Looking Back – 15 Great Years Of Flagstick

In an era when most magazines do not last more than three years, Flagstick Golf Magazine has just completed their 15th year of publishing.  The regional golf publication based in Ottawa but covering golf in the Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec regions, has grown immensely through the years but it has stayed true to its intentions.

As a magazine about the game of golf and golfers in their slice of the nation, they have become the voice for the sport in a place where the major golf associations in Canada such as the RCGA (Royal Canadian Golf Association) and CPGA (Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association) were founded.

I recently sat down with Flagstick’s Group Publisher, Jeff Bauder, to talk about the origins of Flagstick and how far it has evolved in a decade and a half.  And to celebrate the magazine’s milestone we’ll interject some highlights since the first issue was published in May of 1996.

In the beginning…

In 1993 Jeff was working at a community newspaper, the Gananoque Reporter, as an advertisement sales representative.  Part of that role included finding ways to drive revenue numbers.  It was in the vein that he thought of a golf newspaper for the greater Kingston (Ontario) region with that being his territory at the time.  As a fan of the game and with its popularity growing in the region he thought it might really be a hit.

“After doing a little bit of research into that I kind of found out that there really weren’t enough golf courses to sustain it,” Bauder tells me on a winter day as we take a walk down memory lane.   As part of that process he worked away at home to create a single page newspaper-style mock-up of the idea that he took to his boss at the time.  When the concept looked like nothing more than that, he simply filed it away.

As a magazine about the game of golf and golfers in their slice of the nation, they have become the voice for the sport in a place where the major golf associations in Canada such as the RCGA (Royal Canadian Golf Association) and CPGA (Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association) were founded.

I recently sat down with Flagstick’s Group Publisher, Jeff Bauder, to talk about the origins of Flagstick and how far it has evolved in a decade and a half.  And to celebrate the magazine’s milestone we’ll interject some highlights since the first issue was published in May of 1996.

In the beginning…

In 1993 Jeff was working at a community newspaper, the Gananoque Reporter, as an advertisement sales representative.  Part of that role including finding ways to drive revenue numbers.  It was in the vein that he thought of a golf newspaper for the greater Kingston (Ontario) region with that being his territory at the time.  As a fan of the game and with its popularity growing in the region he thought it might really be a hit.

“After doing a little bit of research into that I kind of found out that there really weren’t enough golf courses to sustain it,” Bauder tells me on a winter day as we take a walk down memory lane.   As part of that process he worked away at home to create a single page newspaper-style mock-up of the idea that he took to his boss at the time.  When the concept looked like nothing more than that, he simply filed it away.

Eventually Jeff would move on from the ad business to become the General Manager at a Kingston golf shop, Golfer’s Choice, where he would work side by side with his future editor, Scott MacLeod, the store’s co-owner.  Around that time Jeff’s future wife, Patricia took a job in Ottawa, and the life of two cities started to take a toll.  In the Fall of 1995 he made the decision to move up to Ottawa as well; the only problem was that he didn’t have a job lined up.

After surveying the Ottawa advertising scene and not finding what he was looking for Jeff finally came to the conclusion that he might have to rely on himself to establish a career in the National Capital.  He began to consider ideas for his own business.  “I was digging through boxes and I found this file called ‘Flagstick’,” Jeff relates.  Referring to the notes he had made on the file he recalled that the reason behind not pursuing Flagstick in the first place was the lack of golf related businesses in Kingston, a mid-sized city.  Of, course now that he was living in a place with almost ten times the population, maybe he had to look at the concept again.

“At the time there were about sixty or seventy courses in the area (Ottawa) and a lot of independent retail so that provided some opportunities.  I also knew that with the larger area there was a potential for a good-sized readership and there were plenty of events and stories to cover.”

Jeff set about creating a full mock-up for the magazine, a 24 page document that he has hung on to.  He figured out how it would look, what the content would be, and set about researching the Ottawa golf market.  Part of that investigation took him to a meeting with the Ottawa Valley Golf Association in the fall of 1995, where he received some feedback on the concept of a golf publication in the market.   A few people were critical of the viability of Jeff’s idea based on the past failure of another regional golf publication, the Ottawa Valley Golf News, but one of the people involved with the OVGA, then Tournament Director and Past President, Joe McLean, was very supportive.

