Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When Golf Matters

For every club you've thrown, profanity uttered, or head-scratching moment you've experienced in golf, please remember that even the dumbest of triple bogeys (from 80 yards out in the middle of the fairway) pale in comparison to the heroic sacrifices being made on a daily basis by our Armed Forces.

I don't intend this post to be one of those "when I was a kid, we knew what pain was!" rants. Instead, I want to point out what a powerful role the wonderful game of golf can play in helping the families of those soldiers who have given their all so we could play golf free from the fear of being bombed (middle East), beaten (Iran), etc.

This Saturday, we're broadcasting MGL Radio from Grand Haven Golf Club. This beautiful course is not only an ideal setting for golf, it's also the birthplace of Major Dan Rooney's brainchild, Patriot Golf Day.

Now a national campaign involving hundreds of courses, Patriot Golf Day got its start in a very moving way. Major Rooney was on a plane and witnessed the homecoming of a flag-draped coffin and the family of the soldier there to meet it. It broke his heart and spurred him to action.

Last year, millions of dollars were raised from the generous donations of golfers across the nation. Families were helped with their expenses and reminded that the sacrifice of their loved ones was not made without the gratitude of a grateful country.

This July 4th weekend, my hope is that you will have a wonderful time celebrating this nation, our freedoms (which seem to be shrinking daily, but that's for another time), and the men and women who fought on our behalf.

I hope you'll listen to our interview with Major Rooney...true American hero.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Burden of Being Tiger

The truth is, you and I can not relate. There is NO chance we'll ever understand what it's like to live in a fishbowl to the extent of the biggest names in Hollywood, the White House, or celebrity. Sure, the money is ridiculous and almost mythical in quantity. Sure, the trappings of wealth look enticing most of the time (mostly because that's the side of fame we see celebrated).

There are celebs who handle all of it with great grave, humility, and charitable giving. They are the ones who we rarely see on the tabloid covers, Drudge Report, or in grainy internet videos shot by their boyfriends during a time of umm, personal interaction.

Tiger Woods is one of these graceful mega-celebs. Other than an occasional f-bomb launched after a wayward shot, Tiger is as sharp and clean as they come. His foundation does wonderful things for children. His smile lights up a room. His impact on the game has been tremendous.

But for some reason I'm having a hard time getting past the feeling that he owes something to the Buick Open. Our state's only PGA Tour event is hanging by a thread and the possibility is quite strong that the recently rescued '09 event may be the final edition of this wonderful, hallowed, vital event.

But Tiger can change that. Yes, one man has the potential to make that degree of impact simply by speaking out and speaking up and being present. Tiger, you need to play in this year's Buick Open.

After a handful of years on the Buick payroll, it's time to give back to a company that Big Brother now controls. You've collected millions from the failed car company, and no one begrudges you that. The endorsement dollars are well-earned and serve as a reminder of the powerful impact your presence makes.

Now, we need that presence in mid-Michigan. We need you to play in the Buick this year. We need you to do something you promised to do the last two years but backed out of - play in the Buick. (Both withdrawls were quite valid - birth of child and knee injury.)

I have attended the winter luncheons where real checks are handed out to real charities as a result of the Buick Open.

I have seen the impact this event makes on the community...a community that is reeling from the recession but gets to smile one week a year when the stars of golf come visit.

I have watched Tiger play his way to victory and carry along throngs of hurting people with him throughout the journey.

Now, we need the man whose list of requests is longer than a late-night Congressional pork amendment to answer this one with a nod, a phone call, and early notice that he will be part of what may very well be the final Buick Open.

Tiger, we'll save you a spot in the field...just this once.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Scared Away from Golf

What a shame to see the headline and story posted below. While I am 100% against corporate greed, I am 100% in favor of corporate profit and the charitable benefits that come from it. So to see bosses giving up golf just so Barney Frank won't yell at them, irritates me to no end.

How do you feel about this story...
In bad economy, CEOs don't want to be seen playing golf
Many CEOs have been shamed into playing less golf, or at least humiliated enough by their tanking public image to play their rounds on the sly.

