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Volume 23 No. 9
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Group aims to pair pros, sponsors

A newly created private company is targeting the PGA of America’s 28,000 members with the goal of selling national sponsorship deals for the group.

The Golf Professionals of America Players Association bills itself as the first organization dedicated to “leveraging the marketing power of the PGA of America club professional.” The New York-based group is led by four executives with experience across sports and other industries and is in the early stages of rolling out its membership model to club pros across the country.

“The PGA of America’s mission is to grow the game of golf, and it does not have the ability to really develop the individual economic benefit for its club professionals,” said Ron Furman, one of the founders of the GPA Players Association and a former executive with the NFL, Golf Channel and Westwood One. “The club pros have never had anyone on an individual basis to bring their value to the market.”

The group will operate separately from the PGA of America; it does not have rights to PGA of America marks. But the organizers, and the PGA, see the effort as complementary to the PGA’s core work.

“The PGA’s mission is to serve our members and grow the game,” Jeff Price, chief commercial officer of the PGA of America, wrote in an email. “We deliver on that mission at the national, section and local levels every day through educational programs, employment services, and player development initiatives such as PGA Junior League Golf. We also work with our partners to deliver direct benefits to PGA members. In addition, we wish any company well that is helping individual members grow their own revenue.”

For the GPA Players Association, the plan is to use the scale of its membership to attract marketing partners under what it calls a “brand ambassador model” involving club professionals throughout the country. The group’s pitch is aimed at national companies, with sponsors receiving exposure in all of the association members’ clubs. In turn, those sponsors would be seen by the individual players who practice and play at those clubs. The association also plans to create customized digital magazines and monthly email blasts for the club pros to send to their club members.

The group is charging dues ranging from $300 to $600 annually for membership, based on standing: for example, whether the person is a club’s head pro or an assistant pro. The club pros would share in any sponsorship revenue generated, minus the GPA Players Association’s 15 percent to 20 percent cut of any marketing deals.

The group hopes to have 1,000 members by next year.

While the planned work matches the type of business typically done by pro leagues’ players associations and related business groups, Furman said the effort is not a push for unionization among club pros. “We are more of a group of people coming together for a bigger marketing platform,” he said.

Joining Furman as founding members in the association are Robert Horvath, former chairman and chief executive officer of the RAPP marketing agency; Christopher Sauvigne, managing partner of the Sauvigne & Co. accounting company; and Marc Hiatrides, president of Four Tier Financial Group.

One industry expert said an issue facing the association is making sure members activate uniformly around any sponsorships sold by the group.

“When they go to measure the return on investment, how many members who are enrolled in the program have gone through the steps and activated every element of the sponsorship,” said Jon Wagner, president of golf consultancy Milestone Sports Management.

But Mike Diffley, head pro at the Pelham Country Club in New York and one of the early GPA Players Association members, said he expects to see financial benefit from both sponsor sales efforts and through the direct digital marketing done on behalf of the members by the association.