Podcast host Gary Williams (left) has used his strong connections to land guests including Jack Nicklaus to the upstart venture.Signature Golf
Where can a golf fan go to hear extended conversations with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, USGA CEO Mike Whan and Lee Westwood? Five Clubs. What about NBC’s golf announcing team of Dan Hicks and Paul Azinger? Five Clubs again.
Perhaps that golf fan’s interest extends to marine mortals – that is, weekend hackers – enjoying the endless frustrations of trying to keep it on the Fairways. In that case, where might they go to hear a fellow enthusiast like ESPN college basketball Analyst Jay Bilas share his love of the game with Buddies like Retired tennis Champion Andy Roddick? Five Clubs.
Prefer Insights on the Women’s game and the growing Popularity of college golf? Say hello to University of Minnesota golfer Emma Carpenter, whose new podcast just debuted on Five Clubs.
For those seeking insight on where the best players in the world play, and what goes into making a course a worthy test of their skills, Five Clubs provides that conversation, too. Gil Hanse, the course designer behind renovations at the homes of this year’s PGA Championship and the US Open – Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., And The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Respectively – has a podcast of his own, too .
Which leaves just one question: What are Five Clubs?
It’s the media arm of Signature Golf, an offshoot of the Charlotte-based marketing firm Signature Sports Group. Five Clubs is, as former Golf Channel host and Signature Golf partner Gary Williams put it, an Homage to the five Clubs that started the USGA in 1894: The Country Club in Brookline; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, NY; The Saint Andrews Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY; Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill .; and Newport Country Club in Rhode Island.
And Signature Golf is a three-headed entity that, in six months of existence, is gaining Traction – and attention.
Steve Hall, the founder and Sole owner of Signature Sports Group, is a longtime friend of Williams. Hall had always wanted to get into the golf side of the sports business, but knew he lacked the scale to compete with the major agencies that represent the top players and properties.
Signature Sports has worked with various brands to generate sales through Promotions connected with marquee games – often college football – on-site and through themed displays at Retailers in those areas. The company negotiates sponsorships for companies and then creates campaigns to boost sales and build interest for those clients through teams and properties.
Williams first met Hall early in his career while hosting a sports talk radio show in Charlotte. He went on to SiriusXM and, in 2011, helped the Golf Channel launch the network’s “Morning Drive” show. “Morning Drive” was dropped at the end of 2020, and Williams moved back to Charlotte. Soon, Williams and Hall were kicking around for ideas for a podcast or some other type of media venture.
What they ended up with is Signature Golf, combining the podcast and media arm with traditional marketing and hospitality services as well as event management and creation. Hall, who has funded the golf division startup, enlisted Williams and James McCoy, who has been at Signature Sports for most of its 25-year history, as partners. McCoy and Williams received equity in Stakes in Signature Golf.
Hall name-checked IMG, Octagon and Wasserman as the behemoths they didn’t care to challenge, then praised the podcast-social media niches mined in golf by Barstool Sports and No Laying Up, among others. “They have created a really nice niche on the media side with podcasts and creating content,” Hall said. “But they don’t really perform marketing services like what we’re going to do with Signature Golf. And they don’t really create, manage and own events, which is what we’re going to do. ”
The infrastructure and know-how for the marketing and events will come from parent Signature Sports, while Five Clubs will generate interest through what the company describes as a wide-ranging conversation covering all of the sport’s constituencies.
Webb Simpson also has been among Five Clubs’ guests.Signature Golf
Walking the walk
Hall, McCoy and Williams got serious about a golf venture in the spring of 2021. They wanted some type of original programming as an Anchor, especially with Williams’ contacts and extensive on-air experience. What they didn’t want was a run-of-the-mill podcast likely to get lost in the flooded market.
Their solutions: multiple podcasts featuring various vantage points and a professionally shot studio video version for Williams’ twice-weekly interview podcasts. Marty Snider & Associates, a Charlotte-based studio and production company owned by the namesake NASCAR on NBC Reporter, became the home base for Williams.
“I told Steve and James, ‘I know this is costly, but I think it’s important,'” Williams said. “It’s important for us to really differentiate ourselves.”
Having a video element provided entrée for a YouTube channel. The audio-only podcasts are available from the usual sources, including Apple, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google and Amazon. To get more mileage, multiple video vignettes from each show are shared on Twitter and Instagram.
In September, Five Clubs dropped its debut video podcast. Williams’ first guest? Phil Mickelson, speaking to Williams from Wisconsin, where the US Ryder Cup team was preparing for the Biennial match-play competition.
Signature Sports Group founder Steve Hall had been looking for an opportunity in the golf side of the sports business.Signature Golf
During the interview, Mickelson foreshadowed the fierce backlash that would come his way over support for a Saudi-backed golf league, telling Williams, “We really don’t have a vehicle to kind of make sure the top players are taken care of,” and lamenting what they described as an imbalanced revenue-sharing model.