"CEOs are golfing less … and those that are still golfing are probably talking about it less," says Steve Bennett, who retired as CEO of Intuit in December 2007 after being ranked by Golf Digest magazine as the ninth-best golfer among large-company CEOs in 2006.

Perhaps nothing is more symbolic of the CEO lifestyle than golf. A 2006 USA TODAY analysis of 115 golfing CEOs of large companies found 25 belonging to three or more country clubs at the same time. But an unscientific survey for USA TODAY of 163 CEO golfers by the CEO organization Vistage International this month found that 29% had reduced their rounds and another 11% have stopped playing altogether.

"It's a byproduct of bad economic times," says NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven, one of four who in 2001 paid $660,000 at a charity auction to play with Tiger Woods using Warren Buffett as caddy.

Many CEOs and CEO experts say image is largely at play. Just 25% of adults have a favorable opinion of CEOs in the June Rasmussen survey, the lowest of all professions surveyed, including members of Congress at 30%. Among other executives, only 14% have a positive view of CEOs, according to research released this month by Weber Shandwick.

Their sinking image has them parking their clubs even before they quit other activities that seem more time consuming and extravagant. Where it comes to golf, "CEOs have been in a fetal position for the last six months," says Ted Kennedy, president of CEO Challenges, which sponsors $1,000-a-day athletic events from sailing to auto racing, and in August is hosting a triathlon to crown the world's fittest CEO. But there has been zero interest in golf, and no events are scheduled for 2009.

Donations to charity suffer

Charity is a victim of this sudden radioactivity. Golf events raise about $3.5 billion a year, according to SRI International, and only $130 million of that was generated by professional tours. The rest came via 16,000 golf clubs that provide venues.

Hilary Fordwich, who once ran KPMG's global marketing, is now president of Strelmark Business Development Consultants in Washington, D.C. An avid golfer, she qualified for two Women's Southern Amateurs with a single-digit handicap, and her website is peppered with links to golfing sites and to her video interviews of pros, including Jack Nicklaus.

Fordwich regularly invites CEOs to golf fundraisers for charity, but when she recently approached the CEO of a large government contractor to sponsor a pro-am for the PGA's tour in support of the Melwood charity for the disabled, he declined. The company had participated in the past and was doing well in the current economic downturn. The only explanation was that the CEO did not want to appear in a public golf event, concerned about image at a time when Congress is sensitive to CEO excess, says Fordwich, who declined to identify the CEO or company.

The CEO, instead, invited Fordwich to a private golf outing. Golf was still played, only the charity suffered, Fordwich says. The public thinks the fundraising tournaments are "boondoggles," but this is how money is raised, she says.

Such delicacies seem to end where golf meets Washington influence rather than Washington scrutiny. A USA TODAY analysis of lobbying efforts published this month found that when companies contribute to the charities of members of Congress, they are often rewarded with invitations to play golf with those working on health care and other issues of enormous financial consequence.

Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf and holder of golf patents, says he is not a fan of being politically correct for expedience. He says that both the game and the charities deserve better and calls CEOs "hypocrites" when they quit or hide their golf for public relations reasons.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, a longtime CEO watcher and chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, doubts if fewer CEOs are playing golf. "But no sane CEO would dare brag about his or her golf game during these difficult economic times. CEO reputations are extremely vulnerable, and CEOs are hypersensitive about bad PR. Why throw oil on the fire?"

Using golf as a stress reliever

MGIC Investment CEO Curt Culver, the best CEO golfer of 2004 as ranked by Golf Digest, has been golfing since he was 5 and wore golf attire at his first job interview with MGIC in 1982 because he was coming from a Milwaukee tournament. In 1996, he beat Arnold Palmer by a stroke and displays the score card in his office.

Culver's handicap has nearly doubled from 2.4 to 3.8 (the lower the index the better the golfer) but he still finds golf a great stress reliever at a time when MGIC stock has fallen 94% from the start of 2006.

"Obviously, our business has been very difficult the past two years," Culver says. He says he is "clearly playing less golf," and also has less time for family and community work.

Bennett agrees that the game is important to the mental well-being of leaders consumed by problems. "Golf was the only time I could really escape everything else that's going on, all the pressure and everyday burden."

