Publication seeks to reach regional market
By Greg Seubert
If John Hammond has his way, his new magazine will catch on with local golfers and golf courses.
The Waupaca man launched “Golf Times – Mid Wisconsin” this summer and recently published a second issue.
Hammond is the first to admit the magazine won’t make him rich, but sees a need for a publication that singles out some of the area’s top golf courses.
He traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C. earlier this year to meet Chance Leith, who publishes several similar golf magazines in South Carolina.
“He’s franchising himself out and he placed ads on the PGA employment website in all 50 states,” Hammond said. “He said there’s a publishing opportunity for people who are knowledgeable about golf and who also like to write.”
Myrtle Beach is one of the country’s top destinations, according to Hammond, an avid golfer.
“There are 80 golf courses in a 40-mile stretch of Myrtle Beach, one after another,” he said. “They’re so close together and they’re open from February all the way through October or November.”
Hammond invested less than $10,000 in the venture.
“I looked at other publications and they’re mostly national or international oriented,” he said. “‘Midwest Golfing’ is for the high-class traveling golfer in a seven-state area from the Dakotas through Indiana. The (Wisconsin State Golf Association) magazine ‘Wisconsin Golfer’ used to be in print every month and distributed to 50,000 WSGA members, but they totally went online so their members get a link to their website.”
“Golf Times – Mid Wisconsin” covers an area from Stevens Point to Green Bay to Madison.
“There are 650 courses in Wisconsin,” Hammond said. “There are good golf courses, but they’re so far away from each other. The WSGA publishes a golf map every year and when you connect the dots, all the big players – Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Sand Valley – are going to be the major venues for the PGA and they’re all in our triangle.”
If Sand Valley doesn’t sound familiar, there’s a good reason. Sand Valley Golf Resort is currently under construction in Adams County south of Wisconsin Rapids, a little over an hour from Waupaca.
Hammond previewed the resort in the first issue.
“It’s going to probably be the most expensive place to play in Wisconsin,” he said. “The first 18 holes are finished and it’ll open next June. I know they’re working on the second course and they have room for five 18-hole courses. They have a huge amount of land out there.”
Hammond a one-man operation as far as writing the stories, selling ads and distributing copies.
“The only other person involved in Chance, who’s giving me pointers along the way,” he said. “I have a graphic designer who helped with a few of the ads, but I had a hand in typing, designing, selling, putting it all together.”
The magazine is printed at Waupaca’s Print ‘N Press facility.
“I went and distributed our first issue to all the golf courses – public and private – in Green Bay, the Fox Cities, Stevens Point, (Wisconsin) Rapids, Madison, (Wisconsin) Dells, Manitowoc, Sheboygan,” Hammond said. “There’s about 145 courses. It took eight days and 2,200 miles. Everybody took a look at it and said, ‘Oh, great, we have a magazine just for our golf neighborhood.’”
That road trip included a stop at Utica Golf Club near Oshkosh.
“It was an unannounced visit,” Hammond said. “I walked in, showed him my newspaper and asked if he’d be willing to hand these out. It was a little diamond on the rough and I can’t wait to get that kind of place in print and let people know about it.”
The Green Bay area has about 15 courses alone.
“What’s nice about having so many courses as a choice is that there’s going to be every level of a golf course,” Hammond said. “Let’s say my buddies and I are working class and don’t want to spend a lot of money. There are going to be a handful of options that are within a 20-, 30-, 40-minute drive of where we live. People will tend to golf at their nearest course. Each community has an incredible variety for the golfer to choose from.”
Appleton area’s courses include North Shore Golf Club, a private course on Lake Winnebago near Menasha; Reid Municipal Course, a city-owned course in Appleton; and High Cliff Golf Course, a public course near High Cliff State Park southeast of Appleton.
“You can pay about $20 for an 18-hole round or $15 for a nine-hole round all the way up to several thousand dollars for a golf membership,” Hammond said. “There’s something for everyone.”
Hammond plans to have 15,000 copies of each issue available in 300 locations.
