Golf magazines have traditionally had a formula which it doesn’t take a genius to work out. Pick up any edition of a monthly golf magazine and it’s likely you will see some trusty old favourites. You can learn how to hit your driver further and eliminate your slice too. Looking for inspiration for a golf trip? The nearest Marriott hotel will be reviewed in all its glory. The letters page will inevitably have a couple of submissions advising that the game is in a terrible mess because of some old fuddyduddies chasing kids off the practice putting green.
It is a pretty tried and tested formula and probably appeals to the more casual reader, but some have thought there was an opportunity for a publication aimed at a more hard core golf audience. Step forward The Golfer’s Journal and McKellar. These are publications aiming to see out their days, not in a doctor’s waiting room, but on the bookshelves of the most discerning golf fans. In a world where more and more magazines are closing or going online this may appear to be an odd move, but they are hoping the quality of content and production will buck the trend.
That two journals should appear at the same time is probably a function of today’s golf media world. Many bemoan the loss of the traditional golf journalist. UK national papers have been jettisoning their golf correspondents at an alarming rate. The Times of London - one of the most venerated titles in journalism - no longer has a golf correspondent. Only the Telegraph and Mail have a full time golf journalist these days. In the US the situation is just as dramatic with one writer, Doug Ferguson, providing commentary to most of the nation's printed newspapers.
And yet, golf discussion and writing is thriving in many places - if you know where to look. Podcasts have revolutionised our insights into players and provide in-depth discussion of issues of the day. When Rory McIlroy took to the airwaves of No Laying Up a couple of years ago we heard from a top player directly in a way that had never happened before. Where McIlroy led, others followed and suddenly we were hearing directly from all of the leading players. The quality however, is variable. A snatched 10 minute interview organised at a sponsor’s request rarely works, and it is often the more obscure subject matter that provides the best content.
The niche website/social media feed has also been a source of rich content, discussion and debate in recent years. Foremost of these is probably Andy Johnson's Fried Egg which covers golf course architecture in an accessible and intelligent way - introducing many to the subject who may otherwise never have known their Redan's from their Biarritz.
So, while Fleet Street may have declined, interest in quality golf writing has burgeoned in recent years and the Golfer's Journal and McKellar have both stepped into this market.
McKellar is the brainchild of ex-Guardian golf correspondent, musician and novelist Lawrence Donegan and golf writer and architect buff Tom Dunne. Its self-stated aim is to 'bring together the finest writers, illustrators and photographers to celebrate golf’s history, to chart its future and to examine what makes the contemporary sport exciting, from travel and architecture to profiles of its most prominent personalities'.
The Golfer’s Journal (TGJ) is published by the creator's of The Surfer's Journal and has lofty ambitions, to 'cover the game wherever it may be played, casting a sophisticated light on the culture, history, places, and characters that define the game’s unique personality and undeniable allure'.
Without a doubt there are a lot of similarities between the two. They are both intended to be kept for years to come and be revisited, they both have in-depth articles on subjects you would not normally stumble across and seek to promote a more cerebral discusssion of golfing matters than you might usually find.
They also both come at a price-point significantly higher than your traditional golf magazine - both come in at around $20 per issue including shipping to the UK.
However, there are differences too. TGJ is supported by advertising from 'a select few premium sponsors that share our ethos and passion for the game' whereas McKellar has no adverts and makes its money from the cover price. TGJ is working really hard to create a brand around it - there is merchandise available, days to meet up with other supporters and promises of more innovation to come. McKellar feels more like a hobby project - slightly less polished.
TGV is printed on high-end glossy paper and filled with amazing full-bleed photos. Articles are often long and you get the sense that a huge amount of thought has been put into what content makes the cut.
McKellar is a smaller publication - 80 pages to TGJ's 140 and printed on smaller, less glossy paper. Think more Reader's Digest than Conde Nast. The articles are shorter too and can be read in a few minutes.
As a result, the magazines feel different, despite having similar aims. The best way I can describe it is The Golfer's Journal feels like a coffee-table publication where McKellar would sit happier by the bed, or the toilet.
McKellar has gone very hard on the quality of the journalism. The writers are really top drawer - in the first edition Geoff Shackleford, Mike Clayton and Lorne Rubenstein all contribute. Donegan talked about what they are trying to achieve on the excellent iseekgolf podcast recently and this is clearly a priority. He also eschews the traditional dawn or dusk golf course photography, which he points out can make pretty much any place look great.
There are no such concerns from The Golfer's Journal. Photography is at the heart of the publication and some of the images they have printed will stay in the mind for a long time. Every article is accompanied by beautifully shot images and there are many beautiful photo essays.
From both journals I have really enjoyed discovering new personalities, courses and stories in the game of golf and they have definitely inspired me to further reading. I would thoroughly recommend the biography of Titanic Thompson, possibly golf's greatest ever hustler, who I would never have heard of had it not been for edition 1 of the The Golfer's Journal. McKellar's article on Shell's Wonderful World of Golf led to several lost hours on youtube.
I would say that a good 80% of the content hits the mark. I have found a couple of the TGJ articles a little too reverential in their tone and possibly a little too 'up themselves' as we say in these parts. An article in McKellar about a college golf coach didn't do much for me. But these are small quibbles - I really forward to both publications dropping through the door.
Both of them have launched podcasts to talk about some of their articles in more depth - I have found that listening to them after reading the articles works best. The Golfer's Journal podcast covers more wide-ranging topics, with some familiar voices from the No Laying Up team amongst others. This week the McKellar podcast branched out beyond just talking about the articles they have published which is great news as Lawrence Donegan hosted an excellent podcast a few years ago which had been sorely missed.
The Golfer's Journal will come out quarterly and it is possible to subscribe for two years worth of editions. Details of McKellar's publishing schedule are a little more sketchy - they haven't launched a subscription option yet - but we can expect another one later this year. On the iseekgolf podcast Donegan said they needed to sell under a couple of thousand editions to break even. Let's hope they sail past that and these two journals stick around and maintain the high standards they have set. The world of golf writing is all the better for them.