April 16, 2015 – National Golf Day may not register on every golfer’s radar, especially in the middle of the week. But for Steve Mona, the CEO of World Golf Foundation and administrator of the industry’s We Are Golf coalition, the event that promotes the game on Capitol Hill signalled real progress this year in getting out golf’s message of economic and charitable impact to the nation’s lawmakers.
About a hundred meetings with lawmakers and staff over the course of one day could have that kind of impact.
“I’m a little weary, but it was well worth it,” said Mona, back in his Florida office after the day-long D.C. whirlwind that included a meeting in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office.
Mona led a coalition of more than 100 industry representatives that descended on Washington to interact with lawmakers, including a series of events and exhibits in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. The events included presentations by Presidents Cup captains Jay Haas and Nick Price, as well as instant lessons from Michael Breed and Karen Palacios-Jansen.
While he sensed real support from established friends of golf like South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Mona believes the dialog between lawmakers the golf industry has improved considerably since the first National Golf Day in 2008. He cites the We Are Golf coalition as instrumental and the very public National Golf Day as key elements in leading that change.
“The messaging has gotten much more refined and much more better understood by those we’re seeking to communicate with,” Mona said. “We made a stratetegic decision when we launched We Are Golf to go public and create a profile. Not all industries do that, and I would say that strategic direction wasn’t necessarily thought to be the right strategy in golf. Now that we’ve done it, everyone agrees that it was the right strategy.”
The group sought to make inroads yesterday in a number of specific legislative areas. One interesting item is an effort to get golf included as part of the proposed PHIT (“Personal Health Investment Today”) Act. This legislation would allow the use of pre-tax health spending account funds for “physical activity expenses.” Currently, golf is specifically excluded from the legislation.
Making that change requires adjusting some lawmaker’s perspectives about what golf’s impact is on the nation’s economy. We Are Golf cites a direct economic impact of golf of $68.8 billion and nearly two million jobs. Mona also estimates a charitable impact of nearly $4 billion. He notes the PGA Tour gets more attention for its contributions, but it’s local one-day events at golf courses that constitute the vast majority of those dollars. He estimates there may be as many as 144,000 charity golf events annually.
“Almost all the money that gets raised from these events goes to causes outside of golf,” he says. “And almost all the money that gets raised locally stays in that area. So golf is really a community asset.”
He also believes real progress has been made in changing perceptions of golf’s role in environmental matters.
“We’re talking a lot about how golf course superintendents have gotten a lot more sophisticated about what acres on their property are intensely maintained,” says Mona, indicating that of the typical 150-acre golf facility only about 35 are intensely maintained.
Getting those on Capitol Hill to understand golf beyond the lifestyles of the rich and famous perception is the ultimate challenge, he says.
“The real backbone of the golf industry are people working in everyday kind of jobs,” he says. “It’s the person working on a golf course superintendent’s crew, somebody working for the club manager in the kitchen, or the person pulling bags from trunks for the club professional and shining up your clubs when you’re done. Not to mention, it’s also the people who are providing goods and services to the golf courses. None of those people are getting rich. We’re just trying to change the narrative or the mindset about who it is golf provides a living for. It’s not the 1-percenters.
“I can tell you unequivocally the narrative has changed, and the understanding clearly has changed, too, so we feel on that basis there’s been progress made.”