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The front and back covers of the first edition of The Golfer's Journal. Photo: Courtesy
The front and back covers of the first edition of The Golfer’s Journal. Photo: Courtesy

Local publishers unveil anticipated golf quarterly

By Steve Breazeale 

A sleek industrial business park located in the foothills of a small-town beach community is an unassuming spot for a media revolution to take root.

Inside one of those buildings is a warehouse bustling with activity. Employees are busy hand-packaging the first edition of The Golfer’s Journal, which is in the process of being shipped across the country and worldwide from the brand’s San Clemente headquarters.

The Golfer’s Journal, the younger sibling of the popular subscriber-funded The Surfer’s Journal, seems to run contrary to how the game has been covered and written about in recent years. In an age where longform editorials and modes of storytelling are being pushed aside in favor of quick-hit digital efforts, The Golfer’s Journal decided to play through.

Readers won’t find swing tips, a top-100 course list or a breakdown of the PGA Tour’s confounding FedEx Cup Points standings inside this book. Instead, the first issue of The Golfer’s Journal has a pages-long story about a golf journey in Tijuana, a dispatch from the funeral of one of the game’s most lovable caddies and plenty of high-quality photos from renowned photographers that have decades of experience shooting the sport.

The best way to describe the large, glossy quarterly is that it showcases the spirit of the game.

San Clemente Times visited TGJ’s headquarters to speak with publisher Brendon Thomas, who came up with the idea for the magazine just over a year ago and also publishes The Surfer’s Journal, to find out how the book came to life, why he decided to go all-in on print and what to expect from the industry’s new kid on the block.

San Clemente Times: The product certainly has a different feel and vibe to it. What is TGJ’s philosophy in terms of editorial?

Brendon Thomas: There’s more to golf than press conferences and swing tips and the formulaic editorial that’s so prevalent in all magazines, but especially in the golf space. It is all very equipment and game-improvement focused and pro golf focused.

The Surfer’s Journal made its name talking about the culture, what make makes surfing great. So we’re doing the same thing with golf. We’ll talk about the people, places, culture and art that golf inspires.

We’re still finding our groove if I’m being honest. There are some pieces in the first issue that hit all the right notes for us, but we want to tell stories. We’re not going to be making lists of the 25 best golf courses you need to see or play.

Why do you feel this style is the best way to showcase golf?

For instance, in the first edition, we focused on a golf course called Ballyneal in Colorado. The piece came from the point of view of someone who attended the course’s first-ever caddy’s funeral. The caddy was a real character, he would make custom hand-drawn yardage books, and it focused on his life and impact at the course. That was such a deep, better, more interesting way to talk about a golf course than simply visiting it and reporting back on what it was like to play there.

Brendon Thomas (second from left) helps employees package the first edition of The Golfer's Journal in the company's San Clemente warehouse facility. Photo: Steve Breazeale
Brendon Thomas (second from left) helps employees package the first edition of The Golfer’s Journal in the company’s San Clemente warehouse facility. Photo: Steve Breazeale

Why invest so heavily in this style of storytelling in a time where the industry seems to be heading the other way?

Coming from the outside, it seemed pretty obvious. There’s a chasm between what most average golfers are doing and what’s being pushed out through regular media channels. And you see it in the growth of (golf blogs) like No Laying Up and The Fried Egg. Their rise and following is proof that people want independent content and they don’t want a bunch of ads being shoved down their throats all the time. That’s what I told (TSJ founders Steve and Debbee Pezman) when I pitched it to them. I had to keep pinching myself thinking, ‘Why hasn’t it been done?’.

How important was The Surfer’s Journal model in terms of getting TGJ up and running?

We had the benefit of a working, proven model, which has been going for 26 years. That publication is doing so well and is growing every single month. It’s going from strength to strength in a time where print is supposedly in decline. I think the Pezmans had a vision 26 years ago and the proof is in the pudding.

There is this model where it’s limited advertising and you’re making a really quality product that people love. You can touch and feel it and it will sit on a coffee table for months and never get thrown away. People like nice things and you can’t get that sort of editorial anywhere else, that sort of longform deep dive into a subject.

You recently shipped out your first batch of issues. What’s the response been like?

This whole community is taking shape around this thing, which is awesome. The reader’s response has just blown us away and it was way more than we expected.

Did all that make you feel vindicated about the original concept of TGJ?

Yeah, totally. There’s a part of you that’s a little bit of hubris where you think ‘This is going to work’. But there’s always that doubt. Seeing the orders flooding in certainly helped in my belief that this is something the market has been looking for for a long time.

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