Scott Simmons Interview – Part 2 – Growing the Game of Golf in Canada

Scott Simmons Interview – Part 2 – Growing the Game of Golf in Canada

A Quick Nine with Scott Simmons, CEO of Golf Canada

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more

This is the second part of my conversation with Golf Canada CEO, Scott Simmons, and will close off the handicap policy change discussion, examine the state of the game of golf in Canada and close with a discussion on youth engagement in the game.

  1. While this is not scientific in its data gathering approach, I polled golfers on twitter and almost 70% stated they play occasionally or regularly as a single, a number even higher than I thought. Will Golf Canada still ask players to record scores played as a single, even though it will not count toward their index?  If so, for what purposes?

SS – Well, we won’t ask them to.  But we are trying to be more inclusive in everything we do. There are only a certain percentage of people who want to keep an official handicap.  Yet the key part of understanding whether or not you are improving is the ability to track all your scores, your statistics, if you want to know how many times you make par or hit the fairway off the tee or what you shot.  We want to give every golfer through our score centre the chance to understand their game and manage their statistics.  In the past, and even right now, it’s really just been the only time you would enter anything in our system is to record a score to calculate your official index.  What we’re trying to do is broaden that to serve all golfers.  Obviously a core of that will still be recording official scores for official handicap purposes.  I might be an opinion of one but I would love to see the day where every golfer sees the value in what Golf Canada and the provincial golf associations can provide to them in terms of online tools and digital tools and apps to help them make their experience more fun.  And of course, that is a personal, individual thing.  What would give you more pleasure playing the game is different than me or anyone else.  If we can give you the tools so that you can use the ones that appeal to you I think that’s a big part of us doing our job as the governing body of the game.  So, the short answer to your question is we’re not going to ask people to post their solo rounds but we’d love to give people the ability to post them if they wish to in order to proactively help understand their game better.

36 – That is great. I appreciate your time and that of your office to unpack this policy decision and provide information.  I was a little surprised when this decision (solo round handicapping change) came out because there was not a lot of background information to explain the rationale.  Since then, I have found your office to be quite forthright and I appreciate that.

SS – Well, again, I appreciate your comments.  The reason I am having this call now is you were very respectful in your responses.  You may not agree with us.  We can even admit when we can do things better, and I think in hindsight when you look back we could have done a far better job of communicating this decision.  It doesn’t mean we change our mind.  I stand behind the initial decision and I stand behind the change based on the information that you have at the time when you make each decision.  Could we have surrounded the second decision with more information?  Yeah, in hindsight, absolutely.  Sometimes you don’t see those things until after it happens.  So yes, I wish we had surrounded ourselves with more communication but that is behind us now.

36 – Of course.

  1. Stepping back from issue of handicapping in golf, how would you describe the state of the game of golf in Canada?

SS – I think it is incredibly healthy.  Using the old analogy of looking at things as glass half-full or glass half-empty, here are the facts, you can’t debate them:  Golf is the number one participation sport in Canada.  More people play golf than any other recreational activity; 5.7 million golfers in the last economic impact study that was done. Now that includes everybody from people who 200 rounds a year to the guy or gal who play in the one scramble a year in their company event.  You can sub-set that number and there’s more core and avid golfers than anywhere else in the world except for the United States.  There are more golf courses in Canada than anywhere else in the world with the exception of the United States.  We have the highest per capita participation rate.  It’s a 14 billion dollar business.  It employs hundreds of thousands of people and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to charity.  It is extremely healthy.

Now, does that mean that it doesn’t have its set of opportunities or challenges?  No.  I think what we’re seeing globally, worldwide, is a problem with our youth in terms of inactivity, and child obesity. What’s happening with technology and smartphones and computers has taken away a lot of social interaction so what you’re seeing is that children in general and the younger generation are generally less active than the generation before them.  I think that’s impacting participation across the board in every activity around the globe.  Golf is no exception, so I think the biggest opportunity for golf is to really showcase the tremendous values our game has.  It’s the only game in the world you can play as a family where people of differing abilities can compete with one another.  There are so many different formats and it’s very healthy for you in a non-physical way.  There’s no issues with concussions or risk of injury for the most part.  It’s a very low impact way to keep yourself healthy.  The amount of calories you burn walking 18 holes is significant.  It’s great; doctors prescribe the game to people of all ages, especially seniors.  It teaches us the right values that other sports sometimes have a challenge with.  So, I think golf has to take all the tremendous competitive advantages it has and use them to its advantage to encourage kids and families to participate more.  Instead of that being a problem, which several people have described it as, I see it as a huge opportunity.

