Deloitte has been working with the United States Golf Association to help the USGA broaden the appeal of golf and understand what is drawing players to the game.
The partnership began as a consulting engagement in 2014. “They reached out to us as a typical consulting arrangement,” said Deloitte sports consulting lead Pete Giorgio. “The basic issue was the USGA is recognizing that the people who are playing golf are evolving. They are trying to understand how they could deepen their relationships with golfers, but also start to think about what needs to change at the USGA to evolve with those golfers. We came in and helped them understand what was happening and start to build a plan to think about innovating within the USGA and evolving to meet the changing demands, needs and experiences that golfers are looking for.”
The arrangement broadened into a partnership this past January. “The partnership includes continuing to help them with those sorts of things, as well as a few areas where Deloitte can help,” said Giorgio. “We’re also working with them around things like the championships, the tournaments during the summer, as well as some other initiatives around our Impact Day.”
As part of Deloitte’s annual Impact Day of community service and volunteerism, the firm is working with Girls Golf, a group affiliated with both the USGA and the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which helps girls and young women build leadership skills through golf.
Deloitte has also become a sponsor for the USGA. “We have a partnership with Deloitte that’s multifaceted,” said USGA senior managing director of business affairs Sarah Hirshland. “They are a corporate partner of ours and one of five partners whom I would define as marketing partners. They help us support initiatives in the organization and help us amplify our voice and tell our stories to a broader audience.”
The USGA retained Deloitte to examine the organization and how it relates to the network of state and regional golf associations, along with golf clubs and facilities around the country, and their members.
“The idea was for us to take a look at our value proposition in that ecosystem and make sure we’re maximizing it and that it is current and relevant to today,” said Hirshland. “We asked Deloitte to come in and help us take a look and bring their expertise in business and strategy, but also their process-driven mindset and experience and understanding from other industries, to enable us to take a bit of a fresh look.”
Deloitte did some ethnographic research for the USGA to see how golfers have been evolving as new technologies develop both on and off the course, while lifestyles adapt to fit in work with ever-shrinking leisure time.
“We went around the country and went on visits and basically sat with a bunch of people who were playing golf, to understand a bit more about how they think about golf today, how they approach golf, what role golf plays in their lives, and how they think about the USGA as a partner in that relationship,” said Giorgio. “The big thing that we found is that golf continues to be something that is a huge part of a number of people’s lives. It’s a big part of who they are and the stories they tell about themselves, but people have increasing time pressures. Certainly there’s increasing economic pressures. People have more responsibilities. The big thing that we heard from folks was how do I figure out how to fit golf into my life and how can the USGA help me with that.”
Deloitte worked with the USGA on how it could put golfers at the center of what the organization does and work more effectively with other golfing organizations.
“How do we make it easier for people to find partners, to get better, to just enjoy the game and get to know the game?” said Giorgio. “What we find is there’s a bit of a barrier. If you’ve never played golf before, just summoning the courage to hit that first golf ball is a huge step, and then once you’ve hit a few golf balls, summoning the courage to step on a course. How can the USGA both directly and indirectly support people who want to get more involved?”
Deloitte helped the USGA understand the patterns of its different customer bases and what they needed. “Some of the field research they did for us was focused on how we identify stages within the golfer landscape and their environment,” said Hirshland. “They really helped us break down categories of consumers and think about the needs of those consumers in different stages of their golf game. For many of us, we’re either new and emerging and just trying it; or we’re engaged but maybe not at a high level or an elite level; and then there is certainly a group of golfers who are highly competitive, not just at the professional level but at the amateur level as well.” Deloitte helped the USGA understand and categorize those different bases and their different needs.
The USGA also needed to continue to play its traditional role around governing the game, setting the rules, and testing equipment while evolving the rules to support the way golfers play today. Sustainability has also taken on greater importance as parts of the country cope with drought.
“We talked about making it more sustainable lifestyle wise, and how do they make it sustainable economically for golf courses to continue to play the game,” said Giorgio. “Things like water and maintenance on golf courses are becoming more expensive. Some of the places like the Southwest, where water has become such a scarce resource, how do they decrease the need for water and decrease the need for fertilizer? They’ve got a bunch of great programs around turf grass research, as well as some interesting technology around tracking the way people walk around courses and move on courses. They can show courses where they need to water and more importantly where they don’t need to water.”
The USGA is evolving to deal with priorities both new and old. “We are in what will be a multiyear evolution of the way in which we work with our partners at the state and regional level, and the value proposition that we provide both to the individual golfer and to the golf facility,” said Hirshland. “That will be a long run, in terms of an evolving phased process and approach.”
Some of the evolution involves the technology behind the USGA Handicap System and the USGA Course Rating System.
“At the very core of much of it is both the rules of handicapping and the Course Rating System,” said Hirshland. “The rules that operate around that are something that the USGA created more than 100 years ago and really fit into our intellectual property, but the administration of that and the actual technology computation of handicaps is a sort of code of behaviors and processes, coupled with an algorithm and math and a lot of research that essentially is an enabler of allowing golfers of all skill levels to play and compete on an equitable basis. There are multiple components of that, some of which are very much end user driven, and some of which are very strategic and quite frankly math and scientifically driven. We are looking at those systems and processes and making sure that we are thoughtful about an institution that has existed for more than 100 years. It’s really unique to the game of golf, but the end user experience and how it applies to golf today is modern and current and appropriate for what is a very different society today than what existed even 10 or 15 years ago.”
Golf will be an Olympic event this summer for the first time and is expected to broaden the appeal of the game around the world. The USGA is actively involved with other U.S. and global organizations in bringing golf to the Rio games.