Golfweek Amateur Tour Director Rob Maguire introduces this popular new amateur golf tour in this episode of the Chicago Golf Report Podcast. Rob explains why golfers of all skill levels love to compete on the Golfweek Amateur Tour, what makes this Tour unique, what it takes to signup and compete, where events take place, how the participating courses are selected and much more.
WL: This episode, our guest is the director of the Chicago eGolf Tour (now the Golfweek Amateur Tour), Rob Maguire. You can learn more about the Chicago eGolf Tour at amateurgolftour.net or you can reach them by phone at 630-886-3442.
So, what are you trying to accomplish with the eGolf Amateur Tour and what is the feedback you’ve received so far?
RM: First and foremost, the feedback has been great. We started up and running just this year, it’s our first year. We basically made our presence known at the Chicago Golf Show, in February. Since then, the response has been great. What we are really trying to do on the eGolf Tour is we are trying to provide…We built the tour on two principles: camaraderie and competition.
It’s been my goal to get a good group of players together and put them in a situation where they can compete and compete only against their own skill level. I think that’s really the core of what we are trying to do and we are trying to do it in a cost-effective manner for the players. In today’s economy, we realize that most guys can’t go out and spend a couple hundred dollars on a tournament and so we’re really just trying to make it an affordable thing for them to do. We’re trying to showcase some of Chicago’s courses and things like that to make it a true tour.
I think the response to both of those has been quite positive. We’ve got a lot of players that, Chicago is a big area, and we’ve got a lot of players that are coming from all over the Chicagoland; whether it’s down in Lockport or up in Beach Park. We’ve got players coming from all over, and they really like the idea of playing some other courses that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to play. On top of that, they are competing to win some prizes and some trophies and things like that. So far the feedback has been extremely good. It’s kind of actually taken us by surprise, but that’s a good thing. We’re just kind of chugging along and continuing to do what we’re doing.
WL: How do you go about making people feel comfortable and not afraid to embarrass themselves when they come to your events?
RM: I think the first issue that we have to address is that we have to really find what their skill level is. And that could be a little bit of a process. Normally, what we’ve been doing is there is a conversation that takes place between me and the player; and I kind of feel out where their game is at and what they’re trying to do and where they are trying to go with their game; what they are trying to accomplish, those sorts of things.
From there, basically, some players will carry an official handicap and that makes it really easy to put them in a direct flight. Some people don’t even know what a handicap is, so therefore, we’ve got to take them through that process. We actually have our own handicapping system that we create for ourselves. It’s similar to the USGA, but we use it for our tournaments only. It really helps us get the guys in the correct buckets, so to speak, to let them compete. From there, we take it a step further; my goal is to make sure that I can put guys in a flight and give them the best chance to win on that day. What that eventually means is that some guys will end up having to move around a little bit until we find that correct flight.
We haven’t had too many issues with that, but one that sticks out to me is that actually in our first tournament, we had a n A-flight player who told me, “I’m about a 5 handicap, I really should be in the A-flight, but I’ve been known to shoot some more rounds.” I simply told him, “We’ll do this; we’ll start you in the A- flight, because that’s where your handicap is, when you win your first event in the A-flight, I’m going to bump you up to the champ flight and really bring out that competition in yourself.” He did that, precisely, in the first event. He came out and shot a 78, which is about what his handicap dictates it should be. He came up to me afterwards and said, “You know what, I want to take that next step. I want to take that next challenge. I want to go and play with the big boys.” So we bumped him up and put him there. Now he is going to compete on that level; so he is going to push himself to become a better golfer and to really see where his game stands.
It‘s really a back and forth type of situation to make sure we are getting these guys into the right places and they are competing. More often than not, golf is an honest game. I haven’t encountered anybody who wants to bring up the dreaded “sandbag” word. We have certain protocols in place so we can prevent that from happening.
WL: How does the sign-up process for the eGolf Amateur Tour go and is it too late for people to get involved?
RM: Not at all, actually. The sign-up process is pretty easy. You can head over to our web site, chicagoegolf.com; there’s a button that says “join the tour”. Basically, the way that we work it is; there are no minimums of number of tournaments to participate in on the tour; you can play in as many or as few events as you like. Basically, it’s not too late to join. We’re adding new members daily; actually just got 3 new guys to sign up today, even though we have played our first 2 events.
