05 Oct THE INTERVIEW: Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday
It has been just over two weeks since the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour circus came to town in the form of the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, the season-ending event which, in just four short years, has become the anchor of the local golf season. On tournament Wednesday, LondonOntarioSports.com editor Jeffrey Reed spent an hour chatting with Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday about the state of the Tour, the tournament and its future. Monday was handed the PGA Tour Canada reigns in December 2012.
As Tour President, he is responsible for leading the leading the Tour’s efforts to provide playing opportunities for its members, and positively impact the communities in which the tournaments are held, including London, host of the season finale. Originally from Camarillo, California, Monday graduated Summa Cum Laude from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Economics. He attended graduate school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Having spent more than 25 years with the PGA Tour, Monday has an extensive background in all facets of PGA Tour marketing, sponsorship and tournaments. Prior to his current position, he served as Senior Vice President, Tournament Business Affairs – Web.com Tour, Senior Vice President – Tournament Development, Senior Vice President and Chief of Operations – Champions Tour and served in two Vice President positions with the PGA Tour: Vice President, Tournament Business Affairs on Champions Tour and Web.com Tour and Vice President, Retail Marketing. Monday lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida with wife, LuAnne, and two daughters, Lauren and Julia.
One of the most sincere and friendly organizational presidents you will ever meet, Monday opened up about the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, and the reciprocal relationship it enjoys with the Forest City. Of course, he insisted first taking photos out on the golf course at Highland. We expected nothing less from the Tour president. Here’s that interview.
Photos: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com
Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com: Jeff, welcome back to London. First, give me your thoughts on how you judge the success of the Freedom 55 Financial Championship. Because, it really has become a template – a blueprint, if you will – for how a tournament should be operated in a successful manner. It’s not the Ryder Cup, it’s not the PGA Tour. But putting things into perspective, this has become one hell of a good tournament.
Jeff Monday, President, Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada: The keys to success on this Tour are measured in two ways. One, which is consistent across all of our (PGA) tours, is having a positive impact in the communities in which you play. Certainly, there is an economic impact, but there’s also the charitable act. It is probably our biggest achievement to date – to see how that has grown. And that’s really, really rewarding. The second key criteria is, not only how the players play during this year – certainly that’s critical – but what they then go on to do.
Reed: All three former Order of Merit winners since the Tour came under the PGA Tour umbrella in 2013 earned PGA Tour cards for 2016-17: Mackenzie Hughes, Order of Merit winner in 2013. Joel Dahmen from 2014. And last year’s Order of Merit winner, J.J. Spaun. That shows you how quickly their careers can progress, and it speaks volumes about the level of play on the Mackenzie Tour.
Monday: And that’s our goal. You really want players to develop over time. What Dan McCarthy has done this year has been incredible. He took winning to a whole different level. Sandy Campbell (executive director of) the Cap Breton Open (at Bell Bay Golf Club) commented at the volunteer party that Dan attended. He said, ‘When Tiger was at his peak, he won 37% of the tournaments that he played in. (Dan’s) at 40% now.’ (Ed. Note: McCarthy of Syracuse, New York, wrapped up Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada Player of the Year honours, finishing with $157,843 in earnings on the season to top the Order of Merit and lead five players who earned status on the Web.com Tour for 2017. He produced an unprecedented season of four wins and the all-time record for single-season earnings. McCarthy won the Freedom 55 Financial Open, GolfBC Championship, Players Cup and Cape Breton Open, becoming the first player to win four times in a season in Mackenzie Tour history).
Reed: What a good news story for the Tour. And McCarthy’s performance just this season would be a career for most professional golfers.
Monday: To win, as he did against this level of competition, is very impressive. So seeing just how quickly guys can go from just being here (in London) this week and then two years later possibly seeing them winning on the PGA Tour. Take Nick Taylor, who played (in London at the Tour championship) in 2013, and then just 14 months later won on the PGA Tour (at that 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship). That’s the calibre of talent that is out here. So to provide those players with that opportunity – to compete and pursue their dreams of playing on the PGA Tour – that’s the second key, the component we try to include.
Reed: I’m interested in getting your view of the City of London as it relates to the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, in specifically how the city’s golf community as a whole supports this event. Do you think you have a better feel of what this city is all about, and the potential for this tournament?