“I was kind of dejected a bit after that meeting but it was Joe who told me that the market had changed since the Valley Golf News was published, that there were more courses and more interest in the game,” says Jeff.  Joe offered his long knowledge of golf in the area and remained a volunteer with the magazine until he retired from the City of Ottawa.  Today he works part-time for Flagstick in the role of Editorial Assistant.

McLean explains a little more about the situation.  “Being on the board of the OVGA at the time and listening to Jeff make his presentation about his idea got me thinking.  It sounded pretty valid to me and he came across as somebody very creditable even though I didn’t know who he was.  We met the next day to talk about things and I tried to introduce him to some people in the golf community at a few events.  He sold himself and his idea well and pretty soon he was off securing Kevin Haime as his first advertiser.”

That winter of 1995/1996 Jeff went about setting up shop in his apartment on McLeod Street in Ottawa, upgrading from a Bachelor suite in the same building to allow for extra office & computer equipment.  He burned up the phone lines contacting courses and golf facilities as he looked to find support for what would be a free publication (as it is today).  “There was a lot of scepticism and resistance but Kevin Haime bought that first ad, the back cover, and his business has been in that spot for every issue since then,” says Bauder. “I have a lot of respect for the faith he put in me at the time and how that continues to today.”

As for how that initial year went in 1996 Jeff says “challenging might be an understatement.”  “The first year was really tough.  It was a struggle and a much different process than what we have now.  I had some help on major articles from Scott and some columnists but there was still writing for me to do, coordinating the articles, writing articles, selling the ads, putting together the magazine, taking photographs (black and white, on film),delivering the magazines, and then running the business.”  Patricia, in her time away from own job, would edit and proofread the copy.

On top of this Jeff was coming from a background where he knew very little about golf in the Ottawa area, punctuating his days with a steep learning curve.  “I knew very few people.  I had to introduce myself to everyone. It was not a case where I could walk in and know one person and they could guide me.  I tried to introduce myself to people who were involved with golf and could lead me to other people.”

From his retail experience Jeff did know more than a few of the sales reps for golf equipment manufacturers as they could tell him who were the key people to speak with at many of the golf courses.  “It did not help everywhere by any means, but it was something.”

Of course, that did not simply translate into sales.  Although he had worked the pavement and even displayed at the 1996 Ottawa Golf Show (without an actual issue to show consumers) his bottom line for the first issue, and for that first year, did not even show enough revenue to pay for the printing.

At the distribution level things were almost as bleak with Jeff having to take back around seventy percent of all the issues he distributed.  Even a free magazine did not yet have a hold on local golfers.

But that did not deter the entrepreneur who knew it would take time for Flagstick to be embraced.  “After that initial year I was frustrated and sort of left wondering about what I was doing.  I had survived the year but had lost a lot of money and sat there wondering if I really should keep it going.   A couple things made me realize that I should; one was my wife – who believed in what I was doing and wanted me to continue doing it, and another reason was a specific incident.”  That “incident” involved Jeff and Patricia walking out the Bayshore Mall on a fall day and noticing a car in the parking lot.  It happened to have a copy of Flagstick from earlier in the year on the dashboard.

“I thought, ‘if somebody thinks enough of the magazine to not throw it out and carry it around with them, it has to have value’ so I started to think about things I could do to make the magazine better and appeal to more people,” Jeff relates. “I wondered how many more people had copies of the magazines in their cars, in their houses, or even on the backs of their toilets and were still reading them.  Seeing that magazine on the car dash told me I was really connecting with people, not just sitting in an apartment creating a magazine and hoping people were reading it.”