The season is kind of broken down into 2 parts. This is what really helps guys understand. We do a season-long points race, kind of like similar to a FedEx Cup limit the PGA tour. The reason we do a point’s race is because we have a National Tour Championship on Hilton Head Island. Last year, we had about 600 golfers come down from across the nation. This year, we’re looking at probably right around 700 guys, from the 40 different markets that eGolf Tour makes up. Our point’s race dictates who is invited to this main event. The way that that works is that the top 10 guys, in each flight, per city are invited to come and participate. So we have that point system in place to do that.
The second part of the season is basically like an individual tournament-by-tournament situation. Guys can come out and play in one or two events, win some tournaments, get some nice prizes; playing for the Visa gift cards. Or they can build their schedule a little bit more in detail and play in more events to try to qualify for that Hilton Head trip at the end of the year. I encourage everybody to find out a little bit more about the Tour. It’s not too late to join. If you want to compete in one tournament, we can get you in; it’s pretty easy.
WL: So for people who don’t have a fixed schedule; they don’t know if they are going be available from week-to-week, can they come out and play whenever they want and make the events that they can?
RM: Exactly. Like I said, there are no minimums to the number of events that they want to play in. What we try to do is get them to at least come out for one. Because I believe that if they come out for one, they are going to have such a good time that they are going to want to come back for another.
We also build in some other things, too. The way that the Tour is built is each golfer purchases an annual membership. The membership is $90.00. What that gets you is some golf swag; a nice eGolf hat; a nice eGolf shirt; and it also gets you a member card.
A couple of the members have gone this route: The member’s card provides discounts at the courses that we play for our tournaments the week before we play them, kind of like a practice round, if you will; and a couple guys have purchased memberships solely just for that reason, just to be able to take advantage of some of those discounts that are being provided. Maybe they don’t feel like they are ready to play in tournaments of that nature and they are not too sure of their game, but they want to take advantage of those discounts. That is an advantage for them, too.
From there, you can sign up and play in as many or as few events as you want. We really kind of make it easy for all golfers involved. I realize that it is very difficult to plan out an entire summer; to play in 5, 6, 7, or 12 events that we have. We really try to make it as flexible as possible for the player to give them the opportunity to come out and play at their schedule on their timeline.
WL: What kinds of courses are you plying this year and how did you schedule where you are going to take your events to?
RM: Actually, there are a lot of factors that go into the courses that we select for our tour. First and foremost, being a tour, we try to give a good smattering of courses that represent Chicagoland golf. I also wanted to go in some certain geographic areas to kind of give some people the opportunity to play in areas that they normally would not play. That’s a big part of how we do it.
I specifically chose many of the courses because I’ve played them myself, so I consider them to be some top-notch golf courses. More often than not, people will stick to their regions and play the course, the local track down the street. I was able to really home in on some of those courses that are across Chicago to let players come out and experience what it’s like in some other areas.
As far as some of the courses that we are playing, I think that we have got a pretty good line-up in 2010. We started the season out at Klein Creek in Woodfield, great course. It has an unknown piece to it that a lot of people think that it is a private club. While they do have private memberships, they have always been public. I have got a lot of response from a lot of our players that played it and said “I didn’t even know that this course was there.” They enjoyed it a lot. That’s another big part of what we are trying to do.
Our last event was at Bowes Creek Country Club, which happens to be one of the newest courses in Chicagoland. It was just finished in September of 2009; great facility out there. Mike and Kathleen do a great job out there. That is actually a private club. They do a little bit…I would call it semi-private, I guess. They have a member-for–the-day type of policy, I guess. That was a good thing to get some of the members to experience what a country club environment was like; and guys love that.
From there, we play on some other courses. Like I said, we are playing St. Andrews this coming weekend. Later in the season, we will play at Makray Memorial. We will also play at Blackberry Oaks, which is a nice little track that most people don’t really know about. We will head up north, up into Deerfield and play the Deerfield Golf Club. We will play on Mill Creek, up in Geneva. We will end our season over at Cantigny, in Wheaton, which I consider to be one of the top five courses in Chicagoland. I think what a lot of people look forward to is it’s kind of and expensive track when you get out and play, but when you are playing on part of the Tour, it kind of gives it a little bit different of a meaning. I know a lot of the players are really looking forward to getting out there at that course.
