Australian Golf Digest just celebrated its 50th birthday with its 600th issue, congratulations! Can you tell us more about the magazine and the stories you cover?
Australian Golf Digest has been the leading golf publication in the nation for 50 years. In short, it’s for EVERY golfer. Each month you will find plenty of instructional advice, equipment, travel features, player profiles and Q&As, tournament previews, special investigations and more. Our magazine was built on the foundations of What To Play, Where To Play and How To Play. The fact we have been going so strong for five decades is a testament to the observation made about sports writing by American writer George Plimpton: “The smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.” It is something we are extremely proud of, and here’s to another 50!
What have been some of the most memorable interviews you have conducted in your time at the magazine?
Wow, where do we begin? Golf is a game for life. You can play it in your nappies or in your nineties. As such, it’s inevitably given us the opportunity to interview all types from all walks of life. From the game’s very best players like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, to everyday golfers who have amazing stories to share. Personally, I will never forget the time I got to spend an hour with Nicklaus, just talking golf and looking through old photographs I had dug up from our Golf Digest archives. We were sharing the backseat of a car, en route to Jack’s hotel, when Sydney’s notorious peak-hour traffic struck. Jack didn’t care. He reminisced about the golden days, signed every photo, and had all the time in the world for me. Interviewing Greg Norman over a round of golf is right up there, too. He is a great Aussie with even greater stories.
At a grassroots level, how are local and smaller clubs doing in the wake of the lockdown?
With the exception of Melbourne, which as we know had to endure a lengthy lockdown period to help contain the spread of COVID-19, golf has actually thrived across the country on the back of it being classed as a form of essential exercise. Consequently, the vast majority of clubs have been overwhelmed with tee-time requests and increased member activity, with many having to take the extreme measure of putting tee-times to a ballot to give everyone a fair chance of playing. The question golf must now face, however, is how do we convert this newfound crowd into full-time participants moving forward? I’m optimistic. Our game, which can be played alone yet parallel, happens to be oddly well-suited to a future where contagion is top of mind. And if the record-breaking rounds and equipment sales we’re seeing in Australia are of any great measure, our future looks bright.
What have been the challenges in publishing the magazine, amidst the pandemic?
Publishing during a pandemic exposes you to commercial and logistical challenges that require bold and swift action. Naturally, advertising revenue can take a hit, depending on how the situation is affecting the business of advertisers. Reduced staff work hours can make balancing workloads difficult. And delivery of the magazine can face unwanted delays when you’re relying on a national postal service that’s been bombarded with demand. But on the flipside, sales can spike due to the increased appetite for information in lockdown. Unlike other golf publications, Australian Golf Digest decided to continue publishing through the COVID-19 pandemic and saw its website traffic, social media engagement and subscriptions grow during this time. We realised very early, via our online and social channels, that golfers across the country were as keen as ever to engage with us. For many people, golf has been their one escape during this terrible ordeal. To play a small part in facilitating that therapeutic outlet has kept us focused and determined to deliver a quality product.
How has golf changed over the last 50 years, and where do you see it going in the future?
Without a doubt, technology has been the single, biggest catalyst for change in golf. Companies continue to design space-age equipment with one mission in mind: make golfers hit it longer and straighter than ever before. These companies are putting all their R&D efforts in the hands of engineers they’ve poached from mega-companies like NASA and Boeing, and they’re nailing their KPIs with aplomb. The golf ball is flying farther and farther each year. Players, on a whole, are fitter and stronger than ever thanks to increased knowledge of nutritional science and training. And golf-course agronomy has moved ahead in leaps and bounds from yesteryear. Unfortunately, it all points to one major dilemma for the sport’s governing bodies moving forward, as players like Bryson DeChambeau render the sport - at the professional level, at least - to a drive-and-putt exhibition. Many experts believe the huge technological advances we’ve seen are now “deskilling” the sport of golf, robbing it of the artistry and strategy that made Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and even Tiger Woods household names. Calls for action have so far fallen on deaf ears, but expect to see different rules and regulations enforced for professionals in the near future as the powers-that-be try to save our shrinking golf courses and the spectacle of tournament golf. At a local level, as strange as it may be to say it, COVID-19 couldn’t have come at a better time. Participation in golf had been lagging big time. The perception it was an elitist old man’s sport that wasn’t welcoming to a younger demographic continued to spread. But golf’s been given a free hit with the pandemic, as more people turn to the fairways for physical and mental relief. Only time will tell if we can take advantage of this, but a huge emphasis will be put on getting young people hooked on the sport, particularly women.
As cities are changing and population density is increasing, there are pressures to shrink golf clubs in prime real estate areas. What are your thoughts on these pressures?
The war on golf has begun. Councils and other landlords are targeting golf courses for alternative community use. With an ever-growing demand for sporting facilities and recreational greenspace, Australian golf faces a huge battle to retain all of its existing courses. It’s time many of these clubs start thinking outside the box to ensure their survival. They need only to turn to the most famous club in the world, St Andrews, for answers. Go to the traditional home of golf in Scotland on a Sunday and you can do anything but play golf. Picnics, dogs, frisbees, soccer… it’s a day for the community to make use of the land and it’s been this way since the ice ages. Perhaps it’s time we opened up our courses more to the public? Maybe we can build bike tracks and walking trails around our golf-course perimeters, even construct other recreational facilities that can be used by the greater community at night or outside traditional golf hours? Regardless, golf needs a stronger voice fighting at the coalface because the reality is this: as more and more people continue to pour into our major cities, golf’s footprint is only going to get smaller.
What's on your agenda for the rest of the year and 2021?
Well, first and foremost, we just want to get through this pandemic and hope everyone remains healthy and happy while continuing to enjoy the game of golf. Next year will be all about continuing our growth in the digital space. We will invest heavily in our website and social media strategies, all while continuing to produce the best possible print product for the most loyal readership in the country.