36 – I love that language and I think the use of that term (opportunity) is significant because it shows the game with an asset base.

  1. Building from that, my next question is can you share any plans Golf Canada has or its member associations have to address this opportunity for greater youth engagement? Is there anything taking place to help bridge this gap?

SS – Yes, absolutely.  It’s not one thing, it’s an ongoing process.  But in no particular order I will give you a few things.  We’re very proud of the work we’ve done with Golf in Schools.  I don’t know how old you are but whenever I ask this question to an audience, ‘how many of you played golf in phys-ed in public or high school?’ it’s a very small group of people if any that put their hand up.  But everybody has played basketball or volleyball, soccer, track and field, badminton.  So think of how successful our industry is without having any kind of grassroots school involvement.  And think about the opportunity when we’re on an even playing field with other sports and activities at the school level.  About five years ago we launched the Golf in Schools program which is a basic curriculum trying to teach all the core physical attributes but using golf as the medium, whether that’s balance or flexibility.  You’re not really teaching a grade 2 child how to play the game but you’re using plastic golf equipment as the vehicle to teach them physical literacy.  There’s an elementary program, there’s a high school program and a middle school program.  So that can only help, especially when you’ve got 10,000 schools across the country and millions of kids and getting them exposed to the game versus not exposing them at all.

Now connected with that is the Future Links program which is a comprehensive world-class curriculum, staged level process that our good friends at the PGA of Canada use to introduce people to the game and teach them the game from the most basic introductory level up to programming for the elite and high performance competitive people.  The key now – and that program is well embedded in Canada – is to connect the school with the golf course.  As of today, that is probably one of our highest priorities is creating that linkage.  And its working well; there are examples where pros are now making visits to schools, clubs are now making a relationship with schools in their community.  Even private clubs like London Hunt sponsors the Golf in Schools program for all the schools in their London region.

36 – Is that not an initiative that Graham DeLaet has put himself behind?

SS – Yes, Graham is a national spokesperson for our Golf in Schools program.

36 – That’s awesome.

SS – So, we’re doing this in concert with our provincial partners and the PGA of Canada.  The ownership group supports it.  They endorse Golf in Schools and Future Links.  So those are two examples.

Also, in Ontario, for example, they are launching their community initiative.  Barrie is the pilot region where the GAO is being the stimulus to bring all the clubs in that catchment area together and coming up with activities and tools and ways for the community to work together on golf and creating other family programs and initiatives.  There are examples like that from coast to coast.  And it’s only going to grow.  I’ll go back to my earlier point, when you think about how successful we’ve been – as an industry – without proactively marketing to people, and we’re the number one activity in Canada, just think of the possibilities when we proactively start to promote the games benefits and the way for families and kids to engage and have fun, the sky’s the limit.  I could see participation climbing in a significant way by being proactive and strategic with the way in which we try to get more people involved.


Tomorrow is the final segment of part of my three-part interview with CEO of Golf Canada, Scott Simmons.  Here, we reflect on accomplishments during his tenure, efforts to engage the public player and his dream foursome.


GAO Growing the Game!

Walking around the Toronto Golf Show I was happy to see a variety of booths and kiosks. As we meandered down ‘demo alley’, I spied the area for the Golf Association of Ontario. As a current member, I was drawn to their location like a moth to light. I talked to many of the hosts and hostesses […]

Part 1 – Reflections on my ‘journey to better’

This is part one of a three part reflection series on my how golf lessons are helping me improve in 2015.  Thank you for reading and I hope you’re having fun with the game and playing your best.

Reflecting on my ‘journey to better’

I’m playing Srixon golf balls this year so I’m comfortable acknowledging their tagline and borrowing it; check that, owning it. I’m 47 years old and playing the best golf of my life. The qualitative aspect of that statement is important; I’m taking lessons and demonstrating a greater commitment to improve my golf game than ever before. But first, some context; I’m an 8+ handicap and am not a member of a course. I’m what the Golf Association of Ontario classifies as a Public Player. And like many Canadians, I am managing a healthy addiction to the game. I played over the Christmas holidays this year as it was a balmy 6c on Boxing Day. I get about 25 rounds a year in and am beginning to enjoy practice more than ever. I’m seeking to get better at golf and wanted to share some reflections from my experience over the last year. All that to say is I suspect I fit within the ‘avid golfer’ category.

