Al Morris is the President and Chief Executive Officer of one of the golf industry’s biggest retailers, Worldwide Golf Shops, which owns and operates 81 stores across six regional chains: Roger Dunn Golf Shops, Edwin Watts Golf, The Golf Mart, Golfers Warehouse, Van’s Golf Shops, and Uinta Golf.
Morris grew up in the San Fernando Valley in California, where in the late 1970’s his mother bought him his first set of golf clubs at a Roger Dunn store. About 15 years later, Worldwide Golf bought the Roger Dunn brand. The NGF recently sat down to talk with Morris about how he first got involved in golf, his climb through the retail ranks, the state of the golf industry and preparing for the future:
How did you first get into golf, both personally and professionally?
I started playing golf when I was 13. I had a little bit of a tough childhood; my father passed when I was young, so I never actually got to play golf with him, but the guy across the street got me into golf when I was about 13. I started loving it, started working on the golf course when I was 16 and it actually kept me out of trouble. Because if anyone was ever looking for me, I was either at home or on the golf course. Whether it was work or play, I was at the golf course all the time.
I worked my way up. I got a job as a gripper at a company that had just opened their first store in 1984. After three or four months, I got promoted to shoe sales, then it was club sales, assistant manager, manager, regional manager, general manager, then president. And now I’m president and CEO.
How is Worldwide Golf positioned in the retail space of the golf industry right now?
“We have a total of 81 stores that we own and operate, with the six different brands. We’ve grown mostly through acquisition. So when we bought Roger Dunn in 1993, the Roger Dunn brand had so much recognition and loyalty in the marketplace that we couldn’t change it. That’s held true everywhere we’ve gone. In Arizona, Vans golf was founded in 1963. Edwin Watts I think was 1968. So we’ve decided to keep the brand loyalty in those markets.
We like our position right now. The industry went through a correction last year. We tried to buy Golfsmith, I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody – lost out to Dick’s Sporting Goods at the auction in New York – still disappointed we didn’t win, but obviously we were at the heavyweight table and they were a little heavier than us. The industry had a correction and we think it’s been good for everybody who’s still left. We’re not killing it, but we’re having a solid year.”
When it comes to customer service, what kinds of things do you focus on, whether it’s interactivity or engagement, and how do you continually seek that improvement?
“We have a customer base, whether we bought or have grown organically, and our attitude is – `It is really hard to get a customer, do whatever you can not to lose them.’ We’ve empowered our staff to do whatever it takes to keep the customers happy. Very rarely do we get customer complaints that we can’t resolve and really don’t give them a reason to look elsewhere. I think the biggest thing we do is the 90‑day guarantee for everything we sell. The customer can literally go out, buy a brand new club, try it and if they don’t like it, they can bring it back for store credit and get something else.
What do you do to look to stay ahead of the curve in the retail space and continually prepare for what’s coming? Also, if I ask you to step back and look at the golf industry’s health, what do you see?
“All you can do is keep your eyes and ears open, see what’s out there in the industry, whether it’s your competitors or have your eyes open at the PGA show and see what technologies are out there. We think we’re pretty far advanced; we were one of the first to come out and have launch monitors in all of our stores. Whatever the next evolution is, we might not be the leader, but we’ll follow shortly thereafter.
I think the industry is in a pretty good place right now. These kids who are playing, (Jordan) Spieth, (Justin) Thomas, (Rickie) Fowler, the camaraderie they show and how they communicate electronically or on social media, I think they’re reaching the younger customer, which we’ve always had struggles to reach. I don’t ever recall seeing Phil Mickelson run out and congratulate Tiger Woods when he wins a major; and to watch all those guys run out and congratulate Justin Thomas is pretty neat, pretty exciting. It shows the future is still bright for golf, despite what we read.”
I heard that you once made two holes-in-one in the same round. So what’s the story of that special day and what in the world was your secret?
It was September of 2012, I had never made a hole‑in‑one and was playing in Kapalua with two other industry guys. I made a hole‑in‑one on hole No. 8, and then I proceeded to make a hole in one on the next par 3, the 11thon the Plantation Course. They were the only two of my life and I don’t think I’ve hit a green since. There’s a theory there: it was the first weekend of fantasy football so I kept looking at my phone. The guys kept saying, ‘Hey Al, you’re up.’ So I think if you take your head out of the game, you actually play better. Then I had to call and text everybody and I made another one. Wasn’t it someone in Bull Durham that said, ‘Don’t think, you’re hurting the team”?
I was like a rock star and ran up an $800 bar bill to go along with it, which I did not frame. We had 12 guys on the trip and they were all flying in on two different days. So I had to buy everyone two drinks… they all had two umbrellas; it got a little pricey.”