- Steve Habel
Celebrating 25 Years!
Survival and success attributed to hard work, the fostering of relationships and attention to detail
A lot has changed about golf in Texas since 1998 and Texas Golf Insider magazine (and its earlier renditions) has been there all along to chronicle those changes.The much-awarded magazine you are now holding in your hands – or reading online – has been a constant in the Lone Star State’s golf landscape for a quarter of a century, and it’s never been better. Owner and publisher Mike Ratchman deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the continued success of Texas Golf Insider. Through the years Ratchman has adapted with the times and flourished by making his customers and supporters understand their importance.
The people that have had their courses profiled and publicized byTexas Golf Insider over the past 25 years are quick to credit Ratchman’s work ethic, his stick- to-itiveness, his attention to detail and his never-wavering creed to always keep his word as both rare and welcome in the publishing business. Ratchman and his publication are sur- vivors in a world where the weak are cut from the flock. It says a lot thatTexas Golf Insider is Texas’ only statewide golf publication, with magazines placed in golf shops and clubhouses from Amarillo to South Padre Island, from Beaumont to El Paso, and out of state in golf travel destinations such as Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Adam Grosch, director of golf at Vaaler Creek Golf Club in Blanco, credits Ratchman for developing and nurturing a marketing plan that has helped his course’s success.“I’ve known Mike almost from the start ofVaaler Creek Golf Club back in 2007,” Grosch explained. “In the begin- ning, all of our marketing was focused on Rockin’ J Ranch land sales, but Mike put together a package for us to start a little advertising in his magazine. I got quite a few comments from new customers saying that they had seen us in the magazine when they picked it up at other courses, and actually a bunch that had picked it up at Hooters.” It wasn’t long before we got involved in the radio show and what has evolved into the podcast show. Over the years we have seen a lot of benefit with partnering with Mike Ratchman, the magazine, the online presence and the Golf After Hours Show.”
Ratchman and his magazine have been awarded by the SouthernTexas PGA for their contribution to golf in southTexas. And just last year, Ratchman was asked to be on the prestigious voting panel to choose honorees for theTexas Golf Hall of Fame.“Mike has been a big supporter of golf for many years, saidThomas Hutton, the executive director of the SouthernTexas PGA. “The STPGA appreciates his sup- port in sharing our story of the hard work that our members do each day and all the initiatives that the STPGA is involved in to grow the game.”About the only thing more impressive thanTexas Golf Insider magazine is Ratchman’s enthusiasm and constant optimism, sometimes in the face of disasters like hurricanes and pandemics and obstacles such as recession, supply chain issues, the lack of paper and shortages in the work forces. “Mike is one of the few people I know who can match my intensity,” said Bo LeHew, the Golf Club of Texas’ General Manager an COO of Fortune Golf Management. “He’s good people. From the moment I met him I knew we would be friends.We love doing business with him because he cares and he does what he says he will do. “And his magazine gets results for us. There have been challenges for us all, but he’s always been there. That means a lot.”
Without being too self-serving, we sat down with Ratchman as he was getting the Spring 2023 edition of this maga- zine ready for publication.We had a few questions for him about
how the magazine started, how he’s kept it at the forefront of the attention of the state’s golfers and some of the secrets of his success. Oh, man that goes back 25 years. I was running a driving range in San Antonio and all I used to get was people making phone calls wanting to know which golf course in town to go play. It was a part-time job of mine – I only did that so I could hit free buckets of balls – and I loved it. It got to a point where I would tear out a sheet from the telephone book and put it down by the phone. I’d ask the caller where they were in town so I could tell them what would be the closest golf course that they could go play. Meanwhile, I told my buddy after we were hitting balls and having a couple of beersonenight,“youknow,IthinkIspend more damn time on the phone telling people where to go play golf. My buddy said somebody needs to come up with some sort of directory of some kind,” and that’s how it all started. I found an inves- tor who ran a real estate magazine in San Antonio and he knew someone that might be interested in investing in something like that.Within six months we were doing analysis of the market. (A guide for) San Antonio just couldn’t cut it by itself and one for the Hill country couldn’t either. But a magazine that would support Austin- San Antonio and the Hill Country made sense. So in 1998 we published our first magazine. The rest is history.
