National Golf Day P.R.E.P

   As seen in Golf Business May/June 2024   

By Michael Williams,
Contributor, Golf Business:


I started my career in golf as part of the company that operated the three National Park Service golf courses in Washington, DC, currently operated as the National Links Trust. Among my responsibilities was communicating the needs of our courses to the Federal government officials who were, directly and indirectly, responsible for our enterprise. I would have to make the case to officials at the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior for issues as large as the hours of operation and how we set our prices to issues as small as how big a logo could be on products in the pro shop. 

We were operated under a specialized set of rules in the federal code that hamstrung our ability to operate the courses using standard practices. In my first year, I was bombarded with complaints from golfers about the conditions of one of our courses. They were right; in the heat of the Washington, DC summer the fairways were almost completely without grass. When I questioned our superintendent about it, he gave a very simple answer: we didn’t have any fairway irrigation on the course because the National Park Service would not allow us to install it. That’s when I knew I needed to spend my time advocating for our business. I hired a lobby firm and together we drafted a bill that would allow the golf courses to operate under rules that would ensure our stewardship of Park Service land while also allowing us to offer a quality product to the public. I met with Senators, House Representatives and Cabinet officials. After years of effort, our bill was finally brought to a committee vote and was passed. Sadly, it was ultimately attached to a larger bill that ultimately failed in a general vote on the House floor, but the awareness that we raised about the importance of the D.C. golf courses and their needs began a movement that eventually led to the courses being taken out of the old structure and put in its current status as a trust that can maintain and improve the courses for years to come. 

The first National Golf Day was also held while I was with DC Golf. It was a response to a congressman saying that disaster relief should not go to businesses like “gun stores, pawn shops, liquor stores, brothels and golf courses”. Since then, the industry has come to Washington annually to advocate for the game and the industry. Representatives from across the spectrum of the golf world meet with elected officials on policy issues that can mean life or death for golf course operators.

Being from DC, I had a kind of built-in gear for the advocacy process. It was something that I innately understood and was able to execute. But most people have no experience speaking to elected officials about anything, and especially not about their business. It’s important to understand the basics of effective advocacy to prevent wasting a lot of time, money and goodwill. For the uninitiated, I condense the essential skills to “P.R.E.P.”, which stands for Prepare, Relate, Educate, Persuade.

Prepare is the first and most important. In the initial days of National Golf Day, one of the first things we realized was that we were not armed with the information needed to make our case. Now, organizations like NGCOA, NGF and others are working year-round to generate the numbers of case studies that are used to accurately portray the state of an issue and where the industry wants it to go. 

Relate is such an important part of the advocacy game, part art and part science. It is often said that golf is a people business; the same can be said for politics and policy. Public officials take quite a beating in the media these days, but the great majority of them are honest, hardworking people who work long hours for short pay in a job that has far more responsibility than reward. They have a limited amount of time to spend on a topic, whether its golf or gun control. They have to balance a long line of competing interests and somehow get votes from the people they say no to as well as the people they say yes to. When you get time with an elected official of their staff, it’s wise to show an understanding of their job, their challenges and what’s important to them. Showing empathy and understanding to people who rarely get it will go a long way toward gaining their support.

Once you get the time, you need to use it to Educate officials about your issue. Come armed with a range of details about your topic and make the information apply as broadly to the industry as possible. At the same time, also have effective anecdotes and case studies that show the human impact of the issues being represented. Educating officials with impactful information gives them the ability to effectively advocate for your issue when you are not in the room, which is almost all of the time.

And the last factor is to Persuade. Again, this is a delicate balance that is actually not easy for amateurs. It’s a combination of the first three principles, with the added nuance of getting agreement in the room that the official has made the connection with your issue and is willing to say so publicly. It typically happens when the advocate has connected the dots on who benefits, namely, the industry, the general public and the elected official. If the advocate demonstrates the benefit to these key constituencies, they will have a good shot at gaining that official as an ally.

National Golf Day has become a critically important part of the golf industry. Each year, those dedicated to the game and business of golf do their best to ensure the health of the game, sustainability of the game, and the access and availability of the game to the public. Having done it myself, I can only tip my cap to those who participate and raise my hand as one who is willing to answer the call when asked to join them.


This article was featured in the Mary/June edition of Golf Business magazine.


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