Ex-Sponsorship Director at Rolex, Jean-Noël Bioul, has seen first-hand the evolution of golf over the past four-decades. Taking on roles at IMG and Rolex, he has been at the forefront of the sport’s development, and knows more than most about the inner workings of the golf industry.
All Square caught up with him to discuss his career, favourite courses, and the direction he believes the game is heading.
How did you get in to Golf?
I originally started in the late 70’s when I was based in Brussels. I’d just began working for IMG founder Mark McCormack and he suggested that it would be helpful for me to take up the game. It was only when I moved to London a few years later however that I began to take the sport seriously. I originally took lessons at Royal Wimbledon Golf Club, and also joined Wentworth and the Wisley. That was where my love affair with the sport really began. For that moment I have been a golf nut ever since.
Tell us about your professional career.
I started at IMG in Brussels HQ in general merchandising for the Swiss Market and quickly became in charge of the Swiss golf and tennis market, thereafter becoming responsible for the European tennis division. From their I moved to London where I continued to be involved in Tennis, successfully signing Mats Wilander as a sixteen-year-old.
In 1993 I was introduced to the idea of joining the Rolex Group, where I was charged with overseeing the rejuvenation of the US Market, and creating an appetite for the brand in America. I currently serve as advisor for International Golf Federation in charge of the Team World Championship: The Eisenhower Trophy and The Espirito Santo Trophy.
What are your biggest accomplishments at Rolex?
I joined Rolex in 1993 to rebuild the distribution in the US, which was successfully achieved and a big challenge for me.
Signing the PGA of America, and more specifically the Masters, which Rolex continues to sponsor today, was a highlight.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the sport over your career?
The game has massively evolved and became more professional during this time thanks to the increasing media exposure but also the amount of sponsoring invested in the game. I also believe Tiger Woods has had a major impact modernizing and democratizing the game worldwide.
The status of pro golfers has grown hugely over this time. I remember professionals were treated like caddies, sometimes not allowed in the clubhouse.
The second is the huge changes in technology, which has evolved massively.
How do you see the World of Professional Golf evolving over the next decade?
We are already seeing younger and younger players reaching the pinnacle of the sport. The younger generation is now dominating the pro ranks and I suspect that this trend will continue over the next decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if the game’s governing bodies consider limiting technology. There is already a lot of lobbying to see changes to the compression of golf balls. This is certainly an issue that is going to continue to be discussed over the next few years.
Where are your favourite courses?
I am a member of the R&A Club of St Andrews so the Old Course is special to me. My other favourite courses are: Pine Valley Golf Club, Le Golf National, Real Club de Sotogrande, Winged Foot Golf Club – West Course, Cypress Point and Augusta National.
Who is your favourite player on Tour?
Tiger Woods is obviously and icon and Justin Thomas has had a fantastic 2017 season. I’ve spent time with him and found him to be a low key, extremely reachable, and modest player. He’s also a class act on the course, and a lot of fun to watch. On the Senior Tour, I have been very impressed by Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples.
Where is your favourite event?
I love all the majors. They’re a bit like children, it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
The Masters is a very special event for me, but all the other majors are perfect in their own way too.
What makes the All Square app stand out?
It is a great way to stay in touch and connect with a global network of golfers. I love to discover and play new golf courses and the All Square app is a great source of inspiration for new destinations.
You can follow Jean-Noël on All Square: www.allsquaregolf.com/users/jean-noel-bioul