  That’s where you’ll notice a difference.  So a two piece golf ball and a tour golf ball, from 100 yards and in are completely different in performance.  One flies high with less spin, one flies low with more spin.  You’re going to experience the fliers and the jumpers, the bump and runs, or the low hit knock downs with the check; they’re different.  So my recommendation for fitting – you spend so much fitting for your clubs and fine tuning them at a range but the ball counts for every shot.  So take maybe an hour and a half and go out on a course and take all the clubs you’d use inside of 100 yards.  Take the My Tour Ball (MTB) and the Get Sum 2 piece ball and whatever models you play and go and hit balls from 100 yards, 70, 50, 30, chip, putt, and once a group catches you go to the next hole and keep doing the same thing.  Just play a lot of shots from inside 100 yards.  And after the 4th of 5th hole something in there is going to say I like the way it flew high, flew low, checked, bumped and ran, felt soft or hard, whatever it is you like.  Fit the ball to what you prefer there and trust off the tee they’ll all be the same.    Because if you can’t tell the differences inside of 100 yards your game is not ready yet for it and just buy the cheapest one.

MJ – Following up, you mentioned this around the time of the PGA Show in Orlando that the My Tour Ball may be better suited for mid to high handicap players who could benefit more from tour ball performance around the greens.  Could you please elaborate on this?

DS – If you take price out of it, tour golf balls are going to be better for everybody.  The 18 handicap misses 17 greens.  That’s 17 par 3’s the player has to play effectively.  If you play low compression, low spin golf balls you have the worst possible performance the closer you get to the greens.  So that’s where most of your golf is played, it’s where most of your scores happen.  A higher handicap who shoots 90 versus a guy who shoots 72, you have a lot more shots which you play around the greens which you could get better at than the guy shooting 72.  You’re never going to be able to hit a ball that hits and sucks back the way the pros do but you may be able to add some spin on a full wedge which may and roll out 5 feet instead of 15 feet.  You stopped it 10 feet closer.  Maybe your chip stops 5 feet closer that could eliminate one or two 3 putts.  Having an advantage of performance around the greens is what tour golf balls have.  If you can get that you will only perform better the closer you get to the green and that’s going to help you lower scores.

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8. I understand you’re going to be coming to Toronto for the Golf and Travel Show in February. Snell Golf Canada will be present and showcasing your product offerings.  What is your schedule there and when can people come by and talk with you?

DS – My understanding is I will be in the Snell Golf Canada booth on Friday.  I will be speaking on Friday mid-afternoon and also Saturday around noon.  I’ll do a little presentation for everybody and the rest of the time I’ll be in the booth so if anybody has any technical questions or wants to come by and say hi I will be at the Snell Golf Canada booth.

I believe the team will have balls available to sell to people attending the show.  We’ve done this before and it creates a real buzz with golf show participants.

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9. Lastly, what is your dream foursome and what course tops your own Bucket List? Is there a course(s) in Canada you’d like to experience?

DS – Boy, that’s a good question.  My dream foursome would probably include Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Bobby Orr and myself.  Those guys to me were the best in their sports during their time.  They are all golfers and I think it would be so cool to listen to some of their stories both on and off the field of play.  I’d love to get some pictures too, it would be great memorabilia.

MJ – That’s a strong list, how about courses?

DS – You’ll have to help me with courses in Canada; I’ve spent much time in Canada in the winter time but not enough in the summer.  Being in the industry so long I haven’t played much golf, things have been busy.  I’d love to play Augusta National, or Pebble Beach.  I’ve been to Pebble and worked there and walked the course but have never been there with my clubs.  Augusta is my first choice just because it is Augusta.

MJ – When you get there, and I hope you’re able to play Augusta one day, take a picture of your My Tour Ball when you stick the green on 12.

DS – (Laughs) I will.

MJ – Thank you for your time Dean.  Continued success.

DS – My pleasure.  Thank you.