Knowing he had a relationship started with golfers in the region, Jeff made sure to focus on deepening those connections, starting with the local golf organizations like the Ottawa Valley Golf Association (OVGA).  “Having a working relationship with the OVGA helped to expose Flagstick to the core golfer and in turn that made other golfers aware of what we were doing.”  Jeff wanted to have Flagstick at the top of mind for regional golfers and says he did a lot of things to make sure that when golf was happening, Flagstick was around in some way.  That led to his first vehicle with Flagstick signage that was visible with every delivery, event coverage, and sales call at golf courses around the region. He also tried to get signage up in the pro shops and locations where the magazine was distributed to indicate that it was available.  It started a ground swell of attention and pretty soon Jeff was gaining more acceptance with advertisers and readers alike.

By coming back for more in the second year Jeff proved that Flagstick was not going away and as his familiarity with the local golf scene grew he gained a greater credibility in the marketplace.  He then had a better avenue to generate more content for the magazine and create a better product for everyone involved.  He started to make improvements in the publication, adding a glossy cover and expanding the depth of the content.

From the beginning community involvement was important to Jeff and that translated into using whatever resources Flagstick could provide to engage local golfers and events.  Like every small businessperson Jeff was not in a position to support everything he would like to from a financial angle but he says it was more than about money – there were ways he could his part.  It is a philosophy that remains to today.  Just a taste of Flagstick’s sponsorship portfolio now includes support of ALL the categories of the OVGA Intersectionals, the title sponsorship of the CPGA Ottawa Players Tour, the Ottawa Citizen Amateur Championship, the Flagstick Amateur Shootout at Smuggler’s Glen, and the Kevin Haime Kids to The Course Classic.

“Being involved with events has always been important to us.  What we realized over the years is being a sponsor is not just about writing a check for a tee sign – we’ve always tried to be more hands on in our support whether that is actually the logistics of an event, providing things like trophies, and even just helping events get more exposure through joint marketing efforts.  We had an avenue where we could help people get a message out and the reason we had that is that we always focused on providing a product to the reader that had depth to it; one they were taking their time to read.”  That strength of content has always been a basis of the publication and as you will see in tributes from people later in this feature – it has been paramount to the success of the business.

Jeff laughs as he explains, “Of course we had a lot of content in those early years; we didn’t have much advertising!”  The Publisher jokes but the choice to have deep editorial attention was always important to Flagstick.  As a golfer himself he knew that he wanted a magazine of substance to read; one that you would more than leaf through, and as an Publisher he knew that having magazines with more shelf life gave his advertisers a greater chance to convey their message.   The decision was made early on that the magazine would have far more editorial than advertising, flying in the face of the industry norm.

“We knew that in order to be accepted as an authority on golf in the region we needed to have more information in our pages that anybody else in the area was providing.  Although we wanted to have the “national” type stories the emphasis was on golfers and golf in our region.  I think we’ve done that for fifteen years.  It’s even better now than in 1996, both in print and online but it started in ’96 and remains the core of what we do,” says Bauder.  “That’s where we make the biggest connection with the club owners, the pros, the industry and all the golfers who read the magazine.  We try to have content that is relevant to golf as they see it.”

That content focus even overrides revenue some of the time, especially when it comes to promoting big events that come to the area, whether it is the CN Canadian Women’s Open or the Canadian Tour.  Often Flagstick will have extended coverage of these events without the benefit of extra ad support to pay for the additional pages and staff hours.  “If it’s good for the golf community and we can help in some way we will try,” says Bauder.  “We feel a commitment to promote golf in the region but there is no burden in that, especially when it is something you want to do.  People being excited about golf in our region is good for us and the community.  Everybody benefits.  We think we have been able to grow the golf culture in the area in the last 15 years and we are proud of that.”

Even with all the years to look back Bauder says he is still quite surprised about how far thing have come for Flagstick.  “I never imagined that we would have the following that we do.  I hoped for it but when you are just starting out it hardly seems possible.  I never expected to get to where it is now.  Thanks to the internet and other digital tools we have been able to share what we do with a lot more people and that audience is still growing.”

