Steven Tingle

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A Slow Game in a Fast World

01.18.13

SlowGameTitle

See that devilishly handsome young man above?  That’s me, about 30 years ago at the Garden City Golf Club on Long Island.  My grandfather was a member there, father too.  He kept up his membership even though we lived in North Carolina, it was important, it was family, it was tradition. Yet one I failed to continue. Life can overtake tradition sometimes.

But what’s different about that kid above and any ten year old on a golf course today?  Well first thing is there’s not a whole lot of ten year old kids on golf courses these days and second this kid wasn’t distracted. No one was instant messaging him. He wasn’t thinking his sand wedge would make a cool Black Ops weapon. He wasn’t checking his Facebook page between each shot or tweeting that his dad’s golf swing resembled a man throwing bales of hay into the back of a truck.  He wasn’t Shazaming the song he’d heard coming from a construction site across the street then downloading it into a playlist.  He didn’t have an aerial view of his location or the ability to drop down to street level and check out the surrounding neighborhood.  He wasn’t able to watch last night’s SNL skits while waiting for the foursome up ahead or upload a video of two squirrels going at it on the green.  No, this ten year old boy was standing in a bunker, watching his dad fumble with a camera, and having a great time.

Now fast forward 30 years.  I’m in one of my favorite restaurants having dinner with that beautiful blonde who inexplicably likes to hang around with me. She excuses herself for a minute and as soon as she leaves the table my hand reaches for my phone.  It’s unconscious, automatic. I’m checking my texts, my wall, my feed, reading the news, throwing birds at boxes.  The world is in my pocket and it begs for my attention.  She returns, sits back down, sees what I’m doing and pulls out her phone.  Pull back, wide shot- a couple in a beautiful restaurant, sitting two feet apart looking at tiny screens.  Drawn into a virtual world while the real one, the better one, is ignored.

This connected world is tough competition for the golf industry.  Not just for drawing new players to the game but for keeping the attention of the current ones.  It’s time for golf to evolve and get creative. Time to facilitate shorter rounds, more sets of tees, multiple pins. Time to let beginners and kids use non-conforming clubs.  Time to lower the learning curve and make it easy and fun to get started. Time to allow fivesomes, sixsomes, whateversomes and market golf as a social event. Time to romanticize it and market it as escape. Time to train golf shop clerks to be welcoming rather than condescending.  Time for the powers that be to realize six hundred dollars in equipment, a seventy five dollar green fee, a five hour round and a high score is very few people’s idea of a good time. Time to admit that people make time for and spend money on what makes them feel good. We need to create a golf experience for the way people live today.

That ten year old has a lot of choices and distractions right now and I guarantee you playing golf is not at the top of his list.  So if golf doesn’t reach out in a way that’s appealing and attractive to him it’s going to end up like the band on the Titanic; proudly playing the same song while slowly sinking.

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My Way

12.12.12

MyWayTo hear my Dad tell it he was on a date. It was the mid 40’s. It was Manhattan. It was dark. I imagine him in a trench coat and fedora, a Lucky between his fingers, a dame on his arm. Not just any dame, “a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”. “A shiny girl, hardboiled and loaded with sin”. With Raymond Chandler’s help I’ll tell the story. It was the mid 40’s, it was Manhattan, it was dark.
The theatre district was busy – hacks and skirts, grifters and saps, coppers and hoods. My dad knew the city better than the back of his hand so he grabbed hers and took a shortcut down an alley. It was a dinner and a show date, in reverse. The show was over, now they were hungry, rushing, taking shortcuts.

The alley was deserted except for a parked car, luxury model, the kind that moved “away from the curb and around the corner with as much noise as a bill makes in a wallet”. Dad and the dame stayed on the sidewalk, moving fast, more interested in each other than where their feet were landing. Down the alley a door opened. Three goons walked out, “not young, not handsome, but durable”. They crossed the sidewalk, stood by the car. Dad and the dame didn’t notice, kept moving. A moment later a smaller man appeared through the doorway, head down, moving fast, directly ahead of them. They didn’t see him until it was too late. Stars aligned, Hell froze – they collided. The smaller man stumbled but quickly regained his balance. The goons turned around, started to make a move,but the smaller man didn’t need them, he launched, pushed both hands into my dad’s chest. Dad was off balance, he went down. He was six-three but skinny back then. When he was in his Navy whites his buddies used to say, “Freddo, you could get a job as a white line on a highway.”

All six-three of Freddo was on the sidewalk. He sat up on his elbows, still stunned. Looking up he saw the goons, arms crossed, serious. He noticed their eyes “cloudy and gray like freezing water.” He saw the dame, wide eyed, shocked, excited. She wasn’t looking at him, she was boring a hole in the smaller man, her smile “as stiff as a frozen fish”. He followed her gaze wanting to see who had pushed him, calculate a response. The smaller man was looking directly at him, his eyes “not quite cruel and a million miles from kind”. He was unfazed, casually lighting a cigarette. “Watch where you’re walking pal.” Then he and the goons entered the car and disappeared down the alley.

Now the details of this story may have shifted over the years and the goons may have gotten bigger and the dame blonder with each telling but one fact remains: from that day until the day he died my dad hated Frank Sinatra.

Us humans are a grudge holding lot. We carry bitterness on the tip of our tongue, ready to spew it on anyone who will listen. Our egos are fragile and while we can forgive most things – cold food, dirty bathrooms, long waits, high prices – when subjected to a surly waiter or rude manager we will take that shit to our grave. Telling the angels in heaven how if even reincarnated we would never eat at “that place” again.

The facts stand by this. Last year’s Customer Experience Impact Report showed that 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company due to a bad customer service experience. And 79% of those told others about it. But the most interesting statistic is that 85% of consumers said they were willing to pay more in order to ensure a superior customer experience. Not more for new paint, better banquets, heavier flat wear, “localer” food – they’re willing to pay more for BETTER SERVICE. Yet day after day restaurants spend a small fortune on interior design, marketing, and research but pay most of their “customer service” staff the lowest wage allowed by law. I don’t care if you spent 40 thousand on the Italian marble bar I want a hostess who can tell me what’s good tonight not what time cheerleading practice is tomorrow.

A restaurant’s investment in recruitment, continual training, mutual respect, employee empowerment and teaching the difference between confidence and cockiness pays dividends. Far exceeding the money saved by handing someone an employee handbook and saying “shadow Travis for a few days, he’ll show you the ropes.” It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money. Good service is not always remembered, but bad service is never forgotten and as studies show rarely forgiven.

Freddo never forgave Frank Sinatra. Some sixty years after the incident we were in Manhattan, enjoying “the first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar”. My dad refused to wear a hearing aid so I was fairly certain he couldn’t hear “My Way” playing softly in the background. We sat silently for a minute, nursing our drinks. Then I saw something in his eyes. He put his glass down and aimed his good ear toward the ceiling, listening carefully. A moment later, his suspicions confirmed, he rolled his eyes and murmured, “Jerk.”

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2019 Steven Tingle