Click here to access Part 1 of my conversation with Dean.

Click here to access Part 2 of my conversation with Dean.

 

 

 

Conversation with Dean Snell – Part 2

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

This is the second of a three-part conversation with Dean Snell, owner and inventor of Snell Golf balls.  In this segment Dean discusses Snell Golf’s value proposition, their focus on value through direct-to-consumer shipping and insight on his approach to product development.

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4. My understanding is the golf ball market is highly competitive. What would you say distinguishes Snell from other golf ball companies; what is your value proposition?

DS – There’s a lot of direct-to-consumer on-line companies that are out there that offer good products.  For 25 years I have been fortunate to be in golf ball design, to pretty much understand the patent portfolio that’s out there – I hold many patents myself – and bring what is important to consumers with respect to performance.  Working with a tour player that has a problem keeping a 4 iron in the air and not knuckling and falling out of the sky is a lot different than working with an 18 handicap who doesn’t really hit a 4 iron anyway.  Having that knowledge and understanding of performance is important.  The credibility and authenticity of being able to work with tour players and design golf balls which they use and put their livelihood on the line and win major tournaments is a validation to the product side of it.  We can bring the performance and processes and best materials and keep the price affordable.  Our uniqueness is we have the best performance in golf that we can give and we don’t the high overhead costs like marketing and tour contracts.  We pass that savings along to the consumer.  So there’s a credibility side, a performance side and an affordability side.

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5. The business model for Snell Golf is unique with a focus on online access. What was the rationale for this and what has the feedback been on this distribution model?

DS – There’s a lot of people who like to go on computers today!  The rationale is the traditional approach is to go into a pro shop or a retailer and look at a wall of balls, not really understanding what they are.  A lot of times people are not there to explain them to you nor could they do it if they were there.  So, when you’re online you have greater access to information; we want to use education as part of our message.  We have a forum where people can ask questions and we can provide technical answers.  We have videos that explain how players can do testing and how to go about it.  The website offers an experience that helps give an understanding about what you’re looking at doing; how you should test, which ball you should use.  Those kinds of things you don’t get when you go into a lot of stores.

Also, online shopping is big.  We did our Christmas shopping on a Friday night from home with a nice glass of wine.  It was quick, easy and we were finished.  There’s an ease to online shopping now.  There’s delivery which we can offer and I acknowledge it can take a little time to get it but having these strong technical people who love the social media world get into golf and support it that is a unique niche we’re trying to target.

But things are starting to expand.  We have had a number of pro shops reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, our members want us to carry the ball, do you have a sales rep?’  We say no, if you’d like them we can sell you six dozen golf balls and we’ll ship them free to your shop.  We’ll sell them to you at a wholesale price and you can sell them for the same price we sell them online for.  Your customers still get the savings and you enjoy a nice margin.  We don’t do credit terms, payment terms, and have markups for sales reps so the process is very clean and easy.  It’s a minimum six dozen and if you don’t sell them we’ll take them back.   So that business is growing for us without the high costs that get passed back to consumers.

In the US, many shops make you take a minimum 48 dozen or 36 dozen and you pay the shipping.  You have them there and have to deal with them at the end of the season.  For us, minimum 6 dozen, we pay shipping and it’s much easier.  We process credit card orders and ship next day.  We have pro shops that started with 6 dozen – there’s some in California now who are ordering 24 dozen a week.  It’s working.

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6. You recently made a change, introducing an optic yellow Get Sum ball (my favourite and personal ball of choice, I might add). Are there any new products in the pipeline?

