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Day-long event brings year-long benefits

Legislative day can provide political power

Since 2002, when the board of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association (MGCOA) laid out a strategic plan that said by 2007 it needed to be proactive – rather than reactive – on legislative issues, the chapter has held an annual legislative day in Lansing, the state’s capital. 

The MGCOA consequently has become a force legislatively, in large part, because of its yearly pilgrimage by course owners to capitol offices.  “These face-to-face meetings have given the chapter the awareness and credibility it needs to make ourselves heard,” says John Dodge, the MGCOA’s director of government affairs.  “Today, several legislators…and the media…are calling us rather than the reverse for information and our perspective on issues that affect golf course owners.”

Success begins with an active and committed government affairs committee.  “Of the 15 volunteer members, we still have the original eight members from when it was formed seven years ago,” says Dodge, who acts as liaison between the committee and the chapter’s lobbyist.  “You can’t overemphasize the importance of having strong participation and a political voice.”

Every year, the chapter’s Government Affairs Day is held at a different time.  “The committee has tried various dates through the years and there really is no best time,” Dodge says.  “It all comes down to when we feel we’ll be able to achieve the greatest participation from legislators and our members, but generally March is good because it’s just before the beginning of budget deliberations.”  

Michigan has a full-time legislature that meets every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during 38-40 weeks.

Because Michigan has term limits, there are 44 new legislators this year.  Consequently, the MGCOA will hold the event early, on March 4.  “We want to reach elected officials before everyone else,” he says.  “That means before spring break when no one is here, and before May when every trade association and lobbyist descends upon Lansing.  Of course, summer is never good because of vacations.”

According to Dodge, attendance at the legislative outing is issues-driven.  “It depends upon the number of issues affecting owners and how important they are,” he says.  “But no matter what the situation, the chapter always has been satisfied with the turnout.  We also always get participation from the Michigan PGA and USGA, course superintendents, and one or two vendors.”

Invitations are sent out to members and others 7-8 months before the event, and there are regular notices in the chapter’s publication, TEE-OFF TIMES, throughout the year.  Every 3-4 weeks, Dodge keeps the committee up-to-date on how the preparations are going for the legislative day. 

This year, there will be about 40 participants, including 25 owners, representing 50-60 courses.   

“We have a three-pronged attack,” says Dodge.  “First, there is a goodie bag ‘meet and greet’ for every legislator that includes position papers on issues of importance to golf course owners, A Guide to Running a Successful Golf Outing which is used to create fundraisers for elected officials and shows that owners are responsible community members, and then usually something fun like a sleeve of chocolate golf balls.  Next, we schedule 15-30 minute meetings with legislators, focusing on leadership and committee chairs who affect us directly.  An example would be a group meeting with the committee chair on environmental issues.  We then hold a luncheon for our members and legislators, which includes a speaker who is a personality from the media or politics.” 

The day goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and starts with a breakfast to get participants comfortable with how the day will unfold.  Then, it’s on to the capitol, where visits are made in teams of 3-4 owners.  In the morning, it’s the House; in the afternoon, the Senate.

Usually, there’s also time for photo sessions with legislators and visits to sessions of the House.  “Oftentimes, a legislator on the chamber floor will recognize a course owner in the gallery,” says Dodge.  “It’s a positive event for everyone.”

This year, 20-25 meetings with legislators were scheduled.   “The MGCOA lobbyist and I make arrangements for meetings with legislators 14-21 days before the event,” he says.  “We try to pair members with their own legislators and we usually ask owners to make the initial contact with their legislators because the constituent relationship helps.”

It’s not always possible to meet directly with legislators, but, according to Dodge, meeting with aides is often better because “staff sticks around when legislators are ‘termed out’ and go to work for the newly elected.” 

While the cost of the event always is a consideration, Dodge says the MGCOA’s legislative day usually breaks even because sponsorships are sold to vendors important to golf course owners. 

Immediately after each Government Affairs Day, the government affairs committee solicits feedback from legislators and participants to determine what needs to be done the following year.  In addition, “we play up the event with stories and photos in TEE-OFF TIMES,” he says.

The end result has been that the MGCOA has developed a significant legislative presence over the years. 

“We have gotten well beyond the perception that course owners are simply wealthy landowners with nothing better to do than play golf,” says Dodge.  “We are looked at as a business that carries great economic impact, especially regarding tourism and employment.  With active participation from our members, legislators know we are sensitive to the environment, provide solid recreational opportunities, and are generous to each community.  Golf course owners are businesspeople whose serious and legitimate concerns need to be addressed.”

For more info:

John Dodge, MGCOA Gov’t Affairs Coordinator
1.800.860.8575 or jdodge@mgcoa.org

 


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