April 14, 2021
By Michael Trostel, USGA
The following content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.
Never has there been more information at our fingertips. We are one swipe, click or facial scan away from our favorite podcast, latest news or viral video. No matter the size of the screen or whether it’s for business or pleasure, we are absorbed in our devices day and night. One thing is certain: no previous generation had so many choices of what to watch, read or listen to.
While the march of technology has downsized countless newsrooms across the country, it has also opened doors for other forms of content production. Instead of needing a television studio or print publication as a platform to tell stories, people can create and easily share unlimited streams of information and participate in online communities.
From instructors and data analysts to filmmakers and podcasters, the following 10 people have seized the opportunity to become some of the game’s key influencers.
Golf Channel anchor and “Get A Grip”
Background: Bacon’s ascent in golf media began with a blog he started out of college and led him to be a play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports in 2015, covering USGA championships through 2019. Now, he co-anchors “Golf Today,” a midday show on Golf Channel, and hosts “Get a Grip,” a podcast which pairs the affable Bacon with PGA Tour pro Max Homa.
Philosophy: “In the media space you need to be willing to adapt and not fear trying new things. Change can be intimidating, but it’s necessary because in five years the way we consume is going to be different.”
Partnership: “For ‘Get a Grip’ to work, Max needed to buy in right away. To his credit, he was all-in right from the beginning. What makes him so good is that he’s on the forefront of social media and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable about his profession.”
Evolution: Bacon, the broadcast journalist, and Homa, the golf professional who uses his approachable personality to give insights about life on Tour, have proven to be a winning combination. They are on the forefront of a trend in which active athletes such as J.J. Redick and Rory McIlroy use podcasting as a platform to connect directly with fans.
Sam “Riggs” Bozoian
Background: When Riggs and Trent Ryan approached Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy with the idea of starting a golf podcast in early 2017, they were told not to let it interfere with their day jobs as bloggers. Six months after its debut, “Foreplay” catapulted to the top spot in the golf podcast rankings and hasn’t left, validating their instincts that fans craved more relatable golf content.
Approach: “Going in, we had no background in media and neither of us broke 80 consistently. But we’re golf fans and we talk like golf fans – that resonates whether you’re a member at an exclusive private club or play the local muni.”
Opportunity: “This is the best time ever to be a golf fan. Whatever you’re looking for and no matter what level of fan you are, there is so much content out there and it’s more accessible than ever.”
Evolution: The “Foreplay” crew has expanded to include Frankie Borelli and Ben “Lurch” Severance, and produces two podcasts and several videos a week. They also developed the Barstool Classic, a series of tournaments that brings together thousands of “Stoolies” around the country and culminates in a year-end championship.
Background: While most golf photographers work for media outlets, Cavalier found his niche as a wanderlust freelancer who also works as a civil litigation trial lawyer. His Twitter and Instagram pages (@LinksGems) have more than 100,000 followers.
Philosophy: “My goal is to show how beautiful the world is by creating a forum for people to see pretty pictures. I’d be doing the same thing if I had 27 followers, but it’s more enjoyable when you know more people are interested.”
Education: “Golf can be intimidating if you’re new to the game, so I’ve loved the interaction in the comment section. It’s a safe space where people who have a hunger to learn can feel comfortable asking a novice question about architecture.”
Evolution: Cavalier first took his camera out to Somerset Hills C.C. in Bernardsville, N.J., in the fall of 2014. Now, clubs seek him out to photograph their course. When not in court, he travels the country with his wife, playing golf and taking photos while she runs marathons. At the end of the year, he donates all profits from the sale of his photos to an animal rescue shelter
Background: A former college player who was mentored by PGA of America president Suzy Whaley, Filler got her start as a teaching professional at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Now at the Vinoy Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., she has embraced social media as a tool to reach golfers worldwide with her tips and lessons.
Benefits: “Recording online instructional videos has made me a better teacher and communicator because for those lessons to work, they need to be simple and clear so golfers can learn and apply them quickly.”
Opportunity: “A lot of clubs and instructors still don’t embrace social media, but for this game to grow and thrive, it’s important to understand how younger generations consume content.”
Evolution: The National Golf Foundation reports that 64 percent of core golfers watch golf instruction online, a number that has grown steadily year-over-year. While in-person lessons will always be part of the golf experience, the opportunity for Filler and others to build their brands and broaden their reach through online instruction continues to expand.
U.S. Open “Only Fan”
Background: Haynes is a graphic designer in New York City who has developed a loyal Instagram following (@ahaynes01) for his golf photography. He was selected to be the USGA’s “only fan” at the 2020 U.S. Open, capturing behind-the-scenes images of the championship at Winged Foot.
Opportunity: “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing the golf was great, but more than the shot-by-shot, my goal was to find unique moments that fans don’t normally get to see.”
Approach: “In photography, people tend to copy what others are doing. But to me, it’s not about framing the perfect photo. I’m looking for a different perspective to capture a moment and tell a story.”