Bauder says that even though it is a business, all that growth has not necessarily been the goal but simply a by-product of a lot of work by their small but dedicated staff who all have a deep respect for golf.  “We just put in the time and effort and those things take care of themselves.  Yes, people have to get paid and the business has to make money but the bottom line is not always the focus.  If we do the best job we can by providing a quality product for the golf audience everything else seems to take care of itself.”

Bauder says the move to full glossy stock for the print publications in 2011 is the latest of the improvements at Flagstick but it is part of a natural evolution for them.  “Whether it is changes to the magazine or the web, we never do anything just for the sake of doing it.  We have always tried to listen to our readers and marketing partners to help deliver what they want.  If we can satisfy them, in every possible way, we know that we are doing the right thing.”  That thought has led to the creation of special editions like Flagstick For Women and Strokesavers (a golf tips issue), as well as secondary businesses like Flagstick Golf Photography and Flagstick Consulting & Design, an expanded online platform at Flagstick.com, editorial partnerships with EMC Community Newspapers for their Flagstick Golf Talk page, and PGA Tour Coverage for the World’s Largest Online Golf Forum, GolfWRX.com.

As for the future of Flagstick, Jeff has to take a deep breath as he considers the question.  “In the immediate future I’m very excited about 2011 and the new look for the print magazine.  We’ll also have a lot more ways to get information out via online and who knows where that will lead as far as they way we present information digitally.  Nobody is certain where technology is headed but we’ll continue our focus on the region and all that goes on in golf.  The platform of how we get that information might change a bit but really we’ll be doing exactly what we did when we first started – providing as much information about golf and golfers in our region as we can and being a part of this community.  We’re thankful for the fifteen years that have passed but are eager to keep doing what we do.”

Tributes we have received on the impact of 15 Years of Flagstick Golf Magazine in the Region:

Mark Papousek, Y105 Radio Host and CPGA Ottawa Honorary Director

“I have always enjoyed getting my copy of Flagstick and the one thing I like is at the club after the magazine arrives guys are talking about the different stories that are in it.  Very much enjoy the Profiles of the different courses throughout the valley and some that I haven’t played and make me want to get out and try them. Flagstick has become the Bible of golf magazines for me and I look forward to every issue as they arrive”

Don McGee, Ottawa Valley Golf Association Board Member

“As far as I am concerned the magazine is the best and I look forward to each edition.  It covers the local golf scene in a most up to date fashion, it provides great articles on equipment and competition and the regular articles about rules, and health, etc. makes you think.  The personal stories, course profiles and travel items are most informative and provide a good balance for the amount of advertising in the magazine which I figure you must need to keep on publishing.

Flagsticks’ support for the golf community, (in my case especially for the OVGA) is fantastic and most appreciated.  I am not sure how many players are aware of the extent of the support that the Magazine and its staff provide via the sponsorship of the Intersectional Competitions, the coverage in the Magazine itself or just the way you pitch in to help out at the tournament sites on the day of the competitions.

In my opinion you folks are doing it all very well and I hope it continues and wish you all every good fortune for the future.”

Allen McGee, Elite Amateur Golfer

“I would like to first off congratulate you on a very impressive and fast 15 years !!!!   Wow, time flies.   I am sure you will have another terrific 15+ years to come.

I am one of the many golfers in Ottawa that look forward to reading Flagstick monthly!   I see no reason to get any other golf magazine with everything that you cover in Flagstick.

I think it’s great how you cover all the local events and do the profiles of local players and pros.  The Golf club directory is better than any yellow pages and the new clubs of the year articles are very interesting and helpful to everyone.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you at Flagstick for your long hours you put in each and every week of the year to make golf that much more enjoyable for all of us!!”

 

Jean Stone-Seguin, President, Ottawa Valley Golf Association

“Firstly, let me congratulate Flagstick Golf Magazine on their 15th anniversary.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to express how meaningful the publication is to the Ottawa Region.  I, personally, look forward to each and every edition of the magazine.