I was there for pretty close to 15 years. It was called “The Golfer” at the very be- ginning, but then the Golfers Guide came in and bought up all the print contracts that we had withThe Golfer magazine. And those guys wined and dined us, flew us to Vegas, you know, and really gave us a deal that we couldn’t refuse. Man, they were in 37 different markets, they had a print company, and they took care of us really well.They had online services that we never had as a small company.And they did very, very well by us.And so we stuck with them for a long time. I was an inde- pendent so I wasn’t company owned. About 10 years in, my partner investor told me he wanted to sell his part of the magazine and gave me a price I couldn’t refuse. And so for a year after that I stayed with Golfers Guide magazines, and when that went away, I went ahead and decided to pick up the mantle asTexas Golf Insider magazine. All the relationships that I had had from the Golfers Guide magazine went over into theTexas Golf Insider.That was 10 years ago – I can hardly believe it’s 10 years. Now we’re the only statewide publication that’s left out there. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s not an easy business.
You have to work this to make it all happen, and it’s a lot of hard work.We’ve had a lot of people you know...all the writers areTexans, all the distributors are from Texas, our printer is from Texas. My wife Ava is our editor, my daughter is our office manager and my grand kids do distribution so this company isTexas born and raised. What we went through in 2008 was a test because the economy just went in the toilet. Fortunately, you know, we’re a very conservative company.We worked hard, we played hard and we saved hard, you know, so we were the ones that were left standing when it was over.
Once everything settled I had several customers throw me a bone so I could keep my lights on. And we’ve had to endure a hurricane or two.That was a very rough time because not only did we lose advertisers in Houston, but we also lost all of our equipment over there.We lost all of our (magazine) racks.That was rough. Then in 2020 the pandemic hit and you would think that was going to take me to my knees, you know, that I’m going to be done.There’s no way I’m getting out of this one. But who would have thought that someone would say “this virus does not like the heat or sun, so go for a bike ride or walk. And if you’re going to walk you’re going to play golf.” And you know what happened? Everybody who used to play golf got back into it, then everybody who played golf played more because they’re working out of their home and now they could work their schedule around their tee times. And it still has not slowed down. How long that’s going to last I don’t know, but we’re all enjoying it right now. You know, so coming around to the 25th anniversary, sure we’ve been up and down but you know, I think a company that works with as much pas- sion for the game as we do is going to get through it.We were lucky enough to figure it out. It really does come down to when you say you’re going to do something, you do it and you do it to the best of your ability. If you do it really well, it travels pretty quickly in our industry. It really does.You know, I have had some great relationships over the last 25 years, and I’m still in contact with them all, whether they are an advertiser or not. People will call and say “hey, I’m at a new place and I need to get my information out.” It’s always good to hear from old friends. I also think our success has to be attributed to that fact that every place they go they see our magazine in some form, whetherit’ssittingatacounter,it’sina bathroom, or it’s on their way out the door. And let me tell you when there’s an empty rack, that’s a good thing.There’s a lot of people that call me and say, “we need more magazines,” and that’s a plus.That means people are picking it up. You’ve had to make decisions about continuing as a print publication in an age when most are going to a digital only format. How did you decide on that balance?
I think the digital book does have a place in our market.There’s no doubt. I mean, because of
some of the younger folks that are coming into the game, you know, have something right on the phone. Their phone is an extension to their hand now, so we have to be there.We have a more enhanced digital magazine that plays really well into the internet market. Our digital platforms are going to be more interactive than they ever have been before, with videos, commercials and recorded interviews. Readers will have links to all of our customers websites to purchase products and make tee times. That’s going to be launched right at around when the magazine comes out fortheSpringissue.AndIwillsaytothis day that I have checked with many of my customers in reference to if I just went completely digital and that didn’t fly. I think the combination compliments each other.There’s something psychological about having something in your hand to read. I’m that guy, and I think many of my customers and readers are too.It has really been nothing other than people picking up the magazine, and they wouldn’t do that if we were not giving them information about golf inTexas and about what’s going on in the golf industry. As long as people keep picking it up, and customers keep taking my phone call,you know I’m probably going to stick around for a while longer.