Monday: Well, I think we’ve sort of validated what people told us we could expect. I think everybody felt like London would be the ideal market for this type of event. And you can combine that with a home base title sponsor and the unbelievable support that Freedom 55 Financial offers as the lead sponsor, and their reputation in the community, along with a passion for the sport that the people of this community have. So I think that’s been validated. And what we’ve been working on from year one (in 2013) is to determine, how do we tell the story of this particular tournament, in order to tap into that passion?
“I think people are beginning to understand what the (Freedom 55 Financial Championship) is all about, both inside the ropes with the level of play, and also outside the ropes, and how it can be part of the community.” – Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday
Reed: And I’ve said many times, something clicked this year. Even casual golf fans get it. They understand how these players, and how this tournament, fits into the grand scheme of golf. In my eyes, you’ve accomplished something which many people thought was impossible.
Monday: I think we’ve made good progress in that regard, and I think people are beginning to understand what the tournament is all about, both inside the ropes with the level of play, and also outside the ropes, and how it can be part of the community.
Reed: And that’s the key, how the two intertwine and benefit each other. No game gives back as much as golf, and here we are, with Thames Valley Children’s Centre the official tournament charity for a second year. But in terms of connecting with community leaders, talk about that process. It’s not always easy jumping through hoops to promote a new event.
Monday: When we first got started, we talked to Tourism London. But we first spoke with Golf Canada who are in every community through the relationships that they have built. They gave us some good insight as to who are the communities passionate about golf. We listened intently to them and they had a lot of influence on the decision to come to London, because there were some other options for it.
Reed: It took four years, but the relationship involving all stakeholders – Highland Country Club, Golf Canada, the Mackenzie Tour, Freedom 55 Financial and the community as a whole – appears to be a great fit. Still, you’d love to see larger galleries.
Monday: You don’t have the name recognition, right? We have great, great talent as I discussed. But you don’t have Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson or Jason Day. Ideally your better players are only here a year or two, and then they’re gone. So what we’ve learned from a marketing perspective is, you’re better off with this tournament being sort of a big fish in a medium-sized pond.
Reed: Great analogy, actually. We are a medium-sized pond. We’re the medium-sized city that aspires to be a Toronto, but has the feel of small-town Canada. And that’s probably a perfect fit for the Freedom 55 Financial Championship.
Monday: Look at the London Knights. They are hugely successful in this market.
Reed: Precisely. They are our NHL team, in a sense, including how the organization is run, and right down to the Budweiser Gardens.
Monday: We had a number of people say to us, ‘Look at the support that the London Knights get.’ We’re similar in that regard. We know the passion that people have for hockey. But we think people in London have a lot of passion for sports in general. So that’s what led us to end up here, and we are elated that we’re here.
“What we’ve learned from a marketing perspective is, you’re better off with this tournament being sort of a big fish in a medium-sized pond.” – Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday
Reed: And you can’t ignore the fact Londoners love golf. We’re a golf-mad community. Our participation rate, number of avid golfers, plus the fact we have 120 courses in Southwestern Ontario all bode well for the success of the Tour championship. In a nutshell, the fan base is here.
Monday: That was the other key point that Golf Canada talked about with us. They said, ‘Look, not only do they have a lot of passion for sports, but the number of golf courses and interest in golf in this area is off the charts. So to be able to try to be in this environment is certainly a positive. The first two years (2013-14) at Sunningdale G&CC were very positive. And now we’re here at Highland. The membership has really embraced the event, as has the club overall, including (GM) Leo (Larizza) and (director of golf) Mike (Silver). They take such great pride in their club. And at the big picture level, we’re in the right market, and we have the right partners behind the event. It helps you grow, and I think there’s been good growth every year. And as long as we can continue that, we expect to be here for a long, long time. (Ed. note: Highland has committed through 2017, while Freedom 55 Financial has committed through 2020).
Reed: So you have the proper recipe for success, and all of the important players are on board. But what about the galleries? (Ed. Note: Sunday gallery was about 1,200 this year, up from 800 in 2015 and substantially higher than two years at Sunningdale which saw cold, wet, windy weather). Do you have a number in your head in terms of a desired week-long gallery?
