Wasserman’s Brendan Taylor: “There has never been a healthier time for golf”

Brendan Taylor, Wasserman's executive vice president and head of golf, EMEA, talks to SportsPro about how the sport has changed in his two decades working in it, and his hopes for future development.

Wasserman’s Brendan Taylor: “There has never been a healthier time for golf”

Across almost two decades working in golf representation, first with IMG and now as executive vice president and head of golf, EMEA, at Wasserman, Brendan Taylor has first-hand experience of one of the sport’s most exhilarating eras. From the early days of Tiger Woods to the emergence of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, Taylor has seen the game flourish on a global level like never before.

With current clients including the likes of Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Zach Johnson, Wasserman itself is stepping up its golf game, recently appointing agents Jamie Farrell, Chris Castleberry and Ian Keenan as it seeks to expand its global network and take advantage of growing international interest in the sport.

On the eve of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – the inaugural event of the newly established Rolex Series on the European Tour – and with Sergio García’s exceptional Masters victory still fresh in the memory, SportsPro asked Taylor about his ambitions for Wasserman in the immediate term, how golf has developed over his career, and how the game can evolve to grow even further in the future.

Wasserman signalled its intent to expand its golf network with several recent appointments in the sphere. What are the opportunities you see in golf at the present moment?

Golf is a global game and I hope we will continue to see its popularity grow in different countries across the world. Getting golf into the Olympics was huge for our sport and in order to help grow the game the next generation needs role models and access to the sport. I’m hopeful we will continue to get great young players emerging from many different countries to help inspire the next generation.

We are very excited about Jamie Farrell and Chris Castleberry joining our team at Wasserman. I’ve also recently added Ian Keenan who joins us with his client Byeong-Hun An. They are three very talented executives and fit perfectly within our growth plan, and bolster our global golf capabilities. This is in acknowledgement that the rising stars of the game are coming from not just Europe and the USA, but from continents such as South America and countries such as South Korea.

We now have the highest ranked South American golfer in Emiliano Grillo, as well as two of the best South Korean players in  Byeong-Hun An and Jeunghun Wang on our books, alongside two of the best young South African’s in Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous. This is in addition to established stars like Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Bernd Wiesberger and Andy Sullivan.

 

The Masters is obviously golf’s most visible annual showcase and this year featured a special ending with Sergio García finally capturing that elusive major title. What can the rest of the golf world, and the wider sporting industry, learn from the Masters and the way it is run?

The Masters as a tournament is unique. The only other sporting event that comes close in comparison in legacy, prestige and finesse is Wimbledon. The tournament understands that it is special, and wants to make sure that everyone watching feels special. It has such a great legacy because of its ability to create a great spectacle and experience for both the fans lucky enough to get a ticket as well as those watching on TV.

The attention to detail at Augusta is second to none, every tiny aspect is analysed to make sure that it gives the best offering to fans. The tournament’s mentality is to ensure that everything is packaged in a way that the fan would like to consume it, right down to making sure that the sandwich wrappers are the right shade of green. The way merchandising

 

is done at The Masters is second to none and an example to all on how to run the merchandising side of a tournament, team or business.

You’ve been at the head of Wasserman’s golf division for almost a decade now, and before that you were involved with the sport at IMG. How has the sport evolved across your career working in it?

I was very fortunate to start working in the golf industry in 1999, which was two years after Tiger won his first Masters.  Golf has always had leading figures throughout its history, players like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Nick Faldo. They were all the hugely significant for the game, but Tiger was something different.

What separated Tiger is the way he transcended golf. He was more than just a golfer: he was the number one sportsman in the world at that time.

Not only did he grow the game and prize money in tournaments, but he attracted huge numbers of non-traditional golf fans and inspired the next generation. Without Tiger we may not have seen the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and more. 

From a European Tour perspective, I think our players should be grateful for the vison of Ken Schofield, the former executive director of the European Tour. Ken and his team were hugely instrumental in the way that the European Tour has evolved. Ken saw the global attraction of golf and opened the tour up to locations outside of Europe. He oversaw the European Tour going to places like Dubai for the first time, now staples on the calendar. Keith Pelly and his current European Tour team are now further improving the opportunities for European Tour members and it’s amazing to see the globalisation of golf over the last decade. 

 

Golf’s governance structure is surely one of the most complicated in all sport. Could the sport benefit from a simplification of that?