Is golf good for CEO performance, or is it a distraction? That issue has been hanging around at least since the late 1990s when the economy was humming and CEOs took pride in making the list of best CEO golfers published by Golf Digest every two years. No. 2 Jack Welch of General Electric even challenged No. 1 Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems to a match for bragging rights.

Times have changed. Golf Digest broke its every-other-year cycle and did not publish the list in 2008. Both Welch and McNealy declined comment for this story, even though both are retired. Welch has been replaced by Jeffrey Immelt, who plays some golf, but who joked to USA TODAY in 2001 that he would stand a better chance against the shorter Welch in basketball. McNealy has been replaced by Jonathan Schwartz, who told BusinessWeek magazine in 2007 that golf is "just not who I am."

"I spend so much time at work that I'd rather be with my wife," says Coldwell Banker CEO Jim Gillespie, who plays a couple of times a year but says so with a tone of obligation.

Graef Crystal, an outspoken critic of CEO compensation and perks, has twice studied large companies run by CEOs with good golf games and has found those companies, in general, tend to perform above average. He says his "pop-psychology take" is that superior corporate performance may require the same focus and discipline required of good golf.

How golfing CEOs have fared

But there are recent indications that the superior performance by golfing CEOs is slipping:

•Of the 12 best golfers in the 2006 CEO Golf Digest list, seven are no longer with their companies: Jim Crane of EGL, Jerry Jurgensen of Nationwide Financial, Steve Macadam of BlueLinx Holdings, Bennett of Intuit, Mike Eskew of UPS, David Perdue of Dollar General and Ted Chandler of LandAmerica Financial.

Patricia Russo, the only woman to ever crack the magazine's list of 200 best golfers, exited as CEO of Alcatel-Lucent in September.

•The most-improved golfer from 2004-2006 was Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren, who went from 178th to 91st. Lundgren remains at Macy's, but the stock is down 66% since the start of 2006 vs. a 28% decline in the S&P 500. Lundgren declined to comment.

•Among the five of 12 best CEO golfers still on the job, performance isn't exactly sparkling. The stock market has devastated many companies, but of the five, only Ed Stack of Dick's Sporting Goods has significantly out-performed the market, with just a 2% drop from the beginning of 2006. Stanley Works under John Lundgren is down 30%, while Constellation Energy under Mayo Shattuck is down 54%, Crosstex Energy under Barry Davis is down 84%, and MGIC Investment under Culver is down 94%.

Even Stack, the most successful CEO golfer, declined to comment on the topic.

Then there is CF Industries, the company from the list with by far the best-performing stock since the start of 2006, up 359%. Does CF Industries CEO Stephen Wilson play golf from time to time? That's difficult to determine.

"Right now, CF Industries is involved in a hostile three-way takeover tussle with two other fertilizer producers, Terra Industries and Agrium," says spokesman Charles Nekvasil in an e-mail.

Nekvasil continues: "In all honesty, even talking about golf (or vacations, or cruises, or office parties or anything else) would send a signal to our shareholders that we aren't 100% focused on these transactions and creating shareholder value. We'll take a pass on this."

Contributing: Tom Ankner

Corporate leaders might be lying low lately when it comes to the links, but the nation's top CEO says golf is one of the few times he feels "normal."

"First of all, I'm terrible," President Obama says in an interview airing Tuesday morning on CBS' The Early Show. "You're hacking away and hitting some terrible shot, and your friends are laughing at you."

But the president says the peace of mind is priceless. "It is the only time that for six hours -- first of all -- that I'm outside. And, second of all, where you almost feel normal in the sense that you're not in a bubble. There are a whole bunch of Secret Service guys, but they're sort of in the woods."

By Lauren Ashburn

Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Island Time

What a privilege it is to be writing this from the unbeatable setting of the historic front porch at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. For the uninitiated, Mackinac Island was the setting for the movie "Somewhere in Time," and is a marvelous destination where no motor driven vehicles are allowed on the island. If I could insert the sounds of horses clip-clopping, that would be the soundtrack for the scene I'm enjoying on this Father's Day.

