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January 2019

What’s in a Name?

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Rebranding is more than a name change. It’s philosophical, cultural, physical and it’s emotional. 

By Steve Eubanks

A name change alone is meaningless, no matter how much panache the new moniker brings. If you aren’t changing your strategies or your policies, if you’re still the same group of people providing the same levels of service to the same segment of customers, you could call yourself Gucci Golf Management (although you’d probably be sued by the Italian fashion company) and it won’t change your business one bit.

However, if the philosophical changes come first, if you change your culture in meaningful and visible ways, if you approach your clients differently and make revolutionary changes in the way you treat day-to-day customers and the employees who are serving them, then changing your name is almost mandatory.

Reputations are sticky downward. And you are only as good as your worst review. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. could put white cotton cloths on the tables and serve aged filets with truffles next week and the company’s image as a hamburger joint with racy ads would linger far beyond the realities on the ground. 

No one understood that better than Whitney Crouse, chairman of the company formerly known as Mosaic Clubs and Resorts. Crouse had led golf operations for a number of companies, including The Club Group on Hilton Head Island, and Affinity Golf Partners in Atlanta before forming Mosaic. But after 20 years of managing, developing or owning upwards of 70 courses, making a good living for himself, his partners and many of his employees, Crouse recognized that there are holes in the industry that need to be filled. And he knew that if he and his company were to fill them, everything, including the name, needed to change. 

“We’ve been talking about the need to turn the service culture on its head for 30 years,” Crouse said. “We’ve been talking about empowering those closest to the customer; about caring enough for our people that they will care about our customers and make our company great. We’ve been talking about autonomy and changing the thinking from top to bottom, but in the golf industry we’ve never been able to do it.” 

Beginning in 2019, Crouse and his partner and company president Steve Willy hope to finally make those changes under the new corporate name, Bobby Jones Links. 

“At one time we had about 27 courses and maxed out at about 2,000 employees,” Crouse said. “But to go to the next level, we really had to change things, to be creative, to be entrepreneurial. And that’s what we loved about the opportunity to associate with an iconic brand like Bobby Jones.

“Most people know about Jones the golfer. But he retired from playing competitively at age 28. For the rest of his life he was a classic entrepreneur. He created Augusta National and the Masters tournament. He was a partner in what is now one of the biggest law firms in the world (Alston, Jones and Howell, which is now Alston and Bird). He created the first matched sets of golf clubs (for Spalding). He owned Coca Cola bottling plants in New England and South America. And the entire time, was a sportsman and a gentleman. In an age when sports figures were not always great people, Bobby Jones was an extraordinary man in every respect.” 

Crouse’s father was a 19-year-old standing on a hillside at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia when Jones sank the putt to win the U.S. Amateur and become the only man in history to capture golf’s Grand Slam. So there’s a connection that extends beyond branding.  

Still, Crouse didn’t consider approaching the Jones family until he took over the redevelopment and management of the Bobby Jones Golf Course in midtown Atlanta, a public facility that has undergone an historic transformation from a too-short and too-dangerous 18-hole facility to an innovative reversible 9-hole course with a state-of-the-art practice facility.

“Being involved in this $24 million project is a microcosm of how the Bobby Jones name can be pressed into the future, exactly as Jones himself would have wanted,” Crouse said. “He was an innovative man. This is an innovate project. And Bobby Jones Links is going to be an innovative company.” 

Beyond the reversible 9 holes, the golf shop at Bobby Jones GC has the functionality of an Apple Store with no counter or point of sale terminal. All the systems are cloud-based. Customers can check in on their phones at home and go straight to the first tee. But if they come into the shop, they will find a mixture of tables and displays that look like everything but a traditional golf shop.

“We could conceivably change the floorplan every day if we wanted,” Willy said. “We’re here to try things. We want innovation, not technology for technology’s sake, but innovation that makes sense and makes the experience better.” 

The driving range will incorporate Trackman technology at every hitting bay and the course’s app will also allow players to order food from the grill from anywhere on the golf course. That feature isn’t new to the industry but the delivery mechanism is. The food will be delivered by drone.

“We now have a platform to change the way we do business,” Crouse said. “For example, one of the worst things that has happened in the industry is the decline in education. You have some great, old PGA members, wonderful people, who still can’t create an Excel spreadsheet or understand a point-of-sale system. So, we’re going to help our people with an education allowance for every management employee in the company.

“That sounds very standard for Fortune 500 companies, but in the golf industry it’s been cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. You want continuing education? It’s on your dime. You want to go to PGA School? Sorry, you’re on your own. Our core thinking is to make a difference. We want to encourage you to better yourself, to grow, to learn.” 

The company will also institute liberal vacation policies, which center on tasks rather than hours. If you need to take the day off, as long as your job is getting done, that won’t be a problem.

“We think highly of the culture created by Chick-fil-A,” Willy said. “We don’t see anything like that in the golf industry. That needs to change. That’s our goal.” 

Perhaps the biggest innovation the new company will institute is a money back guarantee. “If for any reason in the first year you don’t think we’re performing, we’ll give you all your management fees back and we’ll part friends,” Crouse said. “We’re that confident in our ability to perform. Who among our peers is doing that? Somebody might follow suit but nobody is doing it now. Culturally, it raises the bar. It holds us to a higher standard.

“If we’re pitching a deal against a competitor, we can point to this (guarantee) and say, ‘Look, we will make a difference.’ Our average bottom line change for clubs has been 640,000. We always move the needle in a positive direction.” 

Drones, guarantees and smartphone apps would no doubt have left Bobby Jones baffled. But the man who created gallery ropes and the modern on-course scoreboard certainly embraced innovation that has a positive impact on the game.  

Corporate name changes for change’s sake are no different than changing the name of a golf course and hoping more people will play it. Unless conditions improve players couldn’t care less what the place is called. But if the core business changes, the branding has to change with it. 

Mr. Jones would not only understand that, he would wholeheartedly agree.     
    
Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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