Golf is occasionally viewed as a serious, sometimes stuff sport. Ron Garland, 55, of Salt Lake City, Utah, will tell you that is far from the truth. That is because Garland is the founder and head nut of the Golf Nuts Society, a 3,100-strong irreverent international organization that recognizes the obsessive lengths people go to when it comes to the game of golf. Garland founded the Society in 1986 and recently teamed with Brian Hewitt to write "Golf Nuts: You've Got To Be Committed" (Clock Tower Press), which chronicles outrageous story after story of the Society's members. Garland recently spoke with The Wire editor Stuart Hall about the Society and its membership. Also, for more information on the Golf Nuts Society, go to www.golfnuts.com.
Q.: As unique of an organization as the Golf Nuts Society is, there has to be a good story behind its origin. What is the story?
RON GARLAND: When I was a junior in college, my college roommates asked me if I wanted to go out and play golf. I said sure and I was hooked that day. I started playing as much as I could and it got to be pretty insane. Over the years, my friends kept shaking their heads every time they heard yet another story, saying 'Garland, you're nuts.' One day in 1978, I was reading Golf World magazine and there was a little article in there about Sean Connery playing golf in a tournament and they referred to him as the "golf nut Sean Connery." I liked the term and I started keeping copies of any article that used that term, an! d I started noticing how often that term was used. That's when I decided to trademark the term in 1985. That's how it started.
And then I needed to figure out how nuts people are, because some are more so than others. So I came up with an entrance exam and then I threw in a bag tag and a little paper membership card -- now we have a nice plastic membership card with their number on it and their name.
Long story short, I felt like I wasn't the only one who was nuts. And so I started the Golf Nuts Society based on seeing those words used a lot.
Q.: How many members and what is the attraction of such a Society?
RON GARLAND: About 3,100 members and it's all been through word of mouth. The amazing thing about this phenomenon is that we've grown to ! the point where we have gathered enough stories to have written a book and to send out an e-mail every single day about their fellow nuts. So you could imagine if we had 30,000 members. I wouldn't be able to keep up with the stories. And I haven't tapped into a huge list of stories.
Q.: All organizations are based on a core of principles, what is at the core of the Golf Nuts Society?
RON GARLAND: There are three principles that are kind of the foundation of the Society, not to sound serious about it, because we're not.
1) Humor. I believe I have captured the essence of the humor associated with this insane search for "the secret." There is tremendous humor associated with the obsession for golf.
2) Recognition. I give recognition to golfer! s who will never play against Tiger Woods, much less beat him, much less win their club championship. Many of them essentially will labor in anonymity for much of their golfing lives, but who dearly love the game.
So I give them their 15 minutes of fame. They may be the nutcase of the week, the golf nut record holder for that week who is featured in the nut gallery that week -- the nut gallery being a photo essay.
3) Competition. They get points for that, for doing things they would naturally do. I don't want them to do things just for the points, but I want them to report what they did. Then I give them points. The member who earns the most points at the end of the year is named Golf Nut Of The Year. I gave Michael Jordan [the 1989 Golf Nut Of The Year] got 2,000 points for being a no-show the first time he won the NBA MVP award. He was in North Carolina, playing golf with his bu! ddies at Pinehurst. All of the NBA brass and all of the media came into Chicago and Michael wasn't there. So he got 2,000 points for that.
Q.: The points you award have to be arbitrary and subjective, correct?
RON GARLAND: I'm an arbitrary ruler. As one of my friends asked "Ron how do you come up with the points?" And another friend, who is quite a character, said "He has a scoring system that is known only unto himself."
It's true, but it all started by spinning off Joe Malay, the first-ever Golf Nut Of The Year, number 0020, and what he did. He got 5,000 points for retiring out of high school so he could support his golf habit. He has never had a job. OK, so I gave Joe 5,000. How many should I give Michael for being a no-show. So it's completely arbitrary.
I have a couple of members who try to manufacture points. And it's so transparent that it's not funny.
Q.: How have you marketed the Golf Nuts Society? Plus, how much money have you invested into the Golf Nut Society and why do you invest so much of yourself into it?
RON GARLAND: It's been word of mouth because I haven't had the money to promote it.
I have spent well into six figures on this passion. If you think about it, I started in 1986
that's 15 years, about $10,000 year, that's $150,000.
The reason I have persisted with it from the beginning is that I just love to get these letters and I just love to give recognition to people who may never, ever win the fourth flight of their club championship. They are just peop! le who love golf.
And I also get pleasure from seeing the whole concept grow. I have over 150 articles in my files that have been written about us over the years. And I'm not aware of all of them that are written, because I send out a release every year announcing our Golf Nut of the Year and I have no idea how many people write about it. It's good copy. It's fun, it's light, it's humor. And it's unique to report on the zany antics of people pursuing their passion. It is not like reporting on this week's PGA Tour event. We're talking about a different kind of scoring and there humor in that.
Q.: Is this your full-time job?
RON GARLAND: Three-quarter full-time. I'm still in the high-tech business, but phasing out of that.
I'm now at a point whe! re I'm spending a majority of time at it, this book is out. We have revenue from memberships, revenue from the book, revenue from merchandise and most important, as a result of the book, speaking engagements. Most people when they write a book go out on a book signing tour. Unless you're a celebrity, you just don't get that many people to line up who want your autograph, so it's basically a waste of time. So I do speaking engagements. It's called the Golf Nut Tour.
Q.: There has to be some tie, some bond that these people share. What is it?
RON GARLAND: There is a common thread and it's obsession. We capture the humor associated with the obsession. It comes with many forms. I have one member, Jane Minesinger, she has over 900 divot repair tools. I have another member who has 11,000 bag tags, another member with 24,000 ball markers. I have other members who have playe! d in horrible weather, other members who have bought every gadget that comes along, other members who have changed their swing every other round, other members whose marriages have been threatened or destroyed because of golf. The obsessions manifest themselves in many different ways.