There’s been a lot of talk about ‘disruption’ in golf over the last 15 months. We hear the word and start repeating it like one of Pavlov’s dogs. It reminds me of people saying gaslight or drip these days to sound pop-culture clever. When a word becomes mainstream, I’m always curious if it’s being used correctly. So, I looked up the definition.
Disruption /Dis-rup-tion/ noun
· Radical change to an existing industry or market due to technological innovation
On Tuesday February 21, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a new vanguard group in sports. There were no fireworks, rock bands, and champagne wasn’t sprayed, but the event was disruptive. TMRW Sports Group was conceived by three sports business leaders: Mike McCarley, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods. Together they have joined forces to engage a next-generation sports fan and consumer. The TMRW Sports Group believes in harnessing technology to build progressive approaches in sports, media, and entertainment.
On Tuesday morning’s gathering, they partnered with one of Florida’s oldest state schools. Palm Beach State College was founded in 1933, and this regional facility for higher learning thrives on being disruptive, too. President Ava Parker joined the stage alongside Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. Together they stood with TMRW’s leadership in this revolutionary endeavor.
Leading sports reporter Erin Andrews orchestrated the festivities with succinct introductions and sat with Woods and McIlroy for an enlightening Q&A. The two competitors (and friends) are going to bring golf to the world in a way no fan has ever seen before. TMRW Sports Group’s first venture is called the TGL. It will be an indoor golf league, played in an arena, in front of a live audience with the world’s best professional golfers competing.
We have been inundated with talk of change in golf for over a year. Yet, whether it is a shotgun start or tee times, the game is being played the same exact way. More importantly, it is being consumed by arguably the same audience as well. I think this is why LIV lacks popular viewer support — it just isn’t that different. Wearing shorts over pants is not enough to reset the focus on a game that prides itself on long-standing traditions.
That storied history also comes with significant headwinds — most of which are being disrupted by the game’s brightest stars in Woods and McIlroy. The TGL is designed to play in two hours, much less than the current time commitment to watch or play. By copying the simulated experience of golf millions enjoy at Topgolf, the barrier of entry is lowered. Traditional golf does not embrace technology, and this new innovative style of play is built upon it.
I was engaged in the audience by CEO Mike McCarley, the man who grew the Golf Channel. There was a paradigm shift of acceptance. This was a fundamental golf crowd — private country club members and significant leaders in the industry. Every one of them was transfixed on the open grass field where golf’s first sports arena was to be constructed. I have spent over two decades advancing the game at the green grass level as a PGA Professional. By adding technology to golf, TMRW has brought about radical change.
What makes this enterprise even more interesting is how TMRW is bonding with the community. PBSC is Florida’s first community college. Located in the heart of Palm County, they have developed a tremendous opportunity for their institution through this partnership. PBSC students were in the audience and visibly elevated by the occasion. Known for graduating specialized professionals, PBSC can now build hybrid programs in sports, media, and technology.
I sense that the TGL is ready to invite female professionals. They have already completely embraced technology, and there’s little doubt they will lean into the gaming world. The globally-recognized athletes who have invested in TMRW are a who’s who of professional sports. They see the potential TMRW represents and hope their respective sports will react similarly. To be a true disruptor, you must change the way people perceive and experience your industry.
Tiger Woods has revolutionized the game before. Just when some thought his ability to engage another generation of future golfers has passed, he makes his most impressive off the course move yet. As a golf professional, I can appreciate all LIV Golf has tried to accomplish in a short period of time. Unfortunately, I believe they have been mislabeled as disruptors. They are really no different than the Korn Ferry Tour with shorts and shotgun starts.
If they are to have significant staying power, they might need to be disruptors themselves and embrace technology. Leadership is the ability to turn vision into reality. For over a year, we have all been waiting to see that happen. Unfortunately for Greg Norman’s startup league, it took place this week in southern Florida.