While I admittedly stumbled upon it, sometimes, I wonder if I was predestined to be a golf marketing researcher. While other kids in my high school class doodled pictures of superheroes in the margins of their notebooks, I designed golf holes. I collected baseball cards, but rather than memorize the statistics off their backs, I saved that practice for the PGA Tour media guide.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, my classmates analyzed the stock market while I performed statistical multiple regression to demonstrate the veracity of “drive for show and putt for dough.” (It’s true!) It hasn’t been a linear path, but as I tee-off my column on golf insights, I recognize that what has brought me to this place has been deeply rooted in both a passion for golf and a never-ending quest for understanding the nuances of consumer behavior and sports marketing.
So how did I get here? Upon receiving my MBA, I eschewed the more traditional management consulting, consumer packaged goods or finance routes (Silicon Valley wasn’t a thing back in 1991) and leveraged the aforementioned statistical analysis and a paper on the emerging golf facility management company industry into an opportunity in South Florida at the PGA of America.
At the PGA, I learned and grew under the tutelage of mentors like Joe Steranka, Jesse Holshouser and the late Paul Bogin. In addition to building formal marketing research, consumer marketing and strategic planning functions, my responsibilities included overseeing the business side of our championship merchandising and retail businesses around the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship, and utilizing insights driven analysis to grow and ultimately license the association’s trade show (PGA Merchandise Show) business.
We introduced attitudinal segmentation to the golf market to help PGA professionals better understand and engage with their customers and deployed database marketing strategies to optimize different aspects of the association’s direct marketing. It was a wonderful, though untraditional first post-MBA job, and one that lasted nearly eight years before the allure of applying some of the same skills to another leisure category (cruise ships) took me briefly out of the golf industry for two years.
Ten years in South Florida provided the latitude to grow a variety of analytical, marketing and business management skills, but I’m just as indebted to those that I worked with and met at the PGA for what I learned about people and the pragmatic realities of golf as an industry.
Two years later, with a young family in tow, golf drew me back to my New York roots as Conde Nast’s purchase of several golf media assets and related businesses created the Golf Digest Companies (GDC). Under the guidance and championing efforts of President Mitch Fox, I assumed a VP role that gave me responsibility for strategically positioning and marketing these assets, control of an expansive golfer database and most significantly an opportunity to build a stand-alone marketing research business that serviced the division’s endemic and horizontal clients with customized marketing research and database consulting.
It was an invigorating opportunity to dive deeply into multiple aspects of the golf industry and carefully examine the inter-relations of various purchase funnel elements and stakeholders. Along the way, my volunteer involvement in the broader marketing research space, helped me to forge strong relationships with several of that industry’s leaders, and join them in volunteering and leading two of their worldwide trade associations.
After overseeing their Professional Development Council and serving on their national board of directors, I was elected President of the Marketing Research Association (MRA; now The Insights Association) in 2008. I am also currently immediate Past President and Marketing Chair for the University of Georgia’s Marketing Research Institute International (MRII), serving on their board for the better part of the last decade. MRII offers the preeminent online marketing research training and certificate programs.
These experiences also provided the impetus for me to take the leap in 2009 and roll the research consulting aspect of my Golf Digest Companies responsibilities into a broader stand-alone business. Sports and Leisure Research Group has been servicing the broader categories for which it is named, for the past 11 years, by offering a myriad of customized, full-service marketing research capabilities to a vast array of clients. These range from golf’s governing bodies to equipment OEMs, golf facility management companies, resorts, destinations and casinos, professional sports leagues and franchises, media and the brands and agencies that leverage their association with sports to better engage target consumers. We utilize surveys, focus groups, observational research and a variety of data-driven analytics to give our clients a better understanding of the market place and the space that their organizations occupy within it, as well as the opportunities that they afford for future success.
My regular submissions here will aim to leverage this interesting ride through the world of golf to give readers an informed and fact driven perspective on the business side of the game we love. Utilizing research that we’ve conducted along with new studies among this readership, I hope to provide a pragmatic and provocative look at the dynamics that shape our own relationships with the game of golf and those who participate within it.
I hope it will give you some added perspective and appreciation for what drives the game we all love.
Jon Last is founder and President of Sports and Leisure Research Group, a full-service marketing research consultancy that supports leading brands in sports, travel and media. Last’s 25+ years of professional experience includes seven years as VP Corporate Marketing for Golf Digest Companies, and eight years at the PGA of America, where he oversaw marketing research, consumer marketing and retailing.
A frequent speaker and featured columnist for Media Post’s Marketing: Sports, Last holds an M.B.A. from Wharton and a B.A. from Tufts. He is a former national president of the U.S. Marketing Research Association (MRA) and is the immediate past President of Marketing Research Institute International (MRII).