Signature Golf has made inroads with the podcasts, adding companion shows Hosted by Bilas, Carpenter and Hanse with one to two new episodes each month. Future additions will include podcasts led by a to-be-determined PGA Tour player and caddy (separately) and a brand-name columnist or beat Writer. Expect those hosts and shows to be up and running sometime after the Masters. A betting-centric podcast and one on the business side of the game are being targeted, too, Hall said.
The company’s strategy thus far has been to build interest by word of mouth and social media. So far numbers are Modest. To date, Five Clubs video versions of the podcasts on YouTube TV have 21,000 views, while the audio versions have 50,000 listens. Hall said the company will soon increase interest with a digital advertising campaign.
Golf apparel brand Peter Millar has become an informal strategic adviser while providing logo apparel worn on-camera by Williams and other podcast hosts.
“It’s really easy to talk about a vision, but then to take the intentional steps to turn that vision into reality [is something else], ”Said Mike Kaselitz, Peter Millar’s president of digital. “I’ve been very impressed. I’ve kind of played the role of challenger, I guess to say, ‘You might want to think about this, you might want to think about that.’ But knowing what Steve’s done in the last 25 years, I’m not surprised. He listens. He’s really savvy. ”
Kaselitz said talks are underway about a formal business alliance between Peter Millar and Signature Golf. The quality of the production and content of the podcasts and accompanying videos have been encouraging, he added.
Golf Pride, the company whose club grips are used by 80% of PGA Tour players, has done consumer giveaways with Five Clubs and is featured prominently in Williams’ studio backdrop. Eric Gibson, global head of marketing at Golf Pride, got to know Hall when Gibson was a Signature Sports client while running sports marketing for Smithfield Foods. Gibson and Smithfield relied on Signature Sports to create on-site promotions at college football stadiums.
For Golf Pride, Signature Golf is helping the company create and bring to life Promotions and product sampling at the US Women’s Open in June at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, which sits a few miles from Golf Pride’s Headquarters in Pinehurst, NC
“Part of what they’re doing is helping us identify a roster of influential women in the game of golf and they’re doing a really, really nice job with that,” Gibson said. “At their core, what they’ve always really been good at is putting on pretty large-scale activations.”
In addition to Golf Pride and Peter Millar, Hall said negotiations are in the final stages to add two more sponsors to the podcasts.
On the way
Hall declined to disclose specific financial figures. He said Signature Golf stands a good chance of breaking even in its first year, dating to September 2021.
The company expects to bring in additional investors, but Hall said the partners have not set a benchmark for how many or funding amounts. Instead, the criteria can be boiled down to this: “These are people that can help us grow the business,” they said. “Whether it’s through our media platform, or it’s connections they have in golf, we will bring in strategic investors that we envision to be partners in this golf division.”
Existing staff at Signature Sports will help with activation, event creation, social influencers, consulting, corporate events and hospitality, among other services. Hall anticipates hiring additional staff as needed.
Signature Sports’ work on behalf of Smithfield Foods consists of tailgating Promotions pairing the company’s Ekrich brand with regional retail campaigns, as well as sampling at major college football games. Other past and present clients include ConAgra Foods’ Healthy Choice brand, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Grocers Food Lion and Harris Teeter, Outback Steakhouse, and retirement investment company TIAA.
What encourages Hall is the participatory aspect of golf. Unlike almost any other sport, golf lends itself to client outings that can be customized in various ways. That tends to Forge Deeper relationships with CEOs and marketing executives, spurring additional business opportunities.
Williams acknowledged a learning curve for the new venture, including an unfamiliar role as host and head of Talent booking.
“I have to explain to some of these people who we are, what we’re doing – the modesty of kind of where our audience was in the beginning,” they said. “And I’m very encouraged because I think it’s been pretty self-fulfilling that with every good, quality guest… there’s a greater level of understanding and acceptance and recepttiveness to being a part of it.”
A recent example: PGA Tour player and Charlotte Resident Webb Simpson. Because he lives in town, Simpson came into the studio to be interviewed by Williams. Afterward, Hall asked Simpson if they would be willing to spend 30 minutes to hear about Signature Golf and Five Clubs. Simpson, intrigued by the concept, ended up staying 90 minutes while offering an encouraging assessment. Such reactions have convinced the Founders that they are on to something.
“The media platform is kind of a game-changer,” Hall said. “Now [prospective clients] come into that Ecosystem, and they truly understand, ‘Wow, you guys are great at creating content, or documentaries,’ or, ‘You’re really good in the digital space. And you’re great at strategy. And you’re great at taking those into golf in a Deeper way. ‘”
All that’s left to do? Prove they can, in fact, change the game, as Hall Promised.
Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an Affiliated publication.