Monday: It’s so contingent upon the weather, right? To put specific daily targets is tough. Thursday is going to be the lowest day, and that goes for every tour. Friday is going to be a pretty good day. Saturday tends to be almost bigger than Sunday, because families have their responsibilities and kids in school. You’re getting ready for the work week and the school week on Sunday. But I think for a good week here, if you get 3,000 to 4,000 people over the course of the week, then you know that’s a good experience. One of the great things about this Tour and this tournament, if you’re a fan, you come out in this atmosphere where it’s like you’re in a little park where they just happen to be playing golf. You can come out with family, with friends, and if the weather is as perfect as it is today (on tournament Wednesday), then you can walk around a little bit, you can sit, you get some nice food.
Reed: You can say that about most golf tournaments, Jeff, but you’re right. Highland does offer a beautiful setting, an easy walk, and plenty of hospitality offerings. Plus it is centrally located.
Monday: Exactly, it’s in the middle of town. So whether you’re an avid golfer, or just a casual sports fan, you have good access to the course. And with golf you can get up close and personal. It’s a unique experience you don’t get with very many sports. Even at a minor league baseball game, or minor league hockey game, you still have a barrier, just because of the arena or the environment. Here you can literally be two feet away from the players, assuming they are hitting in the fairway (laughing). And you’re even closer if you’re out there helping them find their ball in the rough!
“I think the ultimate goal is to get to 14 tournaments.” – Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday
Reed: Jeff, let’s go back again to when you came on board with the Mackenzie Tour prior to the 2013 season. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem then said, “Jeff brings a wealth of experience to his new role as President of PGA Tour Canada. In leading our exploratory efforts to determine our future role with the Canadian Tour, he gained extensive knowledge and understanding of the Tour and its existing tournaments, and the potential to grow professional golf in Canada.” Interesting he would say “exploratory efforts to determine our future role.” It appears the parent-tour relationship is solid.
Monday: I think the ultimate goal is to get to 14 tournaments, and that would enable us to continue to be coast to coast, have a good schedule with a few weeks off. It’s important to finish with The Five (who obtain Web.com Tour cards). But also, finishing the year with six through 10 on the Order of Merit earning an exemption into the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School gives you a real bonus, as does even the 11 through 20 earning an exemption into the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School. What we found is guys who wouldn’t have a schedule of 12, 13, 14 tournaments, they are going to play almost every tournament because each tournament makes such a difference in your ability to move up in the Order of Merit. We want to make sure, both for them but also for our staff – because we have a pretty small crew – is that we can re-group both physically and mentally. It helps to have that occasional week off. So we love starting the tour out West, moving East, going all the way out to the Atlantic and then coming back for the Freedom 55 Financial Championship. But we do think we can still add a couple more tournaments and still provide a real quality experience around those events. And in turn, we will provide more opportunities for the players.
“In 2013 it was like the Wizard of Oz storm.” – Mackenzie Tour President Jeff Monday
Reed: What about the week-in, week-out struggles for the Tour? We know golf isn’t easy inside the ropes. But what about in the front office, in the tournament offices. Any red flags for you as president?
Monday: I think the two key areas that you’re always focused on, and trying to work with tournament organizations. The logistics of the tournament, making sure that you are providing a quality experience both inside and outside the ropes. That’s week in, week out. Where the challenges come in are making sure that you are doing everything you can to deliver value to the sponsors. And you’re always challenging yourself to come up with creating ways to do that. It’s a competitive environment, not just in the golf industry but also for marketing dollars in general. Companies, and rightfully so, are all looking for good value and good experience. You have to ensure that. The other challenge, of course, is the agronomy side of the golf course, which requires a lot of time, but unfortunately is out of our control, out of the superintendent’s control, and in Mother Nature’s control. So there are always things that pop up, however you’ve either experienced it, or else you have a pretty good idea about a something thing you’ve had to deal with. The hard one to deal with, though, is Mother Nature throwing you a curve ball.
Reed: Both championships held at Sunningdale, oddly enough, saw near record-breaking September warmth on pro-am Wednesday, followed by some of the worst weather you can imagine this time of year.
Monday: In 2013 it was like the Wizard of Oz storm. There were things flying by us, right before our eyes, like signs and tree branches.
