Mike Attara is a certified PGA Professional, golf industry executive, and the founder and president of Spirit Golf Management. Since being founded in 2009, Spirit has enjoyed rapid growth under Mr. Attara’s leadership. Spirit’s owned and/or managed properties along the East Coast have garnered numerous accolades including “Course of the Year” honors, and its executives and golf professionals have earned multiple awards for their excellence in growth-of-the-game initiatives, merchandising, and junior programming.
Mr. Attara is a frequent expert speaker on player growth and development and industry trends at conferences hosted by the PGA of America, the National Golf Course Owners Association and the National Golf Course Owners Association of America. He served as a member of the national committee for the PGA’s Golf 2.0, a strategic initiative aimed at re-engaging golfers and growing the game. He has also been an advisor to the PGA’s Player Development Department and has spoken on behalf of the organization at the PGA Merchandise Show.
THE ATTARA STORY —
I’ve had many events and people that have shaped my career and how I came to find my way to opening Spirit Golf Management in 2009, but when I think about who or what propelled me into the golf industry, I think about meeting PGA Professional Tony Wilcenski and getting my first job in golf as a senior in high school at Concordia Golf Course, the new golf course they opened in my town in 1983.
Tony was the PGA Professional at Rossmoor Golf Club in Monroe, NJ, who later went on to start Castle Golf Management. I picked up the game of golf around age 13 and knowing Tony, who lives in my neighborhood, was a PGA professional, I was really in awe of him. At the time, I didn’t know the difference between a PGA Tour player and a PGA golf professional. All I knew was he was a golf pro and drove a fancy Cadillac! Being a PGA pro looked like a pretty good gig to me at the time.
In my senior year in high school, I was excited to get a job working at the brand new Concordia Golf Club. I started in outside operations and doing some course maintenance. Soon after, I found my way into a position in the golf shop. As the season winded down, I was the only original employee left in the shop, and all of a sudden, I found myself a decision maker and was responsible for opening and closing the shop, making schedules and getting the deposits to the bank. I guess the real take away is, I found I enjoyed the challenge and wanted to learn more.
It was Tony who I reached out to help me in securing a job at another golf course as a PGA apprentice. I was planning on playing college golf and was just starting to practice with the team when the call came in about the job. It was definitely a defining moment in my career, as I needed to decide if I wanted to begin my career towards becoming a PGA Professional or continue to play amateur golf. Remembering Tony and that fancy Cadillac, I chose to become a professional — it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time!
It was four years later that I would get the chance to work for Tony at Rossmoor as his assistant pro and where I would earn my PGA membership. Tony was very involved in the PGA and at the time, he was the president of the local section. He encouraged me to get involved in the section affairs. I would eventually spend two terms on the board of directors and almost a dozen years on the board of the New Jersey Golf Foundation.
You wake up in the morning — what’s your driving passion?
People and community come first to mind. I have always loved the golf industry because it has allowed me to interact with so many good people both on and off the course. I think about my fellow team members and what I can do to help them improve their jobs and lives so that they can be better prepared to engage and take care of our customers.
The overall golf market has been slowly but steadily declining since The Great Recession ended in ’09. Some have said nothing less than a 20-25% reduction in the total number of courses can really help in turning things around. Do you agree?
There is an argument for the need to correct the market with a reduction of the total number of courses, but this is also very much driven by geographic location and can’t be used as a national statistic.
What other solutions would you advocate in helping spur golf’s ascendancy in the 21st century?
Like any business sector, the innovators are the ones that are going to stay ahead and lead the trends going into the next upturn. A lot of what has driven me over the years is to create community and player development initiatives. Using these two principles in our business has helped us improve our clients’ businesses, created employment opportunities for PGA Professionals and offered our customers new and fun ways to enjoy our clubs.
You’ve been active on the golf course management side of things. What’s the biggest mistake golf course owners do with their respective properties?
Two things come to mind. Focusing more effort on cutting cost rather than looking for growth opportunities and not advertising and marketing enough. Often we find owners not having a clear focus and strategy in regards to defining who they are as a club and how to position themselves in the market. Marketing and business planning become key first steps in our process in working with our clients, and we do it all the time not just write it and put it on the shelf. It’s important the plan is constantly being reviewed and adjusted.
In recent years there’s been various attempts for non-golfers to come to the game. What’s your take on TopGolf, Foot Golf, Frisbee Golf, SNAG Golf and all the other alternatives that have been come to the forefront recently?
I’ve been a part of some of them, and all have some good public relations and value to attracting new and non-golfers to the market. This in and of itself is great, but without next steps at the course level, we won’t get much lift on the number of rounds played. Club owners, PGA and other industry leaders need to focus on programs like PGA Junior League and Get Golf Ready that actually offer a next step to getting interested golfers into a program at a course that leads them to play more golf.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I think the rules of golf and tradition around the game is our biggest challenge. I’m all for the traditions of the game and playing by the rules in tournament golf, but trying to confine a new player or average player to the same set of standards the PGA Tour plays by doesn’t make sense. Games like football, basketball, and soccer are good examples of games that can be played as a game or conducted as a sport. We need golfers to feel like it’s “okay” to just get out and play the game for the pure fun of it without being strapped down by too many rules and traditions that come with competition. I always tell my staff, let’s keep it friendly and professional with a lot of emphasis on fun.
If you could have a life mulligan — what would you do differently?
I don’t believe in mulligans. Hit it, find it and hit it again is my motto on the course and in life.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Remember to breathe — my wife.
You can give one piece of advice to those looking to come into the golf industry — what would you advise?
Do your homework. Often I meet people who want to get into the business and really have no idea what positions or skills they need to be successful. Find someone who would be willing to share and ask lots of questions.
A number of key golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour, LPGA — are all seeking to expand the game. This is especially so for Millennials, women, and minorities. Give them an overall grade for their collective efforts and what you advise they be doing beyond what’s already been done?
All are doing a good job — B+ on trying to expand the game. I think at the end it comes down to what we all do in our communities to engage different groups. Everyone has to do their part in helping expand the game. Each club has a different culture, and they need to find ways to make inclusion a part of the culture in some way or form that is right for them. Not all clubs are the same, but all should be making efforts to creating opportunities to engage more Millennials, women, juniors, and minorities.