Perhaps it was a mistake to try and make an accountant smile but it was a grim meeting and the mood needed to be lightened. The eponymous Mr McDonald of Anstruther, Pollock and McDonald was patiently explaining the extent of my financial difficulties and urging me to develop what he termed new ‘income streams’. Since we had been talking about the rather modest rewards that come to those who write about golf for a so-called living and Mr McDonald is of Scottish extraction, I figured it would be mildly amusing to try and correct him. “Ah, you mean new ‘income burns’.” He looked even more puzzled than I had minutes earlier when he had been trying to explain to me the impact the changes in the method of assessing the depreciation in capital allowances would have on my life. At least I had nodded then whereas he was now simply looking baffled.
Although never explaining a joke is as important a rule to we humorists as keeping costs below revenue is to accountants, I felt obliged to try. “Burn… a sort of Scottish stream?” Mr McDonald didn’t understand either the lame joke or how anyone in my parlous predicament could try to be funny.
Since I am paying Mr McDonald the rough equivalent of the income from three sizeable feature articles (before tax) for his dull advice, I feel fiscally obliged to at least try and heed it. So adding to my income streams – or burns as I prefer – has become an even more urgent priority than taking fewer putts.
Swanky and Warm
Much though I love it, the trouble with writing is that the monetary rewards it generates are absurdly modest. A neat turn of phrase here and flawless punctuation there create considerably more self-satisfaction than income. On an exceptional day they might even elicit praise from an Editor. But praise, as we all know, don’t pay no bills. Put crudely, I need to find other ways of making money.
Since over the course of several decades I have made the acquaintance of dozens of fellow scribes, it has frequently been suggested to me that I should exploit these contacts and try my hand at public relations. Even though it would oblige me to be polite to people, if the circumstances were right, it’s certainly something I would consider. For example, if some swanky (preferably warm) golf resort was anxious to have its profile raised, I would be perfectly willing to accompany journos out there for a round of golf, a decent meal and far too many drinks. Reluctant though I am to offend my very good friends in PR, that, and knocking out the occasional dull press release, is basically all that Pubic Relations consists of.
Okay, I could do that but what else? Without wishing to appear immodest, I’m a sparkling after dinner speaker. I know that because I’ve made sparkling after dinner speeches. Brilliantly funny, superbly delivered and thoroughly entertaining, the only problem with them was that they were free and, in this context at least, free is not good. Now, on the after dinner speaking circuit big names can command big fees. Had I won at least one major, we could now be talking four or even five figures. One mid-week Stableford triumph and a modest clutch of nearest-the-pin prizes probably isn’t enough. But there are literally thousands of golf clubs, surely a few of them would be willing to take a chance on a grizzled old hack.
Then there’s sponsorship, clothing contracts, equipment endorsements, advertising, company golf days, television and much more besides in this billion dollar golf business. How to exploit what myriad opportunities must undoubtedly exist was the problem I wrestled with for days after my meeting with Mr McDonald. Then it came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration akin to the eureka moment that must have struck the man who first came up with the simple but brilliant idea of putting flagsticks in the holes to make them more visible from a distance. What I need more than anything else is… an agent. Yes, someone willing to hustle on my behalf. Someone happy to make phone calls, set up meetings and do deals. All the pro golfers have agents, why not a pro golf writer, come PR consultant come after dinner speaker?
Although you will almost certainly never have heard of him, Dave ‘Bunky’ Bowers has all the qualities you would look for in an agent… energetic, hard working and, most important of all, hungry. Within moments of receiving my email outlining the proposal, he was on the phone insisting that he wouldn’t work for less than 15 per cent. That aggressive greediness is precisely the quality I want in my man and so I screamed down the phone, “Okay, now show me the money!”
These are still early days but the signs are encouraging. Bunky’s talking to people… important people. He’s lunching with the movers and shakers of the golf world, putting proposals to the people that matter and spreading the word. All of which is, of course, hugely important. But what matters to me most is the next time someone asks me to do something for them I can simply say, “Speak to my agent.”
Golf writer Clive Agran, 65 and a journalist for more than 40 years, Clive Agran still wonders what he’ll do when he grows up. Nicknamed ‘Silky Swing’, he travels the globe looking for the world’s best golf courses.