In an hour, I'll welcome over 100 golfers from around the nation to the 4th Annual MGL Grand Golf Getaway, a wonderful time of golf and fun at America's Summer Place - Grand Hotel. With the two nines separated by a 30-minute horse-drawn carriage ride, the Grand offers an experience unlike any course in the nation.

Better yet, the Grand is still owned and operated by a family. Not a corporate giant in need of a bailout. This place is in the wonderful hands of the Mussers, and their caring touches are evident throughout the historic hotel.

Please allow me to encourage you - the next time you head to Mackinac Island - to bring your clubs along and try your game out on the Jewel...and bring along a camera. I guarantee you'll need it.

Welcome to the Grand Hotel - and the MGL Grand Golf Getaway!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Swing to the Polka Rhythms

It's not every day you get the chance to be serenaded with polka music while teeing off. But that's exactly what happened today at the Fortress in Frankenmuth as our 4-some played ahead of (and in between) an outing that was designed to celebrate Michigan's Little Bavaria.

Strangely, the peppy tunes from the accordion and baritone provided just enough oom-pah that I grooved a sold drive right down the middle. I don't know who they were, but do you think it would be a problem if I began taking a polka duet with me for every round? Apparently, there's something special about that sound. Try it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kill the Dinosaur

The '08 US Open was easily the most compelling golf tournament I have ever watched (until you pull out the VHS tape and go back to Tiger's showdown with Bob May, Payne Steward and Phil battling down the stretch at Pinehurst, or a myriad of other magical moments in the great game).

Tiger vs. Rocco was stunningly dramatic, oddly moving, and flat out terrific for the game.

But it doesn't negate the reality that for all parties involved, the USGA needs to give up the ridiculous 18-hole playoff format and adopt a resolution more sensible. I'm not the first to make this suggestion, and certainly won't be the last. But just imagine if the playoff had been between Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson - the 3rd and 4th place finishers last year. Would you have paid even the least bit of attention to a 2-man Monday playoff? NBC would rather air a highlight reel of Keith Olbermann foaming at the mouth in an inane tirade (as seen each evening on MSNBC, but I digress).

As a huge proponent of golf's great traditions, I love the bizarreness of Augusta's rules, the esteem held by all for the Claret Jug, ABC's horrible camera work at the British each year (are they having an earthquake?), and other indelible iconic elements in golf.

But the 18-hole playoff needs to go. Rocco and Tiger simply gave the concept a 1-year reprieve. Wait till the gripping showdown this year between DJ Trahan and Stewart Cink. You'll be begging for a 4-hole Sunday playoff.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Barnum & Bailey Golf Fashion Must Go

Ask most golfer to list the top golf apparel choices they usually consider and the roster will typically include: Ashworth, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Cutter & Buck. The styles being put out by these companies usually fit into a somewhat traditional mode, even with the recent burst of brighter colors arriving on the scene.

I also understand that our Euro friends have a different fashion flair that has been on display since way back when Jesper starting eating volcano dust. Skin tight, neon bright, goofy looking duds have been the norm for Euros for quite some time.

Having said that, what on earth can explain the fashion choices of today's Tour winner, Brian Gay? Bringing back slacks from circa '78 is a real head shaker to me.

I'll readily admit to being far out of the fashion loop. If it wasn't for the kind folks at Ashworth dressing me for the past several years, the only fashion statement I'd be making is "I dress in the dark." But thanks to the wise folks in Carlsbad, I'd like to think that the clothes we wear on TV/Radio appearances would have some appeal to the audience. (Make no mistake, I am NOT suggesting the wearer of the clothes flatters them in any way; just that the clothes are quite sharp.)

And then there's John Daly. I'm all for JD generating revenue in whatever legal ways he can find. His clubs haven't been paying the bills for quite some time and there is a long line of ex's with their collective hands out to take any penny he earns. But to sign the clothing deal with Barnum & Bailey and to schlep around in clown pants is demeaning even for golf's leading sideshow.

Yes, I understand the need to attract attention and be remembered. But I also thought the point was to help sell the product you are wearing.

Are YOU ready to shop where JD and Brian Gay shop?
Are YOU ready for the Watson/Nicklaus slacks from 1980?
Are YOU going to chuck your favorite shorts or slacks to end up in the skin tight neons?