If you were designing a regulation system for a new sport, you certainly would not being using golf as an inspiration.  However the original laws of golf were written in 1774 and the sport has grown organically in different territories and across the amateur and professional game since that time.

I think that the key is actually collaboration between the main parties. It is good to see the R&A and USGA working closely together to ensure the rules of the game continue to evolve and in most cases are simplified to help the sport. It’s also good to see the European Tour announcing a new strategic alliance with the Korean Professionals Golfers Association to go alongside their existing alliances with the tours in Asia, South Africa and Australasia. These collaborations are important as golf continues to grow globally.

Men’s golf has recovered remarkably well from what many predicted would be a downturn in the post-Tiger years. We have at least four or five well-known, well-regarded players, each of whom goes into every major with a realistic chance of victory. Has there been a healthier time for the men’s game in your time working in it?

I don’t think there has been a healthier time. Obviously you can look back to the golden ages of Tiger and of Jack, Arnie and Gary Player, but what stands out for me now is how accessible and interactive the players are now.

There is a young group of players who work exceptionally hard on the golf course and push each other to the limit, but also are happy to showcase their personalities off the course. Take Rickie Fowler and Jordan Speith’s Spring Break videos for example, they are having fun but still wanting to play golf. These players are happy to share insights on social media and also spend a huge amount of time with fans at tournaments. This is important for the growth of the game, important for the player’s brands and important to those sponsors invested in the sport.

This is something we encourage with our golfers at Wasserman. We want to create a togetherness between these young guys that creates a collective competitiveness. This way, you have players who are friends off the course, but want to beat each other on the course and will push each other onto success. 

I’m not sure we will ever see one individual player as impactful as Tiger again but what the current group of top golfers are doing for the sport is exceptional. To have the likes of Rory, DJ, Hideki, Jason, Rickie, Jordan, Sergio and Justin battling it out for the top positions in the world rankings is really exciting and we have a whole layer of other great young players right behind this group. It’s exciting times for golf. 

 

Are there further ways you think golf needs to change to adapt to the modern age?

I think you need to approach golf differently at the professional and amateur level. In both though, we really need to stamp out slow play. 18 holes of golf should never take five hours to play.

With regards to the professional game, there is a lot of talk that golf needs to find its version of Twenty20 and I think that is right to some extent. It’s why the likes of the European Tour are experimenting with the GolfSixes format, and we are seeing some more match play events throughout the year or the team event that Zurich introduced on the PGA Tour. It’s important that we provide different alternatives for the existing golf fans to watch and to attract new fans to the sport.

Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard pose as they celebrate winning the GolfSixes

I think the GolfSixes was a great success. Yes, improvements can be made; but for a first attempt and one which the European Tour said would be ‘an experiment’, I thought it was fantastic. To see so many kids watching and interacting with the players, everyone having fun but also desperately trying to win, in a short and exciting format, was great. Andy Sullivan’s chest bump with the GolfSixes mascot on the first tee will certainly live long in the memory! While I’m not sure we will be seeing that in the Ryder Cup anytime soon, it was great at an event like GolfSixes and all the fans loved it. 

However, there is still a huge amount of demand and hunger for the 72-hole stroke-play format. It works for the players, spectators, sponsors and TV companies. I just think we need to see maybe four or five of the new formats interspersed within the existing schedule.

Within the amateur side of golf, we need to remember there are still a large number of golfers who want to continue playing the sport they love in the same way. This might be 18 holes in a four ball at the weekend, with lunch afterwards, which might take up most of the day, or it could be a quick two ball 18 hole round early on a Saturday in order to get back home and ensure the majority of the weekend is spent with the family. For example, my home club sets up perfectly for this in that you can only play a two ball before 10 am and slow play is not tolerated. This means for people like me with young families, we can be finished in three hours for a two ball and back home for lunchtime.

For those people who don’t have even three hours to spare or for those who are getting introduced to the game for the first time, then I would love to see more six hole options, which mirror the type of golf being played at Golf 6s.

I also love the ‘Top Golf’ concept which is huge in the USA and is growing in other parts of the world. Last week we had a Wasserman company night out at Junkyard Golf in East London. This was crazy golf meets nightclub vibe and I thought it was brilliant. We had employees who’d never touched a golf club before having a great time being introduced to the sport. Any possible way we can introduce the sport to new participants and/or fans will always get my vote.

Taylor (left) with clients Andy Sullivan, Lucas Bjerregaard and Bernd Wiesberger, and Gary Player (centre), at Wasserman's Gary Player Invitational event in Dubai