For the R&A's new chief development officer Phil Anderton, the fact we're talking about dress codes is a step in the right direction. He tells Steve Carroll about his plans
It is days after the BMW PGA Championship but Golf Twitter is still arguing about the merits – or otherwise – of wearing a hoodie.
Tyrrell Hatton has swept to victory in the European Tour’s flagship event and yet a small club in County Durham have found themselves making worldwide headlines – even Golf Digest in the US got involved – after doubling down on a club rule banning such garments from the course.
Dress codes might seem far removed from Phil Anderton’s role as The R&A’s new chief development officer. But it’s a measure of the way he sees his remit that when I suggest he might have bigger fish to fry, he is unequivocal.
“When you said Tyrrell Hatton’s dress code is not really in my remit, I would counter and say it’s absolutely in my remit because projecting the sport in a modern and appealing way to specific audiences is super important,” he explains.
“The fact that wearing a hoodie gets people excited, in some respects I kind of welcome it because it draws attention to golf and I take my hat off to Tyrrell Hatton for wearing what he wants to wear within the appropriate rules and regulations.
“It’s a bit like [Andre] Agassi when he came out with his hairstyle and the dress code. It got attention and he wasn’t breaking any rules.
“I welcome that, absolutely. I think that, when we look at the image of the sport of golf, The R&A can help affiliates around the world to present an image that is going to be appealing to the different groups that we need to go after if we are going to have the sport thrive.”
if you delve a little into Anderton’s CV, you start to understand why projecting the right image is such an important part of his make-up. He’s worked for some of the world’s largest firms – Procter & Gamble and The Coca-Cola Company – and was chief executive at Scottish Rugby and Heart of Midlothian.
At the former, he picked up the nickname ‘Fireworks Phil’ for the pre-game razzmatazz that transformed the Murrayfield experience. He’s also been chief marketing officer of the ATP Tour and chairman of the ATP World Tour Finals, so knows only too well both how to market and how to entertain.
It’s a wealth of experience that will come in handy as Anderton assumes responsibility at the governing body for a wealth of areas as diverse as golf development and amateur championships to sustainability and the British Golf Museum.
So in a wide-ranging interview covering everything from the culture change required in golf, to coronavirus, I asked Anderton about his new role at The R&A, the challenges and opportunities facing golf and how image is more vital than ever…
You have a fairly unique resume – someone who grew up playing public golf and has worked at top class sport in a number of countries…
Firstly, the training you get at places like Procter & Gamble and The Coca-Cola company really forces you into not doing what you think is the right thing to do but what’s based on thorough analysis of the people you are trying to get to buy your brands.
And the processes and the rigour that you go through around that have held me in good stead. And then the experiences across sport, both in governing bodies and clubs, is helpful.
The third part, that one could argue is a disadvantage but I think is an advantage, is that I am a keen golfer but I don’t know the ins and outs of every single slope rating, or handicap certificate.
Sometimes, that can be helpful because you come to it with a view that is perhaps more representative of the majority of golfers and prospective golfers as opposed to the minority who know every single detail.
Of course, you need those people and they have a lot of value – because they’re the ones that have got to come up with these things and implement them – but I think it does bring an added perspective that could be beneficial.
Is that particularly important when we’re talking about development, where too narrow a focus is not the right thing? You need a wider frame of mind…
I think so. As you say, golf development can easily be construed as just participation, or recruitment I would call it. But, obviously and learning from places like The Coca Cola Company, the number one thing that was drilled into us was ‘do not forget for one minute the importance of your existing customers and the opportunities to retain them and get them to buy into more of your brand and more frequently’.
You look at something like golf development and the easy thing to do would be to say it’s all about getting young kids into the sport and that clearly is important.
But looking after the millions of people who play and contribute to golf, and what they feel and what they think, and also the ecosystem around golf – the people who work at clubs, the volunteers, the club managers and all the other people within the game – is important.
Trying to get those existing golfers to stay, and play more frequently, is a major opportunity. As you know, not everyone plays every week.
There will be a lot of people who play every six months, and so what a great opportunity – they have already bought into golf, let’s get them playing more frequently, which then benefits clubs, driving ranges, club manufacturers and you name it.
How do you do that?
I think in the same way you would at other sports, and other brands that I have been involved with, you need to first of all identify who these people are, understand their motivations and understand the barriers.