DS – Yes there are.  One of the best things I love about social media sites – and I get up early and I read them all – is that there are blogs and sites where people give us feedback.  My method is I review it all.  There are some who say, I love it, don’t change a thing.  And there are others who write, I’d like it softer or firmer; spin more, spin less; fly higher/lower; all the different attributes people can say.  And I fill in boxes around specific comments.  When boxes get full, there’s a voice there saying maybe there’s an opportunity here.  Everybody has feedback and ideas so we’re not at a place where people say, I love it and don’t change a thing.  I take all that feedback from consumers and it informs my product development.  So based on feedback so far we’re on our fourth iteration (of the ball) based on feedback from players who play them.  We’re looking to create a level of performance based on requests from people playing the ball.  So around something new, I don’t have a launch date yet, or the plans or how it will roll out.  But the specs are almost complete and we have some cool things coming this year.

MJ – So, I’ll allow myself a self-indulgent follow up.  Are there plans for a yellow My Tour Ball?

DS – That question is probably one of the big boxes that get filled in on my chart.  And it’s an interesting question.  The cast urethane yellow is the hardest process to do in golf.  When you make a cast urethane ball you have to pigment the cover to match the colour of the paint that goes on the balls as well.  (Currently) The urethane is pigmented and put a UV stabilizer so it doesn’t turn yellow when it hits the sun.  Then you have to put two white coats of paint to protect it and then you have to put a clear coat of paint over it.  So now, if you want to make a yellow urethane you have develop a yellow cast urethane system for the cover, develop two yellow paint coats to go over it, a clear coat over it and clean it out well so white balls made afterward are white and not yellow when you start to make them because it is a tough process to clean the system out.  So it’s not easy.  The paint system development is a lot of work because getting a white paint when you get the right viscosity when you add fillers and you add colours and you add the parameters of the paint; the dimples get flooded and the ball flies high.   It is very, very hard to do.

The market for yellow tour balls is extremely small.  So we hear the voice today of people asking for it but those are the people asking and don’t represent a large segment of the golfing population.  And I’m not saying we’re not working on it because we are, and having something in the future could happen, but it’s not easy to do.  The yellow golf ball market is only 10%.  That’s with everything, even 2 piece golf balls.  3 piece tour quality balls is only 1% and that is voice we hear a lot from people who want them.

MJ – We’re a vocal minority, thank you very much.

DS – Yellow golf ball sales, in the US market, increase in the fall.  Leaves come down, the grass isn’t as green, and it’s harder to see.  But in the summer time the sales drop quite a bit.  Our studies in our sales show we sell more yellow balls in August, September and October than we do during the rest of the year.  Having something to offer though is good for us, 10% is a decent market size.

Tomorrow – the third and final part of this conversation, including Dean Snell’s dream golf foursome.

Click Here to access Part 1 of my conversation with Dean Snell

Click Here to access Part 3 of my conversation with Dean Snell

Conversation with Dean Snell – Part 1

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

This is the first of a three-part conversation with Dean Snell, owner and inventor of Snell Golf balls.  In this segment Dean discusses his business philosophy, why he turned down Tour players seeking to play his ball, his love of Canada and hockey, and his support for Snell Golf Canada’s commitment to junior golf.

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  1. Dean, your story is well documented – your early history of work in the industry and how you hold numerous patents on golf ball technology. But for those who are not familiar, why did you choose to go out on your own and brand your own ball?

DS – I have been extremely fortunate to work for two of the best companies in the golf industry in Titleist and Taylor Made.  I have been very blessed to have the opportunity to develop products for the best players in the world.  I spent the last 25 years between those two companies designing golf balls and working with tour players and recreational players getting a lot of feedback from players on what they’re looking for in performance, especially the tour players.   I have a lot of good friends on tour and I spent of time with them.  So understanding golf balls and golf ball technology is something that I know very well.

