IAGA's Fox: Tenure includes 'giving back'
Jay N. Fox was elected president of the International Association of Golf Administrators (IAGA) during its 47th annual Meeting held in Destin, Fla., in November. The IAGA represents about 4 million golfers through 150 state, regional and national golf associations across North America and Canada.
As the only professional network for golf administrators, the IAGA works at the grass-roots level to promote, serve, and ultimately grow the game of golf.
Fox, who is also the Executive Director of the Arkansas State Golf Association, has brought to the IAGA his broad range of knowledge formed from his 28 years of experience as a golf administrator.
During a recent interview, Fox discussed the current health of the game, along with some future challenges and opportunities.
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Tell me about the IAGA and its purpose.
Fox: It was formed in 1967 to share ideas and best practices among the dozen or so executive directors in attendance. That basic principle still exists. However, our membership has grown to more than 150 state and regional golf associations (SRGAs) and now includes provincial golf associations in Canada as well as a few international associations.
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How many golfers are represented by the IAGA?
Fox: Our members represent between 3.5 and 4 million golfers who have a handicap index. The National Golf Foundation statistics indicate that there are 25 million golfers in the U.S., so we have a ways to go. As you know, golf has seen a decline in the last few years. Some of that is due to the modern family engaging in other activities that either take less time to play or are less expensive. The USGA’s “Play 9” campaign goes a long way in helping us address this issue.
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What is your background in golf?
Fox: I grew up in a small town, Bald Knob, Ark., and started playing around the age of 5. My parents would drop me off at the course every day with a peanut-butter sandwich and 25 cents, and I’d play golf until they picked me up at dark. I graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, where I earned both BSE and MSE degrees. College golf was also part of my life and I had some success at the NAIA level. I’m proud to say I was the first golfer inducted into the UCA Sports Hall of Fame.
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How was your first six-months as president?
Fox: No surprises! The travel is tough – but that’s part of the job. Ultimately, it’s about giving back to the game. I guess time management has been the biggest challenge for me, both from the ASGA office and my wife. Seriously, we have a dynamic board of talented people so it makes my job as president easier: Rob Addington in Texas, Kevin Heaney in Southern California, Barb Trammel in Oregon, Tom Ryan in Minnesota, along with at-large members Craig Loughry of Ontario and Mary Pomroy of Arizona.
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How do the IAGA and USGA work together?
Fox: The word is collaboration! We could exist without each other but it would be much more difficult. The USGA is without a doubt our strongest ally. Since 1991, they have provided more than $21 million in funding to our state associations for Boatwright interns alone. Two-thirds of all USGA championship qualifying is administered by our state associations. With around 35,000 trying to qualify in 2013 alone, the amount of work is significant. Also, every course that is rated has a team from a state golf association that is trained in the USGA Course Rating System.
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How are state golf associations surviving today?
Fox: Finding new sources of sustainable revenue is the key. Remember, our mission goes hand-in-hand with that of the USGA. A large portion of our revenue at the state level is reinvested in programs to help ensure the sustainability and future health of the game. A lot of associations are partnering with regional and national businesses to cultivate sponsorship dollars that help fund new programs. As an example, the Arkansas legislature approved our request for a vanity license plate and it has provided a steady revenue stream. Every time the plate is sold, the ASGA gets $25 – which has grown to become a substantial portion of our income.
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What do you see as the biggest problems a state golf association faces?
Fox: Most states are facing a decline in membership, which of course translates into a decline in revenue. Some states are also seeing a decrease in championship participation. When I became executive director of Arkansas, 23 years ago, our members were paying $10 per year. During that time, our membership is down 33 percent but our annual revenue has declined only 10-15 percent due to alternative sources of funding.
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What do you see in the future for a state golf association?
Fox: USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said, “Golf is not broken.” Even though the game is down 16 percent from 2005-11, we’ll continue to reinvest in the game and our members will continue to provide solid core services to their memberships. I’ve been taught that if you’re not doing your job the best you can, it’s easier for the competition to come in and do your job. I’m sure here in Arkansas we’re like other state associations; we’re doing everything we can to grow the game.
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In your opinion, what are the biggest problems facing amateur golf?
Fox: I see three challenges: 1) Finding a way to get more people involved in the game. 2) Developing the person who plays one or two rounds a year into a core golfer. 3) Bringing back to the game those who have for one reason or another stopped playing.
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Where is golf headed – any major concerns?
Fox: At the highest level I don’t think it will change much. Champions will continue to be crowned at the national and state levels. But, for the recreational golfer, we have to find ways to get them more engaged. Stronger minority, female and junior programs are essential. We’re working to make golf more enjoyable and less intimidating to new players. Maybe using the larger cup at first. That might sound a little spacy to a core golfer, but we have to find something to encourage people, and get them through the learning stage. I don’t think we’re at the “adapt or die” stage, but we have to be more aggressive in our thinking. We're working with all of our partners, including the National Golf Course Owners Association, the PGA of America as well as the USGA to continue to find new ways to grow the game.