Reed: Very old trees in the valley at Sunningdale littered the golf course after high winds toppled them. It was a worst-case scenario, but we saw numerous area clubs chip in to help clear the debris and ready the course for Thursday. So Sunningdale had its share of unfortunate incidents, but this year the Mackenzie Tour’s communities at times dealt with catastrophes. The Niagara Championship, a week prior to London, filled a gap following the cancellation of the Syncrude Boreal Open presented by AECON earlier this season due to the Fort McMurray Wildfires. Flooding cancelled the final round of the ATB Financial Classic. And Baddeck’s Bell Bay clubhouse was destroyed by fire.
Monday: In all my years with the PGA Tour, I had never experienced fire relative to tournaments. This year, twice. With Fort McMurray, talking with the community, the sponsors and the tournament group, even though the golf course was back playable relatively quickly once people were back in the community, it was pretty evident that they had other areas that were priorities, other than trying to focus on a golf tournament.
Reed: It really put life into perspective.
Monday: Correct, so that cancellation was an easy decision. But to the credit of both Syncrude and AECON, who are such great corporate citizens, they transferred their sponsorship to the tournament in Edmonton, and the net proceeds went back into the Fort McMurray community. And at so it was one of those where okay, what are you going to do and it turned out to be able to benefit both the Edmonton tournament but also the Fort McMurray community so that was good. At Bell Bay, it was different, it was isolated, but it was going to be a challenge to have a golf tournament without a clubhouse. But the community and the tournament organizers said, “We want to get back to normal right away, and we’re going to bring in a temporary tent and we’re going to have the golf tournament.” And we said, let’s go! We rallied together, and the players ended up having a tremendous experience.
(Ed. Note: On October 5, the Web.com Tour announced it had cancelled its Tour Championship due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew).
Reed: Can’t let you go without talking about your entire career with the PGA Tour. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Economics has obviously given you keen insight into the economics of the Tour, and of each individual tournament.
Monday: My economics professor would probably laugh at that one. I think one of the things about not only economics but in University in general, is learning to analyze. Certainly that’s a discipline within economics. You ask yourself, OK, if you take this action, what are the results going to be, and how do you try to forecast? One of the key areas of Economics studies was the economic development of underdeveloped countries. You’d go through example after example of policy decisions that are made, learn to anticipate, and learn about those countries’ intentions, and try to understand why they made their decisions. I think that’s the type of environment we live in. So today I may ask, what’s the goal of the Tour in terms of eligibility? What are we trying to accomplish competitively with the Tour? And if your eligibility is structured like this, does it help you beat that objective, and do you make changes in order to meet those results? Similarly, when you are working with a tournament organization, you ask, how do I interface with them, and where are you trying to get to with the tournament? What can you do to best work together?
Reed: I expected nothing less of an answer from an Economics grad. Some food for thought. Jeff, final question, how’re your golf game?
Monday: Alas, yesterday (at the Tuesday pro-am) was my first round of the year.
Reed: Really? We all know the old adage, work in the golf industry, don’t have time to golf. But your first round?
Monday: I am travelling so much, out working at tournaments. You know, if I wanted to play every week, I could. But what I found is, if I do that I’m spending some great quality time with three people. If I spend that same amount of time going around and seeing all of the sponsors that are playing in the pro-am, getting a sense of what the experience is like for them, and discussing ideas on, for example, player sponsorships, or how the Tour is marketing, then I am much more productive. It’s not quite as good for my golf game (laughing), but it gives me a much better sense of how the tournament fits within the community. And when I’m back home, it’s time to relax and also spend time with my wife and family.
Reed: But you do have an important tournament to compete in on Monday following this championship.
Monday: (Laughing) Yes, it will be held right here at Highland. It’s a heated competition, a year-end event so the entire Mackenzie Tour team can go out, have some fun and compete. I fully expect it to be on TSN (laughing)! It’s all for pride, and for our trophy: the Flower Cup.
Reed: Tell me more.
Monday: We inaugurated this event in 2014, and we decided we needed a trophy, so we went to a dollar store, and finally settled on a lovely trophy (laughing).
Reed: Jeff, good luck at the Flower Cup event (laughing), and many thanks for spending some time with me during a busy tournament week.
Monday: My pleasure, Jeff.