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Philadelphia Business Journal Article

Venture-backed Amateur Golf Society letting Philadelphia-area golfers compete in their own tour.

To launch and fund the Radnor-based Amateur Golf Society, founder Dan Hershberg raised $2.7 million in an equity financing round led by Meridian Venture Partners.

When the Covid-19 outbreak began and bars and restaurants temporarily closed, Dan Hershberg needed to find a new way to promote the beer produced by Workhorse Brewing Co., a King of Prussia brewery he co-founded in early 2018.

"We lost the ability to bring customers to our space," Hershberg recalled, "so we kind of took a step back and thought about how we could connect with our consumers in a pandemic-proof manner. Golf was really experiencing a boom during the pandemic. I'm a golfer, love the game, played my whole life and I thought if golf courses are going to have this influx of members coming to play, and they're obviously going to be drinking beer before and after their round, let's think about ways that we can essentially drive a better relationship with those courses."

So, Workhorse got involved in organizing and promoting highly structured golf tournaments for amateurs at multiple locations that would deliver more customers to golf courses, and give the brewery an opportunity to promote its beer to a thirsty audience.

This year, based on the success of the Workhorse tournament model that grew to about 450 members, Hershberg decided to make a bigger splash and launch the Amateur Golf Society and the AGS 2023 Tour.

An AGS membership, which starts at $75 for the season, gives players the opportunity and flexibility to play competitive golf on their own time at more than 60 public courses throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Members can play anytime during a one-week window for different tournaments held throughout the year.

"What's great about this is we offer a different value proposition for individual golfers — whether you are someone who is into competition but you don't belong to a private club, or you can't play at a one-day event," Hershberg said. "This gives you an outlet to be competitive regardless of your skill level."

Beyond the competition, Hershberg said, the Amateur Golf Society wants to be part of and help grow the region's golf community. "This is a great way to meet new people who have a like-minded interest," he said.

To launch and fund the Radnor-based Amateur Golf Society, Hershberg raised $2.7 million in an equity financing round that was led by Meridian Venture Partners, which is also based in Radnor, and included several angel investors.

"[Meridian] was Workhorse's primary backer and they really believed in this vision that I've had for the golf business," Hershberg said.

The 650 members of the Amateur Golf Society get access to an app they can use to guarantee a spot in any upcoming event, connect with other players, and keep an eye on tournament leaderboards.

The Amateur Golf Society generates revenue in a variety of ways. In addition to membership fees, it sells sponsorships and advertising, generates sales through e-commerce on its website and receives a percentage of greens fees from courses, which get promotional value from the tournament photos and videos the society post on its website.

Jason Madden, a loan officer with CrossCountry Mortgage in Ardmore, met Hershberg at Workhorse Brewing, where Hershberg urged him to participate in one of the brewery's golf events. Now Madden is not only an Amateur Golf Society member, but he was also a major sponsor of last month's Kimberton Classic at the Kimberton Golf Club in Chester County.

"Like a lot of people, I came back to golf during Covid," Madden said. "I ran into Dan one day and he told me he started a golf tour and asked me if I was going to play. I said no, but after two or three more beers I said, 'OK, buddy.' My first Workhorse tour event was here [at Kimberton Golf Club]. It brought me back into golf. I started playing here and now I'm a member."

Because players compete at different times, the honor system is relied upon for scorekeeping. Hershberg said the tour does have measures in place, aided by its partnership with the Golf Association of Philadelphia, to weed out cheaters.

"One of arguably the most important problems that we had to solve coming in is to give people confidence the scores are legit," he said.

The Amateur Golf Society leverages the Golf Association of Philadelphia handicap management tools to track the scores of its members during events.

"If someone is posting a number of really good scores and their handicap index is not going down, we can identify it and red flag it and either remove their score or force them to independently verify it with a playing partner. There have been instances that we have had people not be able to verify their score. We had one last week where we took a name down off the leaderboard."

As a tour for amateurs, players are not competing for the same purses as professional golfers.

"Our prizes vary depending on the event," Hershberg said, "but a typical mix is a complimentary round and prizes from our sponsors like apparel and merchandise."

Bettinardi Golf, a large AGS sponsor, provides custom putter covers for winners. Golf Galaxy, another sponsor, provides gift cards. The tour's season-long prizes include an all-expenses-paid trip to Hilton Embassy Resorts in Puerto Rico and Bettinardi putters.

"There's a lot of cool stuff to play for. We have to kind of straddle the line on the individual events where the prize can't be sufficiently large to cheat for it, but it has to be something where there's enough interest to attract people," he said.

Hershberg said his plans for next year include expanding into three or four new markets close to southeastern Pennsylvania. "The preliminary conversations we've had with amateur golf associations in the region give us confidence in our ability to do so," he said. "Over time, we'll look to add more markets outside of our region, and provide our members with reciprocal playing opportunities at AGS events throughout the country."


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