Golf Guru Sees Greens In Japan

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2004

by Jaemin Kim

the game of golf since he was a small boy growing up outside Edinburgh, Scotland. His zeal grew into a full-time career about a decade ago. He gave up practicing corporate law in London, began life as an expat in various Asian cities and started spending his days making a business out of his devotion to golf.

"It was not just an interest, but a passion for the game," he explains from his home office in western Tokyo. Indeed, Simmonds is so immersed in the sport that in the course of conversation, he skillfully linked golf to topics ranging from former US President George H.W. Bush to women's roles in South Korea.

Unlike his former profession as corporate lawyer, Simmonds' current career fails to fit one neat label. He wears many hats. He is the creator of a television and DVD series, maintains Web sites, consults with corporations on marketing and branding opportunities and is the author of a history book and numerous articles-all about the world of golf.

So far, the pinnacle of his efforts is the 13-part broadcast series he created, wrote, directed and produced. Called "All A-Round Golf," the infotainment series already aired on a cable network in Japan, on CNBC in several countries and aboard various airlines as in-flight entertainment. It also sells in DVD form.

Simmonds, a gray-haired golf expert and British solicitor who proudly wears kilts to formal events, may seem an unlikely media entrepreneur. Yet with no initial financial backing, and no experience in television production other than some writing, Simmonds somehow created a multi-part television series that looked and sounded good enough for broadcast.

The seeds for creating a career around golf were planted long before Simmonds left law. He spent his free time writing about golf on a freelance basis in London. His mind percolated, however, with more expansive projects.

In 1994, his then-fiancee was asked to work in Hong Kong for an international law firm. The couple had just returned to Britain from a vacation in Vietnam. The football World Cup had just taken place, and Vietnam had gone "football mad," Simmonds says. He recognized that Vietnam was "a green field of opportunity in sport."

He urged his fiancé to work in Vietnam instead of Hong Kong, and within three months they got married, leased their house in London and moved to Hanoi.

In Vietnam, Simmonds finally found a way to immerse himself in sports, writing weekly sports dispatches from Vietnam for the BBC. He also founded a sports marketing business to advise international companies to finance and sponsor various sporting events.

Living in Hanoi forced Simmonds to strike out on his own, rather than taking the safer route of working at an established sports marketing agency in London. He worked then as he does now-independently and without a staff, except for bookkeepers.

Compared to his former legal career, "the opportunities to be creative have been far more considerable," he notes. Equally considerable, however, have been the opportunities for mistakes and financial instability.

"I could not have done it without my wife," Simmonds concedes, referring to his wife's more secure career. "I would not have done it the way I did it without her."

Four years after living in Hanoi, Simmonds' wife took a post in Singapore. Simmonds gladly agreed to move to a more developed, international country, where many companies had resources to spend on promoting sports and promoting themselves through sports.

At this point, he began to re-think the creative end of his work. He wanted to go further than writing. The idea was hatched for creating a television series to "educate and to entertain" everyday players about golf.

"On screen, I have an opportunity to reach a far wider audience and demographic. It was the next logical step after having written about the game. I wanted to create something of lasting influence, something as relevant to people in 5 to 10 years as it is today."

In 1999, he decided to film his first subject, an esteemed golf historian.
"I knew that I needed professional help," Simmonds says. Fortunately, he had built a network of contacts in the television business through his consultancy work and writing gigs. So he simply phoned a contact and asked for the name of a cameraman. He invested a couple thousand pounds to hire the cameraman, and the television project was launched.

Soon after, Simmonds heard that another big name in golf, a perfect subject for the series, would be in Bangkok to watch a golf tournament. But what could he do with no budget? Again, Simmonds used contacts to find a freelance technical crew who were friendly enough to work for a couple of beers. He paid for the airfare by writing a freelance piece on the tournament.
With two filmed interviews sitting in "rushes" on his shelf, Simmonds felt confident enough to seek financing. Drawing upon the network he cultivated through consultancy work, Simmonds convinced a Dutch bank to underwrite the series. In return, the bank received "branding" credit during the series' first broadcast on CNBC.

Armed with funding and a contract that gave him free creative control, Simmonds then sought the technical help he would need. He set up a deal with TWI, the television arm of powerhouse sports and entertainment agency IMG, to provide the camera and sound crews he would need in various countries. He also hired them to provide post-production editing, gaining valuable access to their extensive film clips.

In March 2001, Simmonds set off for several weeks on a whirlwind tour of the world, interviewing participants and filming locations. Although he knew what each participant should discuss, he worked without a script. He hastily patched one together as he went along. "If I could do it again, I would write the script first, then film," he now admits.

After filming, Simmonds spent three weeks with a professional editing crew in New Delhi, where costs are low. The film was completed in September 2001.

"I was so tired at the end of it," he says. "You don't immediately grasp what you've done."

The series is impressively thorough. Simmonds recruited experts and champion golfers to give "how-to" tips on everything from shopping for golf clubs and golf shoes to dislodging a "fried egg"-a ball stuck in a sand pit-and getting it back onto the green. A former British Open champion teaches viewers how to tackle course obstacles like water hazards and shots between tree trunks. Viewers also learn golf etiquette. Footprints left in sand pits should be raked over, for example, and golf clubs should never be thrown in frustration.

The series reflects "my overview of the game," Simmonds says. This includes breezy profiles of amateur champions, golf photographers and golf course architects. It also features historical facts and trivia.

In Japan, his home since August 2003, Simmonds is hoping to tap into the "huge market" of golf enthusiasts. Ten million of the 60 million golfers worldwide live in Japan, according to Simmonds, but they often lack access to the game. The majority of players are not private club members, yet no new "pay and play" golf courses have been built in Japan since 1997. The existing 2,000 or so courses are not nearly enough, he says.

Many players in Japan are limited to practicing on driving ranges-which is outrageous, according to Simmonds. "Golf needs to be accessible and affordable."
If Simmonds has his way, Japanese golfers will soon get their full 18 holes-and an education in the clubhouse. @

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