The golf business was struggling a few years ago, with courses closing and people canceling memberships; it’s expensive, people aren’t playing.  What I thought I could do was see if there was a way I could give back.  First, I wanted to make sure my three children were finished with school before I did something on my own.  I wanted to give back through taking the best materials, the best process, and the best performances and create very high end golf balls but not have big overhead costs.  No big marketing budgets and definitely no big tour contracts.   So the cost to make the balls are the same as other manufacturers, the performance is outstanding, but all the savings that I don’t have to pay out I pass back to the consumer.  So the main focus was to keep the price affordable.  We sell direct to our customers, we sell in some pro shops, but we focus on providing performance for average golfers who may have found balls like this too expensive to try.  Maybe if they can have it they can enjoy the game more and maybe play better, play more and help grow the game.  For me it was the chance to give back by providing great performance at affordable pricing.

MJ – With tour pros, have any of them had an opportunity to try your ball and do you foresee a day when a pro may go, ‘No, the heck with it, I am going to be playing a Snell ball’?

DS – We have had that.  We have had five tour players approach us with their agents wanting to play the ball and we declined.  They obviously would be looking for some endorsement money and if I do that than someone has to pay that bill.  I want to make sure that everything that I do with this business that affordability and performance doesn’t change.  Having these things would add costs and that is not the goal.  If I do anything with retail or pro shops I’ll take the margin hit but I want to keep the price the same to continue to provide that level of performance at a price that is affordable.   We did have tour players’ call, they were interested in playing (Snell balls) and we respectfully declined.

We did have three guys on tour last year actually play the ball.  A couple of them got in trouble from their sponsors and they had to switch back.  We had a couple players qualify for the US Open that used the ball.  One player actually qualified for the Senior Tour this year and he used the golf ball for free because he likes the performance.  The tour players who did play it liked it – and I don’t want to give names and get anyone in trouble – but there has been an interest in it.  I think over the next couple years more and more people will be interested.  Some players are seeking contracts of $100,000 or $200,000 but they have putts on the 18th green for that amount.  That mindset is starting to change.  They can take money but if they think performance is better they could win that money back if the ball is better.  I hope that message will continue to get out and our growth on tour will take place that way and keep the price low.

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  1. How would you categorize the success of your work under Snell Golf?

DS – It’s been much better than expected.  It was a nice little project I wanted to start.  It was self-funded with some help from some friends.  What I thought I would do in sales in the first year I did in six months.  And we started direct on-line sales.  We ship free in the United States; it’s a little different system in Canada.  2016 was our first full year and our business was up 400%.  Having something grow 10-20% year over year is nice but we grew by 400%.  I wanted to do a nice crawl-walk-run approach and we went from crawling to sprinting pretty fast.  It’s all good, it’s moving in the right direction and we will continue to support access to affordable, quality product.

MJ – I know the interest the public has in a quality, value ball is high and the example of the interest in the Costco ball is a good example of how something can snowball pretty quickly.  So 400% is extremely impressive.  Is growth for Snell Golf something you see being able to sustain over time?

DS – I don’t see 400% year over year, if so this is a gold mine, but in this industry which I have been in for 28 years the targets are for 10% annual growth.  Our January (2017) was 2 ½ times over the year before and February has been strong too so far.  Now these are the slow months because so much of the country is cold and people are not playing golf.  We’re off to a good start; we have some new things coming in March and April.  Word of mouth and social media have been how we’ve been able to keep the price down on the marketing side and our customers help spread the word.  This is all helping keep our costs down.  Things are moving in a strong and very positive direction.

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  1. As I’m sure you’re aware, Canada is a golf-crazy market with over 5 million people participating in golf annually. Why is it important to have set up direct Snell outlets in countries outside the United States?

DS – I have a real passion for Canada.  I am a hockey player.  I love hockey and it’s my first favourite sport if I have to be honest.  I spent a lot of time in Canada growing up around the game of hockey.  I love the Boston Bruins – Montreal Canadiens rivalry.  The Canadian market for us is close to my heart.  Looking at our social media outlets I see so many passionate golfers from countries outside the US.  And if there’s a way where we can take what we’re doing here in the US to another country, like Canada or Japan or other places, if we can set it up then we will.  Now it was a struggle when we got started.  It was not easy to get balls from the US to Canada.  We shipped across the border and it was expensive and balls would get returned.  Being able to come up with a solution that fits and offer the product is a home run.  We started in the US and we’re now in 11 different countries today.  Of those 11, Canada is one of our biggest.  We’re excited about it.  Last year was our first in Canada and it started modestly but things are building and we’re excited for the growth and future success.

