Before he started his golf blog, Breaking Eighty, in 2012, Sean Ogle didn’t have a single connection in the game. He wasn’t raised on the course, had never played a private club, had never been on a golf trip, and didn’t have access to any free gear. Now he’s played half of the top courses in the world, is considered an expert on golf rangefinders and launch monitors, regularly stays at luxurious golf resorts, and, at the time of this interview, was playing the next day at Bandon Dunes and then leaving for a three-week trip to Australia that would include rounds at six Top 100 courses. At the Turn caught up with Sean to find out how he’s created this dream life in golf.
A Quick 9 with Breaking Eighty's Sean Ogle | Golf Creators
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At the Turn (AT): So, Sean, you figured out that you loved golf and then kind of invented a way to gain access to the game at a higher level. And in doing so you’ve given us a ton of unique golf content. Tell us about how Breaking Eighty came to be.
Sean Ogle (SO): I grew up playing competitive tennis my entire life. But right around the time of my high school graduation, I was starting to get burned out on tennis. And my uncle gave me a set of golf clubs for graduation. So I started playing while I was in college and continued to play on the weekends after I graduated and got my day job.
Then, in 2009, I started the Location Rebel blog (Sean’s business helping people become freelance writers), quit my job, and moved to Thailand. By 2012, the whole Location Rebel thing was going pretty well, and I’d learned a lot. So I thought, why not apply what I’ve learned to something I’m really passionate about? And that was golf.
I had just played a round of golf with Steve Kamb who runs a site called Nerd Fitness and is a published author and has a very successful blog. And we were kicking around name ideas about a golf blog, and Breaking Eighty came up. At the time, I had never broken 80. So the original idea was documenting my quest of trying to break 80. And that quickly evolved into, well, I’m traveling quite a bit, let’s try to play some of the top golf courses in the world and write about that. At the time, there were no great golf blogs. And really, I just wanted to create the golf blog that I would want to read. I wasn’t worried about making money. Just wanted to create a golf website that I thought would be interesting.
AT: And so Breaking Eighty is kind of a two-fold project. You’ve got the Eighty Club, which is a network of private club members, and then you’ve got the website that includes product and course reviews and even hotel features. How has the site evolved and what should people expect to find there?
SO: It started out with all the travel stuff. Most of what I was doing was writing about golf courses and taking photos of golf courses because that’s what I was personally interested in. And one of the things I started to realize was that it was great for growing social media, but what I found was that product reviews is what most people are searching for. When people are cruising the internet, a lot more people are searching for things like best rangefinders, best golf balls, or reviews about specific products than they are searching for write ups about a specific golf course. So travel will always be part of our DNA, but I started writing these product reviews because that’s what was getting the attention and the search traffic.
So it became this two-fold thing where I talk about golf products and have really become kind of an expert in a couple of sub-niches in the golf world, and then continue to have that continuous thread of the travel. So that’s kind of how those two marry.
And then the Eighty Club was kind of a byproduct of the Top 100 quest. It started as I was trying to play the Top 100 public courses. And then I realized, hey, I’m traveling to all of these places. I don’t want to just play the top 100 public courses, I want to play the best of the best. What I found was that people were reaching out to me, kind of seeing my reviews, seeing that I was serious about traveling to these places. And they were members of amazing clubs and started inviting me out. And I realized that you’ve got this network of people that are members at cool places. They like to show off their home course to people who will appreciate it. They like to travel and see golf courses for themselves. And they like to geek out about golf on the internet. So, it’s kind of like, there’s got to be a way to connect all of those people and turn it into a little business for me. And that’s how the Eighty Club was born.
AT: Go ahead and brag for a minute, if you would. What are some of the experiences you’ve been able to have based on your decision to pursue your passion?
SO: Well, at the start of Breaking Eighty, I knew nothing about golf in the sense that I didn’t have any connections. I had never played a private golf course. So it was kind of my way of trying to hack into the golf world to be perfectly honest. You know, maybe I’ll get some free golf out of it. Maybe I’ll get to play a couple of courses that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to play. I’ve found in my life, if you joke about something long enough, eventually it just kind of happens. So the first trip I talked about doing was October of 2013. You know I talked about it for like six months. Well, wouldn’t it be cool if I took a two-week road trip and played every Top 100 course in Wisconsin and Michigan? Like, that’d be cool. Who’s ever done that? Now people do that all the time. But at the time, you weren’t really seeing anyone who did it. So that’s what I did. I think I played like 15 rounds in 14 days. Played all the Top 100 courses in both states. And just had this amazing experience. You do that once, and then you’re like, well this is pretty cool. I want to do more of this and see more unique places.