Really, I just tried to build a schedule that would appeal to everybody; that would give a little bit of different flavors. Something that all of our golfers can plan. We basically set up the tournaments the day of, based on the skill; our tee boxes are set up for the skill level of the golfers. That way they don’t feel intimidated; that some of these courses have got a reputation that it is too hard. There will be plenty for them to set up tees that is going to accommodate their skill level and make it a little bit easier to play for them, at least as far as that goes. But on the same level, some of our champ players, our A-flighters, they will be playing back from the back tees, giving themselves a good challenge and a good opportunity there.
We try to fit a lot of that into a 12 tournament schedule, which isn’t the easiest thing to do; but I think we have succeeded pretty well with some of the course that we have on our schedule.
WL: What are you looking to accomplish, then, in 2010 and then what additional things might people expect throughout the remainder of the year?
RM: It’s like I said earlier, our 2 guiding principles are competition and camaraderie. I can provide the competition for them in the form of the golf courses and how we are setting those things up and bringing people together to play. Really, what I want to continue to do is I want to build that camaraderie. The feedback I’m getting from a lot of my players is that they are playing golf outside of the tournaments with some of the people that they are meeting through the Tour. To me, I think that is the biggest compliment because that means that the people like each other and they are having a good time with each other and they are finding new golf partners to play with. That is something that I really want to continue and go forward from there. I think that is stuff that you just can’t replace; is meeting new people and having fun with those people. That is something that I really want to continue.
From there, I want to create as much competition as we can for everybody. Obviously, the more players that we have; the bigger our prize pools; the more places that we are playing out. That’s what I’m really looking forward to. In the end, I would be lying if I told you I wouldn’t like to bring down a nice group of people to Hilton Head and show them what an event that turns out to be. We do a 3 day event down there in one of the golf capitals of the United States, and whatnot. For some people, it will be the opportunity that they never would get outside of playing some golf in Chicago. Those are the kinds of things that I’m looking forward to to make it more valuable to our membership and our playing partners.
WL: What is the feedback you have received so far from your members? Why did they choose to play the eGolf Amateur Tour instead of just playing casual rounds with friends, or playing on a weekend or weekly basis?
RM: Probably the biggest thing is most of the people that I am encountering, they want to compete and they want to see where their level of golf stands with others. So I think that is a big part of it. Specifically, with some of the people that we are meeting recently, people want to get out, meet some other people, and do those kinds of things.
Why they are selecting the eGolf Tour? I think cost is really a big part of what we are trying to do, and how we are building our tour. Like I said, some of the other tours, they are a little bit more expensive on the membership fee side. Their tournament fees are a little bit higher. I think that people see that and they are kind of gravitating towards us. We are providing a good product. We are getting out there and we are showing them a good time, but we are doing it at a rate that allows them to consistently do that. That’s some of the feedback that I have got is, “I can play on some of these other tours, but I would be spending some extra money and I don’t see why.”
Also, the power of the referral has been really good for us. Some guys are coming out and playing a round of golf and enjoying it so much and enjoying the tournament so much that they are going back and telling their friends. They are saying, “Hey, listen, I’m having a good time-out here. The eGolf Tour is putting out a good show. We are playing for some great prizes; good trophies, you should really check this out.” That’s helping to spread the word as well. That is probably the biggest compliment I can get is that means I’m showing these guys a good time and I’m setting up a good event for them that they are enjoying. They are kind of going from there and spreading the word. That is more powerful than anything I can do.
WL: Before you made contacts with the eGolf Amateur Tour, did you have any kind of a background in golf, or running golf events?
RM: I actually did. I spent my summers, my college summers, I attended Augustana College, and on my summer breaks, I basically worked at a golf course. I was an assistant golf pro at Bloomingdale Golf Club. I was over there running some events, helping the pro do some things, and primarily I wasn’t teaching very much over there; I was really just running events. I have about 4 years of experience doing that.