MJ – Following up, I know the Canadian office has been aggressive in promoting support of Snell Golf Canada for junior golf.  What are your thoughts on that?

DS – I think it’s outstanding.  The future for golf is not with people who play now and have played for 20 years.  It’s going to people with people who are learning it today and who will play it for 40 years.  We have to continue – through sponsorships of junior programs like the team at Snell Golf Canada are supporting – to do things different.  I share the excitement and energy of the Canadian team at Snell Golf for initiatives like this.  Identifying areas that can have a nice impact on the game that can hit a lot of players and help grow the game are things we will support.

MJ – The investment strategy of connecting your brand to junior golf in Canada is great to see.  Snell Golf Canada also piloted an ambassador program.  There are certainly options and working with countries around the world opens up unique opportunities in those areas.

DS – I agree.  We launched an ambassador program here in the US in August or September last year which identified key people in golf in the US.  This kind of effort which gets the word out and helps keep costs down are an important part of our business model.  Having ambassadors to the business is important to us.  If we got into the traditional golf way – endorsement contracts, magazines, TV commercials – which is what we’re trying to keep away from, it helps us manage our costs and we can continue to provide current products and explore future product options.

Click here for Part 2 – great insight on product development.

Click here for Part 3 – Dean’s approach to ball fitting

 

Scott Simmons Interview – Part 3 – Accomplishments, Public Players, and Augusta

Scott Simmons Interview – Part 3 – Accomplishments, Public Players, and Augusta

A Quick Nine with Scott Simmons, CEO of Golf Canada

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more

This closing segment will have Mr. Simmons reflect on accomplishments during his tenure as CEO, how Golf Canada is working to engage the public player and closes with him sharing what would be his ultimate dream round at Augusta National.

  1. What are some accomplishments Golf Canada has had during your tenure that you’re proud of and wish more people knew about?

SS – I’d say the biggest one is we moved our name to Golf Canada from the Royal Canadian Golf Association.  That isn’t just a name change and a logo change.  It is a complete philosophical change which I am very proud of.  The RCGA, which has been around since 1895, the word association, by definition means that we’re associated with a certain group of people and that group historically has been our members – our member clubs and our member golfers.  And that is still critically important to our organization, is working with our member based clubs across the country and providing value to our member clubs and our member individuals, overseeing the game in terms of governance, rules, handicapping, course rating, amateur status, national championships from the Canadian Junior up to the Canadian Open.  All those things that the RCGA did, Golf Canada still do and are core to our mandate.  They are really why who we are.  But Golf Canada, which by extension means we want to provide value and help people enjoy the game of golf regardless of whether they have a direct association with us.  Public players, kids, people of all backgrounds, and this comes with your mandate as the national sport organization for golf in Canada.  That title was given to the RCGA by Sport Canada in 2005/2006.  With accepting that title came the responsibility for the entire game of golf in Canada and not just the association based elements I spoke of previously.  So I see us now as a much more inclusive, proactive entity then we used to be.  We’re still doing exactly what we did for 110 years, we’re now doing more and for more people.

36 – I certainly saw the move as an opportunity to modernize and redefine the brand.  And like you said, expand the scope of activity to engage people who may not otherwise see themselves as being part of the RCGA.

  1. My interest in my blog is to inform public players in Canada about important aspects of golf like courses, travel, equipment and other relevant information. How can public players engage with Golf Canada and what would you tell public players to be the value of joining Golf Canada?

