Professional Long Drive
The sport of professional long drive has existed since the mid 1970s. In 1995, The Long Drivers of America (LDA) was established, adding REMAX as a title sponsor elevating the sport the new heights. Comcast (NBC Sports / The Golf Channel) acquired the series in 2015 and re-branded it as World Long Drive (WLD).
The sport has grown in many ways over the last decade+, adding the Masters (45+) division in the 90s and later a Women’s division in 2000. Perhaps the fastest assentation came as The Golf Channel began televising multiple events after their 2015 acquisition. The players became more recognizable brands to a growing fan base, creating new and stronger sponsorship opportunities. It seemed the sport was on the path to becoming more main stream.
Sitting at the head of the long drive table, The Golf Channel experienced all the challenges that come with governing a series like professional long drive. Introducing the sport to new sponsors and proving the series’ value is a massive challenge for any entity. But, being able to enter a prospective sponsor meeting with the clout of Comcast / NBC Sports / The Golf Channel provided the new WLD brand the best opportunities in its history. Positioning as the sport’s governing body, though, may have been the biggest challenge the new owners would face. Juggling event operations, personnel, player concerns, and establishing the brand control may have been too tall of an order for a company best-suited for broadcast communications. The show aspect that The Golf Channel (TGC) brought to the brand was, as one would expect, stellar.
The Sport of Professional Long Drive and the World Long Drive Series
Without question WLD had become (over four decades+) the premier professional long drive series in the world. Their success spawned sufficient interest for many other entities globally to become stakeholders in a growing sport. Event organizers capitalized on the excitement and allure of professional long driving to create competitions globally. One could surmise that the sport evolved from, or as the result of, the LDA/ WLD series and eventually that series (WLD) became part of a sport it created….or at the very least …helped to create. At some point the sport, although dominated by WLD, had to become larger than its premier series to have long-range success. The sport needed grass roots growth, and having been (primarily) a professional long drive series, WLD stopped short of providing that essential element. The evolution curve of the sport of long drive took a sharp upward turn with the acquisition of WLD by TGC. Coincidental with the acquisition, digital / social media strengthened immensely. When combined with additional television exposure TGC provided, the sport got a needed and well-deserved boost, opening the door even more widely for global growth outside the WLD series.
Amateur Long Drive™
At this point, it is hard to talk about professional long drive without mentioning the importance of Amateur Long Drive™ (ALD). The aforementioned grass roots essential element most likely would not have flourished without the efforts of LDA, WLD, and especially TGC. ALD™ was developed by Ultimate Long Drive, Inc specifically to provide a foundation for long-term growth of the sport. Televised WLD events drove aspiring long drivers to the web in search of a way to become part of the sport….and specifically in search of a pathway to WLD. Ultimate Long Drive faced its first major challenge early on realizing the progression from ALD™ to WLD lacked continuity. For the lack of a better term, WLD was primarily a “closed” system with very few openings for outsiders to compete. Faced, also, with the reality that top-level amateurs dominating competition might deter growth in the Open division, Ultimate Long Drive came up with the solution.
Xtreme Long Drive®
Ultimate Long Drive, Inc created the Xtreme Long Drive® (XLD™) professional long drive series to open up additional opportunities for pro long drivers. Through a partnership with WLD, series participants could earn points toward the WLD World Championship. XLD™, in a sense became the minor leagues to prepare athletes for the premier series. That was the plan that never actually happened. The COVID 19 Global Pandemic halted WLD competition for 2020, and eventually lead to complete suspension of operations. The company (TGC) would eventually liquidated the WLD hard assets, release the WLD staff, and cease to operate. That announcement came in June 2020 as Comcast / NBC Sports / The Golf Channel seemed to be “returning to their roots” to re-focus on their core business of broadcast communications. The challenges of running the WLD series wasn’t a good fit for future plans. Ultimate Long Drive, Inc immediately expanded the scope of XLD to become a premier professional long drive tour consisting of (for 2021) 15 Q-Series Events, 8 Tour Stops, 3 World Challenge Series events, and the XLD™ (and ALD™) World Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Chicago, Illinois in September 2021.
New Challenges And The Importance Of Social Media
The good news….by way of the progress made by LDA, WLD, and TGC, the “sport” became sufficient enough to exist outside the WLD series. But, gone (for now) is the television exposure that helped boost the sport’s growth. Television exposure will eventually come, and the strength of social media can sustain distribution of content and information. The most significant and immediate challenge is that of expectation management and perception. Players and sponsors will need to reimagine their relationships. There’s plenty of brand value associated with the sport and those who compete regardless of television…but it’s a different process of justification. In may cases, properly managed social media reach can exceed that of television. Perception may be different and expectations should be tailored to the kinds of results social media can produce. The loss of WLD and its television exposure is definitely a set-back in the progression of the sport of professional long drive, but is in no way the end of its growth. We will see even more growth over the next several years resulting from grass roots efforts at the amateur level and a more “open” form of professional inclusion.