volume 5/ issue 2/ 3.15.06
    teeing off   view from chateau   from the fringe   the gallery

AJGA, Titleist Agree to 10-Year National Sponsorship Extension


Transcript of Wally Uihlein's Historic Speech
Digger Smith Awards Banquet • Chateau Elan Resort • Braselton, Ga. • 2/17/06
Thank you, Stephen. The last time I was here was February 2001 and I was invited by Stephen at the time to give the keynote address as part of the National Headquarters grand opening. My keynote address that night was the history of the American Junior Golf Association, which seemed appropriate since my personal history with the AJGA and that of the company I represent dates back to 1981 when at the time we made a call to Mike Bentley offering to provide him a few dozen golf balls for the two or three events that he was administering at the time.

Acushnet Company Chairman and CEO Wally Uihlein speaks at the 2006 Digger Smith Dinner.
That was some 25 years ago, so I do feel some authenticity as well as credibility in commenting upon the AJGA and the association that Titleist has had with the American Junior Golf Association over this period. The fact is that the involvement of Titleist with the AJGA has always been as much personal as it has been commercial.

You know back in the 1970s, it was a common occurrence to have many of the then-smaller number of NCAA men’s and women’s college golf programs that we were working with back then, ask our help in identifying the best junior golfers and what tournaments they might be playing in. Obviously, given the limited number of junior tournaments that college coaches could then attend, it was important that these coaches know which tournaments were going to have the strongest fields.

At the same time, junior golfers and parents were asking us, as well as the PGA home professionals that we were servicing, which tournaments they should enter in order that they receive college coach exposure and visibility. The organization and formalization of junior golf, a reality that we take for granted today, did not exist back then.

The AJGA, led by Digger Smith, Mike Bentley, and Puggy Blackmon, understood that junior golf needed schedule management assistance and a consistency to tournament golf administration. That explains why we made that first call back in 1981. It helps explain why we got involved. I know because I made the call.

We knew that over time, if done right, the American Junior Golf Association and the tournaments that it conducted, would eventually attract the best players. And for us to be associated with an organization that identified with and was dedicated to the best junior golfers in the game, this Association was sufficient a return on any investment that we would make.

Stephen Hamblin arrived in 1984 and, as we all know, that was a watershed event in this organization’s history. Stephen likes to joke that in the mid-to-late 1980s we would steal a few minutes at the PGA Merchandise Show, he would tell me what he needed and I would say that was fine with us. And that was how complicated the relationship was.

The fact was it was that simple because both organizations understood the direction that competitive junior golf needed to go. Understanding the mission and purpose of the AJGA was not rocket science. You either got it or you did not; you either agreed with the mission and purpose statement or you did not; you were either committed or you were not.

During the 1980s we continued to provide product support, we watched the growth, we observed the adoption of a national sponsor and we continued to input where and when asked, respecting our role as just one of the short list of sponsors at the time.

The next watershed chapter involving Titleist and the AJGA occurred at the 1988 Masters. Now anyone who has ever worked in the golf industry understands it’s a seasonal business. Revenue streams tend to consolidate in the spring and summer months, while operational expenses tend to be straight-line, 12-month reality.

What Stephen and the AJGA were constantly facing was how to retain and afford the 12-month positions to be truly a national organization while dealing with the reality that membership and tournament revenue only accrued when the sun was shining and tournaments were being conducted. This is where a national sponsor could mitigate the situation.

We were a golf company. It was easy for us to understand firsthand the challenges of being a seasonal business. At this chance meeting in 1988, Stephen indicated that Coca-Cola had just informed him that they were stepping away from their national sponsorship commitment. The loss of a national sponsor could have a significant impact upon the organization’s ability to remain fully operational during the upcoming October through March winter slowdown.

Sometimes, as I frequently say, the right thing to do is simply to do the right thing. It did not take long for us to consider and accept Stephen’s invitation, or should I say challenge, that we become the national sponsor of the AJGA.

The thrust of the national sponsorship was to commit to a level, which, at the time, represented funding for all the necessary and sufficient 12-month positions. The idea was to provide the needed financial stability so that the most important 12-month positions were wholly funded, so that the organization could function as a national organization 12 months of the year and retain the good people that the AJGA had been able to attract.

It was also agreed that, while we would be the national sponsor, the role would be as much background as foreground, because the support of competitive junior golf should not be – should not be – exclusive to anyone. If junior golfers were going to use our product, it would be as much a byproduct of the relationship that we would establish with the player, the parent and their coach.

It’s been that way for the past 17 years, and we’ve been very consistent in our application and behavior as national sponsor. We would like to think that our involvement as national sponsor and the resulting financial stability that we brought to the party has had something to do with the growth and the efficiency of the AJGA.

We feel strongly that the growth and the efficiency of the AJGA has had much to do with the success that many AJGA alumni have had at the professional level. But more importantly, we feel there is ample evidence that substantiates that the growth of college golf in this country is a direct byproduct of the growth and success of college golf’s number one feeder train: the AJGA.

The fact is, there exists a very strong, symbiotic relationship between the AJGA, its mission and purpose, and that of NCAA men’s and women’s college golf. Today, there are in excess of 200 men’s and over 150 women’s college golf programs. And in the year 2005, the total amount of all golf scholarship monies that were distributed to players associated with these above-mentioned college golf programs exceeded $30 million. That’s $30 million in the year 2005.

Over 2,500 one-time junior golfers are playing NCAA men’s and women’s college golf and participating in the distribution of this $30 million in scholarship opportunity. We know the number is accurate; we’ve done the research.

And a good portion of these dollars are awarded to players who prepared for college golf via participation in the AJGA. For many, the AJGA has become the Princeton Educational Testing Service of competitive junior golf. This is the primary mission and purpose of the AJGA.

Next September, a new class will enter college, and another six-to-seven hundred individuals will receive full or partial scholarships as a result of their performance in AJGA events. This is part of the responsibility of developing golf’s next generation. And as someone who does get exposure to every golf organization in the world, trust me when I tell you that no one does it better than the AJGA.

This past fall, Stephen Hamblin celebrated his 50th birthday, and it reinforced the reality with me that none of us was getting any younger. And I thought of an individual who has been here since event one, an individual who has captained the ship through the rapids of financial frailty, an individual that I previously described as an exemplary visionary, benefactor and patron saint extraordinaire.

And I thought of our national sponsorship, and I thought of what a fitting and appropriate gesture it would be to tear up what was in place and submit to Stephen and the Board for approval a proposal that would give the AJGA long-term financial stability and give to this organization’s number one caretaker the comfort in knowing he was there at the creation and before he was done, he saw to it that this organization’s financial stability would never be an issue for this generation or for those that would follow.

Thus tonight, I am pleased to announce that Titleist has entered into a new 10-year, eight-figure commitment as national sponsor of the AJGA because we could think of no better way to thank the man for whom this evening is named. Digger, on behalf of every junior golfer, every parent, every sponsor, every tournament chairman, every volunteer and I know every member of the AJGA family, we thank you.

Sometimes, the right thing to do is to do the right thing, and in this case this was the right thing to do very much because of you. Thank you, Digger.