SS – I guess it depends on who you are and what your needs are.  Hopefully we have value and services that would appeal to any type of golfer or facility.  We’re actually evolving that as well from our membership based programs to what’s available for free for the casual public golfer.  So from a facility point of view it’s the ability to have an official course rating, access to the score centre, being an official course of Golf Canada and their provincial body, host championships, give back to the game.  From an individual point of view there is a wide spectrum; those that want to keep an official handicap and compete, compete in national and provincial championships, all the way down to the public golfer where we now have a bronze membership which is free and provides you with some online tools.  We have things like insurance in case you lose your clubs.  We have a new club label system where you put labels on your clubs that have bar codes.  So when the club comes into the shop it can be scanned and you know exactly who they belong to so you can contact them.

36 – Excellent.  I just renewed my membership so I look forward to getting those.

SS – There you go.  I encourage you to look at our website because all the updated membership benefits are listed.

36 – Having been a member now for about 5 or 6 years and in terms of tracking a handicap and being as engaged as I can, I think the organization has done a good job to enhance the value proposition.  I can appreciate the challenge around articulating it but if you look at support around membership helping grow the game, I like the fact that a portion of my money goes back to support the development of the junior game.

SS – That’s where the majority of it does go.  We are a non-profit entity.  We’re an RCAAA (Registered Charitable Amateur Athletic Association).  We’re not here to make big profits and pay dividends to shareholders.  We put all our money back into the game.  That’s the other thing that people who love the game can appreciate.  Whether they’re getting anything in return by supporting Golf Canada and their provincial associations, they’re helping them run and grow the game that they love.  Most successful entities are supported by the athletes and the members.  Sure, we try to do the best we can with government funding and corporate sponsorship, and so on, but the money that comes from the golfers is the difference between good to great for what we can do for the game.  That is the biggest thing people can get from being part of this community is that you’re helping sustain and grow this game that you love.

36 – Well said.  It’s nice to look across all the professional tours and see the Canadian flag up there so prominently.  But between that and the offerings that available for myself as a public player, I want to commend you and your team.  You’re always seeking ways to enhance the value proposition and I’ve enjoyed the experience of membership.

  1. Lastly, and this is a standard question I ask everyone, what is your dream foursome and what course(s) would you like to play?

SS – Boy, there is a lot of people.  My late grandfather introduced me to the game as did my father.  My father is still alive.  He is now 85 and doesn’t play a lot of golf anymore.  I’d love to be able to have my grandfather, my dad and my brother together into a foursome, to play a game and go back to some of the old courses that I played growing up in the Brantford area.  There are so many great courses in Canada and around the world.  I’m not sure I could pick just one.  One course I’d love to have a chance to play is Augusta.  That’s one course that is very hard to get on to but it is on my bucket list.  If I could play that course with my brother, my father and my grandfather, that would be the ultimate for me.

36 – That’s sounds ideal.  I know I have been fortunate to travel with work and play so many great courses coast to coast.  The quality of the courses and the incredible golf value that exists in this country is simply staggering.  Mr. Simmons, I can’t thank you enough for your time.  I really appreciate this.

SS – No problem, my pleasure.  And that last point you made, many people don’t realize that Canada has more golf courses in the world than anybody except the United States.  At 2346 facilities we are the most blessed nation on earth when it comes to access of golf facilities.  Of those 2346 facilities, only roughly 200 of them are private. So the perception of golf being a private, elitist game couldn’t be further from the truth.  There is a facility of every type, variety and price for every golfer.  From 9 hole ‘munis’ all the way up to exclusive private clubs and everything in between.  So it’s a very accessible and open sport.

36 – Thank you for the great work you and your team are doing and thank you for your time, it means a lot.

SS – Anytime, I appreciate what you’re doing to promote the industry.

 

Reflections – It was a genuine pleasure to have an hour of Mr. Simmons’ time to learn more about the complexity of their policy decision this winter.  However, the real surprise for me was the genuine passion to which he spoke about initiatives of Golf Canada to grow the game.  His leadership, and the stewardship of Golf Canada in supporting the sustainable development of golf in this country, is sincerely appreciated.  I left the conversation feeling very proud to be a member of Golf Canada.

