How to Succeed in the Golf Industry in 2023 (Or Any Business for That Matter)
Right now, today, in early 2023, it’s easier than ever to build a business or a brand in golf – or any other industry that you’re passionate about.
It’s pretty remarkable, really.
Between the internet, social media, and access to information, literally anyone can teach themselves the things they need to know to grow a brand, and with enough of a work ethic – be successful.
When I started Breaking Eighty in 2012, it gained a bit of an audience largely because there really weren’t many other good golf blogs out there.
At least there were very few that I wanted to read.
Social media was still in its infancy, and the concept of an Instagram influencer was still new, and essentially non-existent in the golf space.
It was this lack of competition, and a huge desire for better content that allowed me to carve out my weird little niche in the golf industry.
And let’s be real, that’s what it is, weird.
It’s part travel blog, part gear review, part…country club?
Yeah, we’re trying to do a lot over here.
And therein lies the problem. My Achilles heel.
More on that in a minute…
The Rise of the 21st Century Golf Brand
A few years ago I was at an Eighty Club event in Philadelphia. We were playing a course called Llanerch (excellent par 3s btw), and there were about 12 of us out there.
Unfortunately, being only one of me, I didn’t have a chance to play with everyone, as much as I would have liked to.
At the end of the round there was a dude who was in a different foursome. He was a soft spoken guy, and we chatted for a few minutes, and he’d mentioned that he was looking to make a transition in his life and do some stuff in the golf world.
Man, how many times have I heard that. (A lot, in case you were wondering).
But rarely do people follow through.
You see, despite being at an all time peak in terms of opportunity, we’re also at an all time high in terms of laziness, entitlement, and lack of work ethic.
Well, that dude that I met just a few years ago, then went on to play Augusta National.
That’s cool and all, but the reason I’m telling you this is because of how he got to play Augusta.
And it wasn’t because of a friend’s rich uncle who just happened to be a member…
He was working on an assignment with Golf Magazine covering the Masters and he was selected as one of the few members of the media that gets to play the course on Monday.
Less than two years.
From having next to no recognition in the industry, to becoming one of the most well-known golf photographers out there in less than 24 months.
That’s the kind of opportunity you can create in a short period of time in this new world we’re living in – if you have the work ethic.
But do you know why he succeeded?
Yes, obviously work ethic and talent have something to do with it, but there’s something more important than that.
It’s the thing that can allow anyone to achieve similar levels of success in a short period of time:
By that I mean, he focused on just one or two things and did them over and over for years. That kind of focus leads to results.
And what did he focus on?
Sure taking photos and publishing Instagram stories is part of it, but the thing Christian Hafer focused on more than anything else is storytelling.
Everything Hafe does tells a story. And each individual story fits into the larger narrative.
“Screw the way golf has been, this is the way golf could be. And this is how it is for me.”
Screw country clubs.
I’m wearing Vans and Slayer socks to Augusta National.
I could care less what course I play on, as long as I’m with good people who share a passion for the game.
Every photo he shares tells a story about the way he experiences golf, which is different than the way golf has traditionally been.
But it’s in a way that clearly some people are yearning to experience golf.
Every Instagram post, every image, lends itself to the story.
And he stayed focused on that.
Erik Anders Lang has seen an even greater rise over a similar time frame, for largely the same reason.
He’s an expert storyteller, and his narrative is one of inclusion and adventure.
Where is golf different?
On the streets of Mumbai? In a prison? At 2am under the northern lights?
He went 10 steps beyond where anyone else would go, and invested the time, energy, and money into something he believed in – and it’s paid off.
These are two examples of people who have focused their attention on telling a story. And even as they expand into other mediums, the story remains the same – and it’s that kind of focus that presents the opportunity to make yourself in an industry that is only just beginning to reward that kind of independence.
A few years ago, in a very odd sequence of events, I found myself in a giant mansion in LA with Orlando Jones (the guy in the 7up commercials back in the day).
He told me some of the best advice I’ve ever received:
“Master the craft, not the form.”
The form for these guys may be photography, YouTube videos, podcasts – whatever.
But the craft is storytelling.
If you know how to do that, the form doesn’t matter.
They Aren’t the Only Ones…
Patrick Koenig focused on publishing unique photos with witty captions, that people love.
That worked, so what does he do? He quits his job, buys an RV and travels around the country playing 405 rounds of golf in 365 days.
That’s a lot of focus – and a lot of witty captions.
Matt Lemman and the team at Jones Golf focused on making a better golf bag, that still respects the history of the game.
Akbar Chisti single-handedly reinvented the golf accessory business by focusing on the marriage between function, style, and history in his products at Seamus Golf.
These people have all created unbelievable brands around the thing they’re most passionate about all because they focused on a single concept and never deviated from it.
But it’s Not That Simple…
It’s easy to point at these people who have leveraged focus, and say “oh, I can totally do that!”
But it’s not that simple.
Here at Breaking Eighty, I’ve built something pretty cool if I do say so myself.
But my success story differs from the people mentioned above. My success was largely due to right place, right time. And what I lacked in work ethic, I at least made up for in persistence over a long period of time.
If I’m being honest with myself? I haven’t had that focus. I haven’t told a cohesive story.
Product reviews, photography, golf society – it’s random, scattered, and it isn’t entirely sure what it is.
I’m not entirely sure what it is.
Throw in my main business (Breaking Eighty has always been my side project of sorts) and things get even more unfocused.
It can be easy to compare yourself to the aforementioned people, and think “I started before them, how did they all rocket past me?”
The answer (I bet you can see where this is going…).
That singular focus on choosing who they are, what they represent, and where they fit within their industry.
And that’s a skill I haven’t quite mastered.
How to Build a Successful Golf Brand in 2023 and Beyond
With my primary business, Location Rebel I teach people how to start small businesses that allow you to spend more time doing the stuff you love in life.
You don’t have to get everything perfect to have a successful brand.
But the more you focus…
The more you find your niche…
The better you are at telling an interesting story…
The faster your rise to success will be.
And right now, in golf?
There is so much potential.
Right now, there are no more than a couple hundred independent people who have really made a name for themselves or their brand within the golf industry.
A few hundred people in a $13 billion+ industry.
We’re at a turning point.
A point where people like those mentioned in this article are making golf cool and fun again. And anyone with the idea and the right amount of focus can create their own story within this industry.
We have every tool we need at our disposal to be able to create something great around that thing we love.
I’m slowly finding that focus. I’m slowly figuring out what I want Breaking Eighty to be. And I’m working on telling the right stories.
Given the opportunity in this industry right now, I’d be foolish not to.
But whether it’s in golf or something completely different, we’re at a point in history where creating an independent brand or business around something you love has never been easier.
So the only question that remains is, “what are you going to do?”
Nice read, Sean. Golf is definitely becoming cool and fun again. I’ve been an early follower for several of the people/companies mentioned. Really cool to see how far they’ve come! Time for me to focus!
Awesome message, Sean! Inspiring!
Great article – golf is really taking off with COVID. Rounds are up, fewer courses are closing. Hopefully the trend continues and careers take off as well.