The Tiger Woods Complex

A group of company executives in hospitality tent at major golf tournament was inspired to mirth the other day by the sour expression on the face of PGA professional as he stepped off the 18th green. “This course is ridiculously difficult,” he snapped to the ubiquitous television camera. “The tournament directors are trying so hard to stop certain player, they’ve ruined it for the rest of us.”
“If that’s how it is for him,” quipped one of the executives, “think how it is for us.” The “certain player” invoked by the frustrated pro was, of course, Tiger Woods. It’s rather amazing tribute to one man’s excellence that he can actually be credited, or blamed, for general increase in the difficulty of golf courses. But although pleased that Tiger’s influence could be so widespread and so profound, I also found myself in silent agreement with the group’s perspective as recreational golfers.
The United States has been in the midst of golf boom many times the size of the original, turn-of-the-century one. The boom was fuelled by the apparently unending popularity of golf course home developments and by competition among resorts, both new and old.
However, it was at this point that the promoters behind these developments and courses fell into trap that has caught many successful enterprise. In their search for differentiation among so many golf courses, they mistook complexity for quality. This came about by simple, and therefore particularly treacherous, habit of reasoning.
You want to be able to boast of the quality of your course. Naturally, then, the best course designer available must be retained. And since it is feather in the cap to host PGA, Senior Tour, or LPGA tournament, your designer must create championship course that stands out. He looks about him, sees what the other designers are doing – tight fairways, tricky bunker layouts, greens that require parachute drop – and decides to go the competition one better.
More and more theatrical features
As designers followed this line of thought to its ultimate conclusion, the courses at the best resorts and developments continued to be made ever more challenging. And the definition of challenging changed over time and came to mean (in ever-advancing increments): hard, difficult, very difficult, frustrating, and finally, next to impossible for the average golfer.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love the game of golf. Still, like most people who never quite get enough time on the course, I look forward to playing on beautiful resort courses when I am on vacation. When I stand at the first tee, I am almost always filled with hope that my game will be on level with the beautiful surroundings. In fact, like most people on vacation, I tend to believe that I’m going to go out and play better than I do at home. And then I hit the first “signature” hole. And then another, and another, each more difficult, quirky, and downright perverse than the last.
For resort owners, this represents real quandary. The ever-escalating competition requires course an owner can boast about: “It will stop Tiger!” Golf and travel magazines don’t publish pictures of less than stupendous-looking holes. On the other hand, if our customer who ordinarily shoots between 85 and 90 at home cards 100 on his long-awaited vacation, he’s going to hate the place.
While all this has been taking place, the golf boom has cooled. The numbers for golf, it has been widely reported, are tailing off.

The resort owners’ major sin
At bottom, resort owners are guilty of major sin: They’re not reading the customer. People are paying top dollar for what is supposed to be pleasant experience, and they’re straggling off the 18th green like entrants in game of “Survivor.”
Resort owners are also putting themselves behind sizeable demographic eightball. They have to recognise that for golf resorts – in all resorts for that matter – the population that (a) has more leisure time is (b) getting older. It stands to reason that if your resort is going to attract well off 75-year-olds for month, you had better make it user-friendly for them.

Too complicated to digest
What does this say to business executives in general? Don’t allow complexity to blind your eyes to the needs and desires of your target audience. If you’ve ever fumbled with the controls of VCR, winced at the noisy dissonance of an avant-garde composition at the symphony, or shelved proposal because it seemed too complicated to digest, you know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, for too many people in marketing, thing’s difficulty is sure guarantee of its quality.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. The appearance of complication is often the best indicator that somebody is trying to cover up failure, whether of design, execution, or good intentions. True quality is rare because, while it may indeed be the end result of much calculation and intricate design, it comes across as simple, even spare. Like Willie Mays or, indeed, Tiger Woods, it makes the difficult look easy.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Managerment Group.

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