What are the things that are stopping them playing as frequently as you’d like them to play?
Then, make sure you come out with the strongest propositions that will make those people believe it is to their benefit to play more golf.
For example, the recent work that has been done around golf and health: Could that be one of the tools we could use to make an average golfer who is playing once every three months start thinking ‘maybe I should start playing every month instead’?
It is developing those strong proposition reasons and then making sure that you are constantly in their faces with promotional messaging – whether that’s watching the pro players on the various tours, or having Tyrrell Hatton winning at Wentworth, and that kind of profile.
It’s also the kind of promotion that can be put out by golf federations and the clubs themselves, and by the media and can have a big impact, in terms of reminding people about what is so good about golf.
The final thing is making sure that you’ve got programmes in place that facilitate it.
As part of developing these programmes, you need to understand who the people are, understand their motivations, promote to them those messages in a powerful way, and incentivise people to play more frequently.
Then, of course, there is the other element, which is: Are your programmes suitable to enable people to play as frequently as they would like?
Perhaps in the old days, getting in your car and driving down to a club and spending the whole day there was feasible – so maybe you could play four times a month.
Nowadays with people’s time constraints – work, family, cultural – that is changing and so do we need to find more ways to satiate that appeal to get people playing the sport, and perhaps not in the way it has always been played?
Shorter form golf courses, driving ranges, TopGolf – they are all forms of golf and if we can get people playing more frequently in them, and then also move people from those to the club facilities, everyone benefits.
It’s interesting you talked about Tyrrell Hatton. Here’s a player who wins the flagship European Tour event and what people are talking about is an item of clothing he’s wearing. I don’t want you to necessarily talk about dress codes, as I’m not sure it’s within your remit, but what do you think, looking at golf as a brand, about the messages put there about the sport and how do we go about changing them?
For me, image is vital. That doesn’t mean you just go out with a nice fancy image and think you are going to be successful with that. You’ve got to back it up with products.
In my experience, working at Procter & Gamble, The Coca-Cola Company and in sport, you need all of those elements firing together.
You need to have a strong proposition that is relevant for specific groups of people. You’ve then got to back it up with a promotional campaign with the right imagery that people are enticed with, or engaged with, and then you’ve got to back it up with products that deliver against it. If any one of those falls, it’s like a three-legged stool – the stool will fall over.
We know in golf, and we’re going to find out a lot more about this, that the image of the sport – unfairly in a lot of cases – has elements to it that are perceived to be perhaps a bit old fashioned, a bit restrictive, a bit exclusive and there are countless examples where that is not true.
There are also examples where perhaps the more traditional, old-fashioned approach to golf is there, it’s prevalent and it’s absolutely right it is there because that’s what particular audiences want to have and it’s not one key for every lock.
We need to provide our brand of golf in all its different guises that is appealing to different groups of people.
When you said Tyrrell Hatton’s dress code is not really in my remit, I would counter and say it’s absolutely in my remit because projecting the sport in a modern and appealing way to specific audiences is super important.
The fact that wearing a hoodie gets people excited, in some respects I kind of welcome it because it draws attention to golf and I take my hat off to Tyrrell Hatton for wearing what he wants to wear within the appropriate rules and regulations.
It’s a bit like Agassi when he came out with his hairstyle and the dress code. It got attention and he wasn’t breaking any rules.
I welcome that, absolutely. I think that, when we look at the image of the sport of golf, The R&A can help affiliates around the world to present an image that is going to be appealing to the different groups that we need to go after if we are going to have the sport thrive.
One of the examples I have talked about is that at The R&A we have a range of ambassadors in the sport – legends of the game – and it is fantastic what they have done, are doing for the sport, and that they are partnering up as ambassadors and the work that they do to promote the sport.
But they are promoting to predominantly golfers, so Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Georgia Hall and so on.
That’s fantastic, but I think there’s an opportunity for The R&A to engage with other people who play and love golf, and to showcase that and use it in promotional campaigns that we can develop to project an image of golf that is more in tune with the reality of what the sport is, rather than any old fashioned pre-conceived ideas. Image, for me, is a very important area and an area I think The R&A can play a big role in helping to shape.
Is the coronavirus pandemic an opportunity for golf? How does the sport seize the moment of last summer’s boom? And does golf require a culture change? Turn the page to find out how Anderton is mapping the future…