What is the state of the game of golf in Canada?

On July 20, I had the pleasure to attend a Golf Journalists Association of Canada event and listen to a golf leadership roundtable discuss the state of the game in Canada. After listening, and reflecting, here are my opinions on this issue.

I am not going to apologize for my optimistic attitude. It serves me well in life and on the golf course. I have noticed increased discussion around recent media coverage about the demise of the game:
http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/the-end-of-golf/
http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/golf-course-numbers-show-declining-popularity-especially-corporate-players-1.3075580

I wonder if this is a critical analysis of key factors in golf’s sustainability or merely an effort to grab headlines. After all, are we dealing with facts or opinions? This is a critical distinction, as I agree with Michael Crichton who states, “Opinions without evidence – that’s what we call prejudice”.

So, exactly where are the evidence bases for the game of golf in Canada? I will lean heavily on one source which is a collaborative effort between Golf Canada, the PGA of Canada and the National Golf Foundation. The latter organization was new to me. www.ngf.org National Golf Foundation is “the preeminent knowledge leader for companies and organizations that relay on objective and accurate data, insightful guidance and marketing resources to support their business involving golf. NGF has provided trusted research, analysis, databases and insights on commercial trends since 1936”. If I am looking for evidence, it would appear I have found a credible source.

The three organizations listed above combined to produce Golf Facilities in Canada 2015 Report, a report identifying all existing public and private facilities in the country. It breaks down these data by province, type and number of holes. In addition, these organizations have collaborated to develop “Canadian Golf Economic Impact Study (2014)” and “Canadian Golf Consumer Behaviour Study (2012)”. These organizations are committed to building the knowledge base and helping golf leaders, and golfers, make informed decisions.

A few facts to share from the 2015 report:
• Canada is home to 2346 public and private golf facilities (7% of the global supply) and third most of any country in the world
• 2126 of these courses are open to the public
• 9 hole golf facilities account for almost 37% of Canada’s total supply
• There are 3 facilities which operate 6 holes and 9 facilities which operate 12 holes
• In the last 5-10 years, 158 golf facilities have closed. There are 31 facilities in development (planning or construction)

Add to this, statistics which Golf Canada also shares:
• There are 5.7 million Canadians who golf and play over 60 million rounds annually.
• The golf industry is worth $14.3B to the national economy (more than 1% GDP).
• Also, golf facilities host over 37,000 charitable events annually which help raise over $533M for charitable causes.

While these statistics reflect a snapshot in time – and this opinion piece is not exploring trends – I would like to focus on the positives of the game for no other reason than to dispel the notion that golf is in an unhealthy state.

Looking for more facts? Let’s examine junior golf development, as it is one area which requires a positive light shone on it. Canada hosts many junior programs which are of interest to many around the world. Golf in Schools, CN Junior Links Skills Challenge, Take a Kid to the Course, She Swings She Scores, among other programs; all actively seeking to engage youth in the game. The glass here is certainly half-full, I would attest. Granted, it could benefit from some additional marketing perhaps, but there is much positive development taking place reaching out to engage kids in the game.

The game does not declare itself as being perfect; the leadership in all organizations were able to offer constructive criticism and areas for improvement. But it is prejudicial to declare the end of golf. Golf is no different than any other game in the country; it has cycles of popularity, it is affected by economic cycles and it struggles – as all sports do – to meaningfully engage youth today. Add the usual laments about time and cost (which I do not agree with but will debate about) and one can argue about golf’s sustainability. But it is simply erroneous to state it is in critical decline, or ‘dead’. I see too many facts to the contrary.

I would like to see healthy dialogue on the issues of the game move to an exploration of solution. There are examples of good practices of golf development here in Canada and around the world. Whether it is 6 or 12 hole courses, junior programs aimed to introduce kids to the game, or businesses like GolfNow, GTA Golf Club or Under Par, to name a few, which provide value opportunities for public players. All these look to contribute to enticing golfers and prospective golfers.  I could write additional posts dedicated to the health benefits of the game or the contributions golf is making to the natural environment in our communities.

I am biased, golf is an amazing game. I want debate on issues of its development and sustainability. But I refuse to deal with arguments which ignore facts and are merely based on the opinion of a few individuals. I would like to be part of a solution than exacerbate a perceived problem. I welcome your thoughts on the state of golf in Canada.

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2 thoughts on “What is the state of the game of golf in Canada?

  1. I agree, every sport goes through ups and downs. At some time or another every national sport governing body needs to take a good, long, hard look at itself to identify where there is room for improvement. I think every sport has a challenge to attract and retain younger participants. I don’t think these are golf specific issues.

    When I look at the numbers of people playing, I think it is fairly healthy (I am not sure what constitutes plays golf on their 5.7 number), but in my opinion there is a healthy number of active players in most areas of the country (from my personal experience).

    Where I do think the end is near is in two areas of golf. One, golf being so closely tied to land development. This was a boom a decade ago and a bust now. The golf course community might be a thing of the past. The second is the private club being the centerpiece of golf. I think people are engaging with the game in so many “alternative” ways now, ways that actually make the game more accessible. I think the private club demographic could shrink drastically, with the public course, the 9 hole course and the par 3 course demographic stay steady or even rise.

    • Thanks, Aaron. Well said. I suspect the 5.7M number is who plays at least once per year…which would include my wife. Your critical points around the governing bodies is also an important one. Their roles in supporting sustainability, growth and development always require a critical eye. Your points around golf vis a vis land development will see more pressure placed on it over years as real estate demand in urban and suburban centres grow. Losing courses does not mean the game is in trouble. Supply and demand curves are natural. I love the ideal of 6, 9, and 12 hole options with more par 3 play possibilities. Thank you for your response. Mike

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