I began lessons for the first time in my life in 2013. I worked with a young instructor who got me set on a good path – solid fundamentals and an identification of key priorities to work on. My schedule and his growing family and business opportunities had us drift apart but I remained committed to exploring a new instructor, someone I feel would have the capacity to support my journey. Simple fact is my golf swing is like my car: it runs but when it doesn’t run as smoothly as I’d like it to I want to take it to a professional for tuning up. A series of fortunate circumstances had me sitting in the main lobby of the Brampton Golf and Country Club on a cold November afternoon talking with CPGA Instructor (and awesome golfer) Brian McCann. A friend and I were seeking semi private lessons and I was charged with the task of interviewing our prospective golf instructor.

This was new. What questions does one ask a golf instructor? I thought about it, researched a little, and ended up going with my gut. My main question revolved around teaching style(s). My friend and I are comparable in terms of our talent and that’s about where things end. Our swings are different, our needs vary but we’re willing to help and support each other along this journey. Brian and I sat and talked for well over an hour. I was able to get a sense that Brian has a passion for the game, he communicates well and clearly, understands the golf swing, has good experience as an instructor and wasn’t shy about working with two golfers who are committed to improving. This interview, ok, call it a conversation if you will, helped reinforce that the relational aspect of the student-instructor relationship is fundamental. I always chuckle when I read lists that rank top golf instructors; it’s so subjective. When I look back over my life and times when I was able to learn effectively it was from someone I could relate well with. Call this my first ‘a-ha’ moment along the way – good instruction is borne from good relational skills.

A-ha Moment One – The Ability to Relate
If you have ever watched Golf Channel you’re likely are familiar with Michael Breed and Martin Hall, both of whom are skilled and experienced instructors. And while they both know the game and are proven teachers, I find that I can relate better to Michael Breed’s instructional approach. For me, things like tone, energy and being able to convey thoughts clearly, sometimes in multiple ways, help me to learn.

For me, my connection with my current instructor came when he was able to visually demonstrate a flaw in my swing. Brian took the time to show me the one important element, ensuring I was listening to understand and not listening to act. He was also patient to teach me the movement, feel and requirements for successfully replicating this properly. It was at that moment when I turned a corner. And also when I knew I had an instructor I could build my game with.

The Official Start to Golf Season

Today, April 15, is the official start of golf season in Ontario, and for many parts of Canada. Provincial golf associations set dates for which recorded golf scores will count toward a players’ index. For me this is the last and final step toward the start of the golf season (there are many incremental steps which take place all winter and early spring).

Of the millions of people who golf in Canada I have read a surprising small percentage actually are members or are registered with their provincial golf associations. I respect that. There are many casual golfers out there. I also acknowledge it is an issue which Golf Canada and associations across the country struggle with; that being an articulation of a value proposition which will make golfers feel compelled to join their provincial association. But that is another topic for another day.

I will share my main motivators which make me join the Golf Association of Ontario (GAO) as a Public Player each winter:
1. Integrity – I was very pleased with this piece from John Gordon who discussed sandbagging in golf. I suspect it is a real and serious issue but my golfing circles are not as expansive (yet) and the issue of integrity is more a personal one for me. That said the time and resources spent around this issue are significant. Golf Canada even employs a Director of Handicap and Course Rating in support of this.

2. Improvement –this is most important for me. Golf is fun, but I also play to play my best and to improve. Through the GAO I can track my performance over the years which I have been a member. I’ve been able to track my handicap peak and valley from a high of almost 15 to its current low now, just below 9. As someone who is drawn to numbers and statistics, GAO/Golf Canada offers expanded functions around statistics which I do not use but appreciate (I simply track my own data).

3. Competition – this is a newer application for me but one I am increasingly appreciating and is closely connected to number one on this list. Having participated in a couple competitive events over the years there is a level of assurance that I will be flighted with golfers of a similar skill set as me. This has been my experience. In fact, the only outlier of this is my incredibly poor play one day at Bear Mountain with members where I was a 12 and played more like a 21 handicapper. Safe to say it was clear who was buying the first round that afternoon.

Opening dates across Canada for tracking your handicap index are as follows:
British Columbia – March 1
Alberta – March 1
Newfoundland – April 1
Saskatchewan – April 15
Manitoba – April 15
Ontario – April 15
Nova Scotia – April 15
Prince Edward Island – April 16
New Brunswick – May 1

Enjoy the season. Have fun and play well.  Check Golf Canada here to learn about your provincial association and how you can join.

Chipping in for a birdie at Batteaux Creek, Nottawa, Ontario

Chipping in for a birdie at Batteaux Creek, Nottawa, Ontario

Sean Casey Interview – Part 4 – ‘The Future of Golf in Canada’

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

A Quick 9 With Sean Casey, Director of Instruction at The Glen Abbey Golf Academy and Head Coach for the Canadian Junior Golf Association National Teams.