Evolution: Haynes picked up golf in his mid-20s and was hooked from his first shot. What started as a hobby quickly became a passion. The development of smartphone technology and accessibility of social media platforms have allowed him to share his photography with a wider audience.
The Fried Egg
Background: Johnson was your quintessential diehard amateur player who couldn’t get enough golf content, but he was continually disappointed in the analysis he read. So, he started “The Fried Egg” podcast, which espouses an independent and irreverent approach and has become a favorite spot for golf architecture aficionados in particular.
Philosophy: “Honesty builds trust. All we have is our voice, so our readers and listeners need to know that I really believe something and I’m not saying it because it will be a controversial hot take.”
Opportunity: “Social media allows for affordable discovery. It’s a low-cost avenue to reach hundreds of thousands of people and is one of the biggest reasons for our growth.”
Audience: “We talk to the ‘golf tragic’ who can’t get enough of the game and want every bit of detail on its history, architecture and course strategy.”
Evolution: Johnson sent his first newsletter to 10 friends in late 2015. When he got positive feedback, he sent it to everyone he had played golf with. Now it’s one of the game’s fastest-growing media companies, with two podcasts and a three-times-weekly newsletter.
Erik Anders Lang
Background: The documentary filmmaker turned golf nut took up the game at age 29 at his brother’s urging and parlayed his passion into a creative empire. Lang is the creator of Skratch’s “Adventures in Golf,” founder of Random Golf Club and host of an eponymous podcast.
Philosophy: “We all come from different backgrounds, but we can find a lot of common ground on the golf course. The game is like a universal language. I’m a big believer that it doesn’t matter where you go, it matters how you go.”
Opportunity: “I was doing what I was excited about [filmmaking] and got lucky. I wanted to talk with a bunch of interesting people in strange places all over the world. The thing that unites us is our shared love of golf.”
Evolution: Two decades ago, social media was in its infancy, Lang didn’t play golf and he had no aspirations to be on camera. Now he is the king of longform golf content, having just finished the sixth season of “Adventures” and recorded his 200th podcast. Lang is now focused on growing Random Golf Club, a community-based concept centered on the idea that everyone should feel welcome on a golf course.
Background: The daughter of renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter, Hally started her journey in the game as a member of a golf-obsessed family. She played collegiate golf, worked for the PGA Tour and found her way to Golf Digest, where she injects humor and popular culture into her commentaries.
Philosophy: “Making someone laugh is my favorite sound. Connecting golf and pop culture makes the game more approachable, so you can enjoy the content if you’re a scratch golfer or just like to be entertained.”
Opportunity: “With social media, you can make your own stuff. You don’t need to wait for someone to ask you to host a show. People are on their phones all the time, so the only limit is your own creativity.”
Evolution: Television used to be the only vehicle for aspiring on-camera hosts. Now, golf influencers like Tisha Alyn and Ryan “Coach Rusty” Rustand have created their own mini-networks online, reaching hundreds of thousands of fans directly, while Leadbetter has interjected new digital life into a 70-year-old print publication.
Background: A self-proclaimed “sports nerd,” Ray was a researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel before joining 15th Club as the head of content. His responsibilities range from writing and podcasting to building databases and analyzing statistics, all in an effort to tell the story of on-course performance and enhance the fan experience.
Philosophy: “As traditional data has evolved to modernized analytics, there are more tools to tell people what’s going on. But without context, they’re just numbers. My job is to help it all make sense.”
Opportunity: “Ten years ago, the only golf statistics available were fairways hit, greens in regulation and number of putts. Now we have so many more tools to accurately judge execution – it’s transformed the way we can analyze golf.”
Evolution: The data revolution may have taken longer to be embraced in golf compared to other sports, but thanks to the work of Ray, strokes-gained creator Mark Broadie and others, fans no longer have to rely on anachronistic and sometimes misleading statistics to quantify a player’s performance.
Chris “Soly” Solomon
No Laying Up
Background: What started as a text message thread between Soly and his friends Phil “Big Randy” Landes and Todd “Tron Carter” Schuster turned into what is arguably the most successful online golf media brand. In just over six years, they have amassed nearly 500,000 followers and subscribers.
Opportunity: “Golf needed new, independent voices. We wanted to create a place where we could talk about the game the way you do with your buddies, not the buttoned-up way they do on broadcasts.”
Audience: “They’re mostly avid, educated fans who are passionate about the game and appreciate its nuances. We kept hearing that the way we talked about the game, the players and our trips resonated with a lot of people and their personal experiences.”
Evolution: A No Laying Up Twitter account launched in 2013 expanded to a website and podcast. By 2017, the venture became so successful, Solomon and his friends quit their day jobs to focus on it full time. They have added several video series and podcasts, including “Strapped,” “Tourist Sauce” and “Crash Course.”