Scott Simmons Interview – Part 2 – Growing the Game of Golf in Canada

Scott Simmons Interview – Part 2 – Growing the Game of Golf in Canada

A Quick Nine with Scott Simmons, CEO of Golf Canada

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more

This is the second part of my conversation with Golf Canada CEO, Scott Simmons, and will close off the handicap policy change discussion, examine the state of the game of golf in Canada and close with a discussion on youth engagement in the game.

  1. While this is not scientific in its data gathering approach, I polled golfers on twitter and almost 70% stated they play occasionally or regularly as a single, a number even higher than I thought. Will Golf Canada still ask players to record scores played as a single, even though it will not count toward their index?  If so, for what purposes?

SS – Well, we won’t ask them to.  But we are trying to be more inclusive in everything we do. There are only a certain percentage of people who want to keep an official handicap.  Yet the key part of understanding whether or not you are improving is the ability to track all your scores, your statistics, if you want to know how many times you make par or hit the fairway off the tee or what you shot.  We want to give every golfer through our score centre the chance to understand their game and manage their statistics.  In the past, and even right now, it’s really just been the only time you would enter anything in our system is to record a score to calculate your official index.  What we’re trying to do is broaden that to serve all golfers.  Obviously a core of that will still be recording official scores for official handicap purposes.  I might be an opinion of one but I would love to see the day where every golfer sees the value in what Golf Canada and the provincial golf associations can provide to them in terms of online tools and digital tools and apps to help them make their experience more fun.  And of course, that is a personal, individual thing.  What would give you more pleasure playing the game is different than me or anyone else.  If we can give you the tools so that you can use the ones that appeal to you I think that’s a big part of us doing our job as the governing body of the game.  So, the short answer to your question is we’re not going to ask people to post their solo rounds but we’d love to give people the ability to post them if they wish to in order to proactively help understand their game better.

36 – That is great. I appreciate your time and that of your office to unpack this policy decision and provide information.  I was a little surprised when this decision (solo round handicapping change) came out because there was not a lot of background information to explain the rationale.  Since then, I have found your office to be quite forthright and I appreciate that.

SS – Well, again, I appreciate your comments.  The reason I am having this call now is you were very respectful in your responses.  You may not agree with us.  We can even admit when we can do things better, and I think in hindsight when you look back we could have done a far better job of communicating this decision.  It doesn’t mean we change our mind.  I stand behind the initial decision and I stand behind the change based on the information that you have at the time when you make each decision.  Could we have surrounded the second decision with more information?  Yeah, in hindsight, absolutely.  Sometimes you don’t see those things until after it happens.  So yes, I wish we had surrounded ourselves with more communication but that is behind us now.

36 – Of course.

  1. Stepping back from issue of handicapping in golf, how would you describe the state of the game of golf in Canada?

SS – I think it is incredibly healthy.  Using the old analogy of looking at things as glass half-full or glass half-empty, here are the facts, you can’t debate them:  Golf is the number one participation sport in Canada.  More people play golf than any other recreational activity; 5.7 million golfers in the last economic impact study that was done. Now that includes everybody from people who 200 rounds a year to the guy or gal who play in the one scramble a year in their company event.  You can sub-set that number and there’s more core and avid golfers than anywhere else in the world except for the United States.  There are more golf courses in Canada than anywhere else in the world with the exception of the United States.  We have the highest per capita participation rate.  It’s a 14 billion dollar business.  It employs hundreds of thousands of people and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to charity.  It is extremely healthy.

