Though never known for controversy, pro golf recently became enveloped in a scandal after a Golf Channel commentator made a joking reference to "lynching" Tiger Woods. Golfweek magazine followed with a cover image of a noose.
That debate fed talk radio and sports pages for a few days and was a big media story, in part because of Woods' dominating presence. It served as more evidence of how one golfer, Woods, has changed the public and media perception of a sport once considered primarily a leisure activity for older men.
"Before it was a popular sport, but PR was aimed at a narrow group reached primarily by golf magazines and trade outlets," says Mike Alday, president of Alday Communications, whose clients include Nike and the PGA program, Play Golf America. "I don't think there's any doubt we can point to Woods for bringing 'coolness' to the sport. Now golf is of interest to a much wider audience."
It can seem as if all that new audiences want is more stories about Woods. But Steve Dennis, director of communications strategy for the PGA Tour, says coverage of the all the top players is benefiting.
"We're seeing more lifestyle and sports-page stories that I'd characterize [as] non-competition golf stories," he says, "such as how they train, as opposed to just what they shot over the weekend."
Tiger-mania has also fueled more stories aimed at the casual player. "We're talking to Self, Men's Fitness, and Men's Health and there's a lot of interest," says Alday. "Before, it was like pulling teeth to get those folks to think about golf."
Though golf coverage has been impacted by editorial cutbacks, Mary Beth Lacy, head of Mary Beth Lacy Inc., which specializes in the golf industry, says there are still plenty of beat writers mixing coverage of high-profile tournaments with stories on local players and the latest equipment.
"They all play golf, [so] they're always interested in the latest equipment," she adds. "The key is to pitch them the old-fashioned way, highlighting technology and the reason behind a new product."
LPGA PR manager Kim Berard notes it has a rising star of its own in Lorena Ochoa, who last year won more tournaments than Woods and is helping to fuel a surge in women's golf.
"We've gotten more coverage in not just women's magazine, but in [titles] like Time, Newsweek, and Business Week," she says, adding the fact that Ochoa is from Mexico helps them broaden their outreach. "In markets like Miami or LA, we work with tournament directors to get her talking to the right Hispanic outlets."
- Thanks to Tiger Woods, interest in golf is surging among all demographics, so don't just limit pitches to business lifestyle and outlets aimed at older men
- With constant improvements in clubs, golf balls, and swing analysis, the sport now has a real technology angle that can be used to pitch the growing number of gadget gurus in media
- Whether it's the PGA, LPGA, or any tour, it is an event when the best players come to a city. Develop a market-by- market strategy to reach out to outlets with golf-themed pitches that can piggyback on that local interest