“I’m doing nine or 10 course spotlights in every issue,” he said. “I want to do a course in every corner of our area just so people really grasp the idea that even though I live in Waupaca, I want to know what’s going on down the road.”
The first issue includes profiles of The Creeks at Ivy Acres near Hortonville; Royal St. Patrick’s Golf Links near Wrightstown; Stevens Point’s SentryWorld; Cold Water Canyon Golf Course in Wisconsin Dells; and University Ridge Golf Course in Madison.
“Of the 145 courses in the area, I personally checked off 30 that I’ve either been to or played,” Hammond said. “That means there’s 120 courses I’ve never played or seen. I held it close to the vest for the first issue with spotlights of courses that I knew already.”
The issue also includes a story about suburban Milwaukee’s Erin Hills, which will host next year’s U.S. Open.
Wisconsin has become a golfing destination for major tour events in recent years. PGA, LPGA and PGA Champions tours all have stops or scheduled stops in Wisconsin.
Whistling Straits near Sheboygan hosted the PGA Championship last year, University Ridge hosted a PGA Champions Tour event in June and Thornberry Creek at Oneida near Green Bay will host an LPGA event in June 2017.
Hammond grew up in the Twin Cities and eventually landed a job at Braemar Golf Course in Edina, Minn., where he learned the game.
“When I was in college in the 1990s, it was widely known that the U.S. was building at least a golf course every week,” he said. “That’s when Phoenix and Vegas were really growing. Even in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the ski resorts were taking a corner of their property and putting golf courses on them. There were a lot of 27- and 36-hole courses. The economy was doing well and people were able to spend money on retirement travel. Restaurants will tell you their best years were probably the mid- to late-1990s.”
Things changed Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was working at the Waupaca Country Club that day,” Hammond said. “I was in the pro shop and we watched the towers go down. Our members didn’t feel like golfing for a week or two. They just felt like being at home.
“That was the first hit,” he added. “For the most part, the courses in Wisconsin were somewhat insulated from some of the stuff that goes on internationally, but when the ‘07 recession hit, everybody saw (golfing) as an extra cost. Courses like the Waupaca Country Club and others that were private got smart and said, ‘Let’s either become semi-private or let’s mark certain days of the week where we want to have people come in and play our course.’ They still get money for tee times, but they also get those people to maybe become members.”
Wisconsin’s golf courses learned to adapt, according to Hammond.
“They were private, but they’re becoming either half or fully public,” he said. “No more do we have the good ol’ boys club where people can afford to have those exclusive memberships. They also froze or peeled back their greens fees. There were courses getting in the range of $60, $80, $90. They’ve learned to put a freeze on that or come down a little.”
Hammond said it’s easier to approach golf course operators now that he has two issues under his belt.
“Instead of a leap of faith in something that doesn’t exist, people can trust what they see,” he said. “I’ve gotten great feedback. Everybody who’s read it is impressed. They liked the variety and the local aspect. As far as advertising, I did a lot of sweetheart or friend deals. A lot of these ads, they didn’t even pay for. These are people who I worked for or are clients of mine that spent lots of money with me. This was one time that I said, ‘Hey, I want to do this for you. I want to run this ad in this publication. It may or it may not help you out.’ This is the least I can do.”
The next issue will come out next year around St. Patrick’s Day.
“That’s when a lot of courses will at least open up before the snow melts,” Hammond said. “That’ll coincide nicely with some of the golf shows in the spring, too.”
He also plans issues to hit the stands around Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“This project is exciting for me because if I can self-sustain it and keep it small, any extra money I can make I want to put it right back into the business, whether it’s hiring a salesperson or making it bigger,” he said.
Leith also provided Hammond with a website – www.golftimeswisconsin.com – and a Facebook page that can be accessed from the website.
“I had golf course operators telling me that this is a great concept, but what I think they want to see out of a publication like this is emphasizing the quality of golf,” Hammond said. “This is for golf course operators as much as it is for golfers. What I’m proud of is coming from a golf background and seeing all of the golf courses in central Wisconsin.”