In terms of how useful the magazine is, as President of both the Women’s Golf Association and presently the OVGA, I have referred to the magazine while researching material.  For example, I cannot tell you how many times I have referred to the Golf Course Directory.  In fact, it is bookmarked!  In addition, your course profiles provide a wonderful introduction to a course that an individual may not yet have had the opportunity to play.

In terms of coverage, I again congratulate the editors as they have made a tremendous effort in ensuring that the articles are varied and of interest to all ages of golfers in the region.  In particular, it is extremely important to highlight our Player Development Program and, Flagstick has more than provided support in this area.

As President of the OVGA, I would like to express our appreciation to Flagstick for their continued support, sponsorship and partnership in improving this wonderful game we call golf!”

Nancy Berthiaume, Long-time Golf Association Volunteer

“I personally think Flagstick is a wonderful magazine.  look forward to each issue and never miss one.

The stories/interviews are not only informational but heart warming and target people we either know or have heard about.  It keeps us apprised of how people are doing from other clubs both locally and down the valley as well.  The coverage is excellent. The statistics reported of various tournaments are timely.

I can’t think of any item that is not reported in Flagstick that I would like to see.  But I do know that if there was something that I would have recommended, it would be in one of the next issues as Flagstick is very responsive to its readers.”

John Major, Photographer, Former Photo Editor – Ottawa Citizen

“I am an avid reader of Flagstick Magazine. As a golf fanatic and professional photographer shooting golf tournaments for the RCGA, (Official photographer for the RCGA 2008 CN Canadian Women’s Open at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club), CN Canadian Women’s Tour and CN Future Links tournaments and also shooting for ClubLink in the Ottawa area, I know what it takes to make Flagstick the magazine it is. Hard work and dedication by true lovers of the game of golf come through in the articles and pictures throughout the pages of the magazine.

I have seen Flagstick grow from a fledgling publication to what it is today. Each golf season Flagstick has grown with the depth of its articles.

The articles that grace the pages of Flagstick are very informative. From teaching tips, equipment reviews, and course profiles, to in-depth articles on local amateurs, as well as professional golfers, not many shots are left in bunkers by the writers. The coverage of the local golf scene from junior golf programs, to Ottawa and the valley golf tournaments make Flagstick a must read for me. Congratulations Flagstick on your 15th anniversary.”

John McConachie, Director of Tournament Operations, Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championships

“Happy 15th Anniversary Flagstick !!   Since the first round of the Ottawa Citizen Amateur Golf Championship (OCAGC) was played 10 years ago, Flagstick has played a key role in bringing the tournament to its’ current status—in the words of a majority of participants each year–  of “best-value-for-dollar” and “best-organized”  golf tournament in the Ottawa and Seaway Valley.

Jeff Bauder and his staff have year-over-year increased their commitment to the event and are now a full sponsor and partner. Whether it be promotional expertise, the most complete coverage of the golf scene from Cornwall to Belleville, Deep River to Montebello, or participation in brainstorming sessions to improve the tournament, Flagstick’s commitment has been constant, consistent and positive. Their contribution has enabled the OCAGC to maintain the very positive image we enjoy in the eyes of the golfing community in the Citizen footprint area and beyond. For this we are extremely fortunate to have Flagstick as a major partner. Thank-you & Congratulations!!!

Ted Smale, Long-Time OVGA Volunteer, Former Ottawa Rough Rider

“Congratulations to Flagstick and all the personnel behind every issue on their first very successful 15 years. It has been thoroughly enjoyable. Looking forward to the next 15 and beyond.”

Mr. Smale Points out what he has enjoyed in reading Flagstick –  “The broad area the magazine covers – not only geographically, but also in the broad range of up-to-date articles, comments on things happening in the golf community both locally and nationally, with the odd shot from around the world.  Club articles are very thorough, extremely interesting with lots of many unknown tidbits of information.  Dean Ryan’s rules articles are thoroughly enjoyable, bring, as they do, a very highly respected Rules guru’s insight.

Flagstick has tried to cover we, the golfing community, of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec with a breadth of work – club contacts; events to come; the results; the winners; etc. This it has done with a high degree of excellence.”

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