Not this boy! I'll stick with Fred Couples and let my game provide the embarrassment, not my fashion.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

JD Turning It Around?

You have to search long and hard to find any true golf fan who doesn't fear for the future of John Daly. Most of the people I talk to are bracing themselves for the day we all see the "breaking news" ticker at the bottom of the screen bearing confirmation of those fears in some sort of Belushi/Farley-like ending for JD.

None of us wants to see it happen but it's sort of like April 15th - whether you want the day to come or not is really not in our hands. Unless something drastic happens, the day WILL come.

That's why I find it so encouraging to see JD returning to the PGA Tour and making the cut in Memphis. Just being able to stick around for the weekend after being banished to the Island of Misfits is huge for the big fella, and whether you appreciate John's lifestyle choices or not, everyone has to be glad he will taste even a moderate amount of success and affirmation as he looks to turn things around.

Here's what I know - JD is a good hearted bloke who has made a long string of poor decisions about himself, relationships, behavior, etc. The list is known to all and not well concealed. But he also possesses an unusually attractive quality for the "everyman" golfer and we want to see JD do well.

So, good work, John. Congrats on sticking around for the weekend. Let this serve as a starting point and not as a conclusion to the recovery process that has years still to come.

Oh, and one more thing - Barnum and Bailey called. They'd like the clown pants returned.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bug Band Responds To MGL Critique

A few days ago I wrote a rather scathing critique of the Bug Band - a bracelet designed to keep even the most annoying of bugs away during my next round of golf. You'll see that post here. Well, the Bug Band folks didn't enjoy the blog and I truly do want The Clubhouse to serve as a forum for discussion and debate. So, in the interest of fairness, here is the Bug Band side of the story:

Dear Bill,

I saw your blog post “Gullible Golfers Beware,” and had to respond. I feel that you did your readers a disservice by instantly dismissing BugBand on the basis of your single experience during a walk around a heavily infested lake, and I’d like to offer a few clarifications I hope you’ll consider:

· BugBand wristbands are designed for lighter-duty insect protection. For heavy-duty situations, such as the one you described, BugBand towelettes and pump spray are a much more effective option because they’re applied directly to the skin. On most golf courses, BugBand wristbands do a phenomenal job of keeping biting insects away.

· BugBand makes no claim that its products are “guaranteed to keep bugs away on your next round,” despite the fact that independent testing by the University of Florida has proven BugBand to be an effective alternative to DEET-based repellents.

· In addition to several independent tests, hundreds of journalists have put BugBand through its paces over the past few years -- on golf courses, in the deep woods and in the backyard -- and the results are nearly unanimous: BugBand works, and it works extremely well. Many media outlets have been especially surprised at its efficacy because it’s a naturally derived product, which often don’t work nearly as well as they claim – or at all.

Certainly everyone’s entitled to his opinion, but I felt your post was inaccurate and unnecessarily mean-spirited. I think you owe it to your readers to test BugBand’s wristband on the course, or BugBand’s pump spray and towelettes the next time you visit your lake place. I’d be happy to send samples any time.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Brian B.
for BugBand

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I know that rooting for Tiger Woods is sort of like pulling for the Patriots to beat the Lions - the win is going to happen regardless of my rooting and enthusiasm. That said, what Tiger did Sunday afternoon at the Memorial was simply amazing.

14 for 14 in fairways hit.
Only missed 7 fairways ALL WEEK!
Putted flawlessly on greens that ran 14+ on the stimp (faster than Augusta).

I'm not trying to gush here or lose my credibility as a crusty member of the media elite (the print guys who never ever leave the press center and actually set foot on the golf course they call home for the week), but we truly are watching history unfold when Tiger plays and wins. No player in my lifetime (or yours) has been as feared, as dominant, and as reliable in clutch situations. His recent final round collapse a few weeks ago made headlines because it just never happens.

So if you don't mind someone pulling for the favorite, rooting for Goliath, pulling for the titan to conquer yet again...I kinda like watching a legend grow while I'm around. It beats reading about it decades after the fact and wondering what it would have been like to see him play.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Your Chance to Win!