And so that led to the next year doing a road trip through Scotland where I played probably eight of the best courses in Scotland. And then it just kind of snowballed from there. I’ve kind of traveled all over the place. And it’s not always necessarily about the Top 100 experiences, but what are other unique golf experiences? So my wife and I, for our honeymoon, we went to a resort in the Maldives and we played the only golf course in the entire country. And that wouldn’t have happened were it not for Breaking Eighty, so a lot of very memorable experiences for sure.
I’ve kind of started to downplay the Top 100 thing on my site just because there’s now so many people doing it and so many negative connotations with list checkers and that type of thing. So at this point, I’m really just trying to play as many interesting golf courses as I can with as many interesting people. So when I’m traveling, I will often look at like the Golf Digest Top 100 list just to get an idea of what some of those places might be that I want to go see. But I think that last time I checked on the Golf Digest public list, I think I’ve played somewhere around 35 or 40. And on most of the Golf Digest and Golf Magazine top America and top world lists, I’m somewhere around half.
AT: Of those that you’ve played, which are your top three favorites?
SO: Number one is Pebble Beach. I’ve played it three times now. You’ll hear people say it’s overrated or whatever. I think Pebble Beach is one of the very best golf experiences you can have. I’ve yet to play a course that has the same sense of place and presence as you do when you’re playing Pebble Beach. For me, even more so than the Old Course at St Andrews. So Pebble’s number one.
National Golf Links of America out on Long Island. C.B. Macdonald. It’s kind of like the St Andrews of the United States when it comes to history and course architecture. That’s number two.
And Merion is number three. It’s such a unique golf course in the sense that it’s on such a small piece of land yet they did so much with it. And there’s a number of short par fours, which is my favorite type of hole. So I think that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much.
AT: Tell us about your golf game. Oh yeah, and have you broken 80?
SO: I have broken 80. I want to say 2016 was the first time I did it. I actually did it at Bandon Trails. I have now broken 80 twice at Trails and I’ve yet to break 80 on any other course at Bandon. And I’ve probably broken 80 about a dozen times now. But it’s been awhile. My game’s regressed.
I’m naturally pretty athletic. The tennis — having the swing motion I think in some ways helps. But I never took any golf lessons, and I really wish I did. When I started Breaking Eighty, I was probably an 18 handicap, something like that. And the more I played, I got down to as low as a 7. And now I’m back up to a 12, trending toward an 18 again. I’ve got a very consistent swing. It just happens to be over the top and very slicey. I’ve yet to carve out the time to fix that.
That’s kind of the good news, bad news of having a golf website. Everybody says, ‘Oh, I want to get into the golf industry to play more golf.’ And the reality is that even for someone like me who gets to do the fun side of it, which is review products and travel and go play golf courses, inevitably, I’ve played less golf over the last few years as the site has gotten more successful. And the golf I do play is less for fun or practice and more about creating content and doing product reviews.
AT: Just like us at PlayBetter.com, you got a real passion for the latest and greatest golf technology. How much fun is it to play with all of these rangefinders, golf watches, launch monitors, clubs and so on? Has what you envisioned, coming up with a way to gain access to all of these things, has it been as much fun as you saw it in your head?
SO: For the most part, yes. Being able to play with all the tech and all the cool gadgets — I’ve always been kind of a tech nerd, so that side of it has been awesome. I will say there are elements or times where it gets a little tedious. Because to do it right you’ve got to be pretty thorough with those reviews. So that’s taking a lot of time with the setup process and documenting that and using the product enough to get familiar with how well it works. And then photographing all of it, writing it. I started doing YouTube videos… So there’s a lot that goes into it. But it’s time well spent. And especially, the more familiar you get with more products in a certain space, the more fun it becomes because you’re more of an expert. Your knowledge base is so deep, it makes you better at what you do. And the best example of that for me is rangefinders. I’ve now used probably 30 different rangefinders, and I still have probably 25 of them. And so when you can go and you can pick ‘em up and you can use ‘em side to side and back to back, it really allows you to get a sense for what’s better, what’s worse, what certain models do well, what they don’t. And that’s where it really starts to get fun, where I can compare and contrast and help people find the perfect product for them based on the hours and hours of experience that I have.