Now, does that mean that it doesn’t have its set of opportunities or challenges?  No.  I think what we’re seeing globally, worldwide, is a problem with our youth in terms of inactivity, and child obesity. What’s happening with technology and smartphones and computers has taken away a lot of social interaction so what you’re seeing is that children in general and the younger generation are generally less active than the generation before them.  I think that’s impacting participation across the board in every activity around the globe.  Golf is no exception, so I think the biggest opportunity for golf is to really showcase the tremendous values our game has.  It’s the only game in the world you can play as a family where people of differing abilities can compete with one another.  There are so many different formats and it’s very healthy for you in a non-physical way.  There’s no issues with concussions or risk of injury for the most part.  It’s a very low impact way to keep yourself healthy.  The amount of calories you burn walking 18 holes is significant.  It’s great; doctors prescribe the game to people of all ages, especially seniors.  It teaches us the right values that other sports sometimes have a challenge with.  So, I think golf has to take all the tremendous competitive advantages it has and use them to its advantage to encourage kids and families to participate more.  Instead of that being a problem, which several people have described it as, I see it as a huge opportunity.

36 – I love that language and I think the use of that term (opportunity) is significant because it shows the game with an asset base.

  1. Building from that, my next question is can you share any plans Golf Canada has or its member associations have to address this opportunity for greater youth engagement? Is there anything taking place to help bridge this gap?

SS – Yes, absolutely.  It’s not one thing, it’s an ongoing process.  But in no particular order I will give you a few things.  We’re very proud of the work we’ve done with Golf in Schools.  I don’t know how old you are but whenever I ask this question to an audience, ‘how many of you played golf in phys-ed in public or high school?’ it’s a very small group of people if any that put their hand up.  But everybody has played basketball or volleyball, soccer, track and field, badminton.  So think of how successful our industry is without having any kind of grassroots school involvement.  And think about the opportunity when we’re on an even playing field with other sports and activities at the school level.  About five years ago we launched the Golf in Schools program which is a basic curriculum trying to teach all the core physical attributes but using golf as the medium, whether that’s balance or flexibility.  You’re not really teaching a grade 2 child how to play the game but you’re using plastic golf equipment as the vehicle to teach them physical literacy.  There’s an elementary program, there’s a high school program and a middle school program.  So that can only help, especially when you’ve got 10,000 schools across the country and millions of kids and getting them exposed to the game versus not exposing them at all.

Now connected with that is the Future Links program which is a comprehensive world-class curriculum, staged level process that our good friends at the PGA of Canada use to introduce people to the game and teach them the game from the most basic introductory level up to programming for the elite and high performance competitive people.  The key now – and that program is well embedded in Canada – is to connect the school with the golf course.  As of today, that is probably one of our highest priorities is creating that linkage.  And its working well; there are examples where pros are now making visits to schools, clubs are now making a relationship with schools in their community.  Even private clubs like London Hunt sponsors the Golf in Schools program for all the schools in their London region.

36 – Is that not an initiative that Graham DeLaet has put himself behind?

SS – Yes, Graham is a national spokesperson for our Golf in Schools program.

36 – That’s awesome.

SS – So, we’re doing this in concert with our provincial partners and the PGA of Canada.  The ownership group supports it.  They endorse Golf in Schools and Future Links.  So those are two examples.

Also, in Ontario, for example, they are launching their community initiative.  Barrie is the pilot region where the GAO is being the stimulus to bring all the clubs in that catchment area together and coming up with activities and tools and ways for the community to work together on golf and creating other family programs and initiatives.  There are examples like that from coast to coast.  And it’s only going to grow.  I’ll go back to my earlier point, when you think about how successful we’ve been – as an industry – without proactively marketing to people, and we’re the number one activity in Canada, just think of the possibilities when we proactively start to promote the games benefits and the way for families and kids to engage and have fun, the sky’s the limit.  I could see participation climbing in a significant way by being proactive and strategic with the way in which we try to get more people involved.

 

Tomorrow is the final segment of part of my three-part interview with CEO of Golf Canada, Scott Simmons.  Here, we reflect on accomplishments during his tenure, efforts to engage the public player and his dream foursome.