During this morning's MGL Radio program from Wild Bluff in Brimley, we "cracked the code" of Distance Measuring Devices (DMDs) by interviewing reps from Bushnell and Skycaddie. With golfers evenly split between the laser devices and GPS technology, I thought it would be fun to create a unique competition that gives you a chance top win your choice of a Bushnell Yardage Pro of Skycaddie GPS system. Both are valued at more than $300. Here's how the competition works...

In order to be entered into the drawing for one of the 2 prizes, you must write a brief "essay" of 25 words or less making the case for why you should win.

Be creative and funny in your essay as we'll have a panel of 3 judges select the winner.

The wining entry will be read next week on MGL Radio and we'll bring you on the show LIVE to announce the results.

Post your essays here in the Clubhouse, but be sure to sign in so we know how to contact you in the event you win.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Gullible Golfers Beware!

One of the more interesting sides of being involved in golf media is the opportunity to try out various products that are soon to be hitting the shelves in your favorite pro shop. I often receive clubs, gadgets, and other inventions that are in need of attention. The companies that send the products are hoping for exposure on MGL Radio or TV. But sometimes, that exposure can backfire.

Enter, the Bug Band. This little bracelet is "guaranteed to keep the bugs away" during your next round. Anyone who plays golf in Michigan has had to fight off the swarms of gnats, mosquitoes, black flies, and numerous other forms of biblical pestilence that can distract from an otherwise beautiful day and great course.

Only one problem. The Bug Band doesn't work. My daughter and I are in the Upper Peninsula, where I will be broadcasting this weekend's MGL Radio show. (For those who don't know, the UP is home to one of the state's best courses - Wild Bluff - and I'm looking forward to the show.) Here in "God's Country," the mosquito is considered the state bird. They're huge, aggressive, and blood-thirsty weasels!

So, we went for a walk around the lake where our summer home is located. It was our official Bug Band field test. At first, the breezy conditions kept the bugs away and made me think the product was quite effective. I was wrong. When things calmed down, I could swear I heard a bugle and a tiny voice yelling "Charge!" They came from every direction and attacked every possible piece of flesh not covered.

And then came the worst part. All of the bugs stopped in mid flight, paused in mid-air, and broke into uproarious laughter at the site of the Bug Bands we were wearing.

Friends, when you seek a cure for the bug battles during your next round, don't waste your $$$ on the Bug Band. You have been duly warned.

Monday, June 1, 2009

3 Golfers and a Hack

You know the old joke that first prize is 2 Detroit Lions tickets...and 2nd prize is 4 Lion tickets? Well, there are 3 guys kicking around metro Detroit right now probably wondering what they did wrong to deserve 4 hours in the company of yours truly. Let me explain...

Mike Retford is a generous man who bid on an auction item offered during a charity auction by one of the MGL Radio affiliates. The item he bid on and won was donated by the kinds folks at Zehnders of Frankenmuth - golf at The Fortress and dinner at Zehnders. If the winning bidder was looking for additional fun in the package, I volunteered to come along and play The Fortress. (I know, what a magnanimous gesture on my part, being willing to play a championship course 20 minutes from my home).

It was at this point that Mike made a decision he will not likely get over anytime soon. He called and extended the invitation for me to come along and join the fun. Little did he know, I am currently in a funk where my scores are climbing as fast as GM stock is falling.

We teed off in a steady drizzle, thus providing me with an excellent excuse for poor play. But when the rains gave way to a dry sky, I had nowhere to hide. I tried offering up my recent back surgery, but it's hard to make the case that an April out-patient surgery is causing me to 3-putt repeatedly.

As Mike and I teamed up for a match against his buds Frank Gariza and Dave Humphreys, I noticed at the turn that Mike's posture was beginning to sag a bit. From carrying my sorry rear end on every hole. Every hole. All of them. It was a 2-on-1 competition where all I could do was drive the cart.

Somehow as we neared the conclusion of the round, I got my turn to pitch in a little bit with pars on 17 and 18 and there was no blood drawn on either side.

As always, The Fortress was in fantastic shape. One of these days, I hope my game will be as well.

Thanks for the invitation, Mike! Bet you won't make that mistake again!