AT: So not only do you tell your readers about all the amazing golf courses you’ve played and all the great gear that’s available, but you also hook them up with accommodation recommendations. How did hotels become part of the Breaking Eighty mix?
SO: I’ve always been into hotels. I almost went into hotel and resort management out of college. And then I kind of realized early on that, you know, I don’t want to work in hotels. I just want to visit hotels. And photograph and write about them. So that’s what I started doing on another website, Slightly Pretentious (Sean’s cocktail site). I just started writing about all the different fancy hotels I get to go to in my travels. And so I just kind of migrated that into Breaking Eighty because there is some relevance. If you’re going to go on a golf trip, you’re gonna have to stay somewhere. And you might be interested in finding the best hotel to stay at. And that’s a great example of something I’m doing more for me than for anybody else. It’s just kind of adding the things that I’m interested in as long as it stays within the same general realm without going too far off the deep end.
AT: People might be interested to know that for as much fun as you’re having in golf, it’s not your all-the-time thing. Tell us about the other areas of your life where you’ve paired passion with profession.
SO: I just shot two videos for my other YouTube channel. And one is about why you should start a business around your hobby or passion. And the other one is about why you should not start a business around your hobby or passion. And for me, for better or worse, I’ve just always been drawn to building things around things I enjoy.
You know, the whole reason I started Breaking Eighty was because I wanted to golf more and have more golf experiences.
The whole reason I started Slightly Pretentious was because I was starting to geek out about cocktails and cocktail recipes and this other stupid quest to go to the top 100 bars in the world. I wanted a place to write about that and document it and explore it.
And then the thing that’s really been the number one since the beginning is Location Rebel. I started Location Rebel in 2009 as me essentially going through my quarter-life crisis. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was in a job that I was unhappy with. And I published my bucket list. It was the first thing I published on the site, and it was a way to hold myself accountable for all the things I wanted to do in life. And over the course of the next few years, I pretty quickly started using that effectively and doing some interesting things, whether it was climb a mountain, or live on a tropical island or go to Cuba and smoke a cigar or play Pebble Beach, there’s a number of these things. And so Location Rebel is still around. And the whole goal is to help people build an online business that gives people more time to do the things that they like to do. So, it’s really just kind of saying, ‘Hey, I’ve learned a lot over the last 15 years. I’ve got what I think is a pretty unique and flexible lifestyle. And I want to help as many people achieve that as possible.’ So that’s where I talk about all of those things and do my best to share all the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years in starting these random businesses across a bunch of random different industries.
AT: As you know, we’re all about helping people play better. And that means a lot more than just a scorecard. In general, what’s your best advice for someone who wants to get more out of the game of golf?
SO: I would say, figure out what that means to you. For a long time, I was so focused on keeping score, trying to break 80, all that stuff, that it definitely stripped some of the enjoyment out of it for me. So for me, golf is less of a competitive endeavor. It’s less about score these days. And it’s more about shared experience. When I first started, I’d go and travel to all of these golf courses alone, and I still occasionally will. But part of the joy of it is all the people you meet. And so, really when I’m playing with people, I try to focus less on the game and how I’m playing. It’s been great because I tend to get less angry or frustrated on the golf course now and just enjoy where I am. Being out in nature. And enjoying being around good people who look at things in a similar way as I do and who have similar interests and hobbies and priorities. That’s what Play Better for me means.
But I’ve also found that there are products that I review on the site that help enable me to do that. For example, one of the products that I love and that I know PlayBetter sells is Arccos Sensors. It will track every shot I hit and overlay it on a GPS map. So now I can go back and see every single shot that I hit on any given round. So that’s particularly interesting when I’m traveling and I’m playing a memorable round. I was using it when I played the Old Course at St Andrews. And I can see that I topped my driver then went 3 wood, 8 iron, and one-putted for a par on the Road Hole. I still have visual reference to that.
So, I think that it’s going to be very specific to each person. And that’s one of the great things about golf. It’s not just about the score and the competition. For some people it may be, and that’s great. But it doesn’t have to be.