When I was in college, I was running our college’s intramural program. Maybe not specifically just golf events; kind of all events-basketball, softball, and all that kind of stuff. I’ve always been around those kinds of things, and I’ve always had that experience of getting guys together and getting out and playing and doing different activities and that sort of thing. So it was really kind of a natural fit for me to kind of just start the Tour here and get it going. It’s something that I enjoy doing. I enjoy getting people together. I enjoy planning the aspects of it.
WL: You’re not a good golfer if people don’t say that.
RM: Exactly, right?
WL: Passionate golfer, I should say.
RM: Right. I really just truly enjoy bringing it all together. I enjoy from getting there early; to setting everything up; to meeting and greeting the guys and cheering them on; riding the course and taking pictures of the guys; and watching them compete; and watching them make a big pot or chip one in or something along that nature. I like greeting them at the end and collecting those cards and putting those scores up on the boards; and doing our little awards presentation. Then going home and writing up a little story to post on our web site and kind of keep track of the stats…It’s just something that I enjoy doing and it was a really natural fit for me to get involved in and do it on this level.
WL: Since there are so many great golf courses within the Chicagoland area, I would imagine you are able to introduce people to some courses that they have probably never played before.
RM: Yes, exactly, and that is kind of why we, like I said, we go up into Deerfield; we go out to Elgin; we go down to Lockport; we’re out in Bristol. These are places that if you just live, let’s say on the south side of the city, you would never go to those types of places and play because you’ve got many great golf courses in your back yard. That’s true for all of our golfers and it really allows them to branch out. For example, with Bowes Creek Country Club, brand new golf course; people want to…it’s not even on the GPS maps…people couldn’t find it. The course itself wasn’t mapped in any of the GPS guidelines or whatnot. But, when people got out there they said, “Wow, this is a really nice course and I would never have known about it if it wasn’t for the Tour.” That is just helping the game of golf and promoting the game of golf. In that respect is just another small aspect of what we’re doing and how we are getting along.
WL: What has been the feedback you’ve received so far from the golf courses? Have they been supportive of these events?
RM: I think they are very excited. Every course has welcomed me with open arms. I pretty much get in contact…I’m actually working on, right now, planning my 2011 schedule. First of all, I’m already in their ears a full golf season in advance. While some might think that’s a little bit ambitious and whatnot; it really shows, first of all, that you are interested in your course or in that course that we are talking to. It shows that we are serious. It shows that we are going to bring a good group of golfers.
As far as the courses go, every one of them has welcomed us with open arms. They want to get people out there playing. They want to get people coming from different areas to play their course because it does promote them as well. At the same time, we only play 12 tournaments a year and to be one of the 12 tournament s on our schedule really gives them a little bit of extra advertising as well.
I’m doing my own marketing materials, but I am selling the courses just as much as I’m selling the Tour. They enjoy that as well. They are enjoying the new players that are coming. We are bringing 50 to 60 guys a week to their tournaments, to their courses that maybe they may never have seen, in addition to the practice rounds that we are doing the week before. We are getting probably anywhere from 25 to 35 practice rounds the week before, so from a golf business perspective, it’s just extra business for them. It’s really promoting them as well and putting them on the map. The golf courses really enjoy it.
The second reason that they enjoy it is that we are doing a lot of the work for them. We are doing the score keeping and we are stetting the tee times and we are doing a lot of that stuff. In a way, other than providing the facility and a couple other pieces of benefits for them; it’s kind of a hands-off approach for them. It gives them the opportunity to showcase their course and I think they really enjoy that as well.
I think a lot of that stems from our national presence. Seeing that we are not just 30 or 40 guys who are banding together to kind of gets it going. The eGolf Tour is in 40 different markets. Last year, we had over 3,000 members nationwide. We get guys that travel and play from different markets. I’ve had a couple of my guys go down to the Myrtle Beach area and actually head over to Arizona and play in some of those events. I’ve actually had a couple of guys from the Carolinas come up and play in our events as well. I think that helps them too because now it’s not only putting them on a local level, it’s also putting them on a national level. It’s putting their name out there even more.
I’ve also been blessed. I’m working with some really good people at some of these courses that are really making the events go as far as getting us on the schedule and things of that nature. It’s been a lot of fun, to say the least.
Walter, I appreciate it and we’ll talk soon.
This has been the Chicago Golf Report podcast. Visit chicagogolfreport.com right now for exclusive discount offers, Chicago golf news, and in-depth event listings.