4. @36aday – You have maintained a strong commitment to junior instruction. Much has been made about the future of golf. I’m interested in your opinion on the future of golf in Canada?

SC – Yeah, it’s definitely a positive outlook. I’m not going to give you a sob story here. Because the game is so good here. My greatest opportunity to do some good for that is to do really good things through Glen Abbey, and we’re doing a lot of good things and our numbers are there to support that. We have a lot of junior golfers and we’re not at a place where we’re trying to bring more in which is nice. We’re trying to figure out how to better service the ones we have. So it took a little while to get there because for a while it was ‘what do we have to do to attract these juniors?’ and we were definitely on a mission of improvement, and we still are, but it’s just changed a little bit because now we have some programs in place that are good and are helping the kids. Now we’re not going to drastically change the templates, but over the past few years there were massive changes in terms of how many private lessons do the kids get, how many group sessions, what age groups do we place them in because we changed all that. So we made a lot of change and now it’s like how can we make the two hour practices better and more influential. So it’s fun.

We became part of a pilot project three/four years ago. And it was called Junior Golf Developmental Centres, JGDC’s. I believe the concept was drawn out by Mike Kelly from the GAO (Golf Association of Ontario) and if it wasn’t him he was certainly the one that brought it to my attention. The idea would be that all across Canada someday there would be recognized junior golf centres where families and parents of junior golfers would know that they could bring their kids and there would be high quality coaching. Mike has a real passion to grow the game and I supported his vision and wanted Glen Abbey to a part of this future National Program.

@36day – Elite kids?

SC – All kids, beginner kids. Imagine if you’re a parent of a junior, it would be ‘where would I take my kid for coaching?’. Well in your town there might be a number of golf pros, some of these golf pros might just coach part time meaning they run their course and they give lessons. But is that coaching? No it isn’t. It doesn’t mean they’re going to help you draw up a yearly plan and when should your tournaments be and how many tournaments? They might be teachers. So in other words, in golf in Canada and around the world but definitely in Canada, we are leading the way in recognizing the difference between teachers and coaches. So, we used to be teachers here at Glen Abbey. We did not concern ourselves with the big picture, proactively developing yearly plans, etc…., how many tournaments they should play and so on. Looking back at when Sean and I first started here with the junior program it was just teaching. But, because of, really, Sean’s broad nature it became coaching. We were ahead of the curve in that nature meaning we were talking about psychology, eating, working out, probably a more holistic coaching view than other people in Canada at that time. But it’s catching up. We’re now not the only academy in Canada talking about more than technique so there’s lots of good coaches now and a lot of it is because of the PGA and Golf Canada and the GAO and everybody recognizing the need for a coaching model and supporting the kids more broadly which means a proper curriculum for them to go through throughout their junior career.
@36aday – Sean, was that developmental process, did that help to inform the work you’ve been doing with the Canadian Junior Golf Association National Team? Was there leadership from Golf Canada to integrate what you’ve already brought in?

SC – They knew that when we said yes and that we wanted to be part of their pilot project that and that we want to be a recognized JGDC, they knew that we were already ahead of the curve meaning that some of the academies in Canada were going to have to get up to speed with the list of requirements needed to be a JGDC. We had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place so they knew it would be easier for us to just check the boxes, go, ‘yeah, we’re already doing that and we’re good to go’. But now that we’re a recognized JGDC I will tell you, it wasn’t simple. We had to make some change around here. There was a lot of positive improvement in the things we were doing in an effort to be a JGDC. So it was really a good experience for us as an academy and that would be the most significant thing that has changed around here from a junior golf standpoint is the whole JGDC. Now we’re much more aware of the experience of the junior golfer going through their stages of development and making sure that we have programs that suite their needs. We used to often have parents say, ‘I don’t feel like the program my son is in is quite right for him. Do you have anything more?’ And we used to say, well, ‘sign him up for more lessons, more private time’. And that never hurt, that’s how we’ll service your child more. We used to have people looking for more but we didn’t have a program laid out, but now we do.

You would know because Christian (Grande), he’s your stepson (and is in the Glen Abbey Junior Program) – those kids, we have a plan for a fourteen to an eighteen year old and if they stay in it for those four years they’re going to hear and learn about the mental side, nutrition, working out, long game, short game, tournament preparation, how to do a practice round and so on an so forth. So, there’s a program there that addresses the needs of the teenage tournament-playing junior golfer. It’s fun, it’s exciting because as a coach you’re confident you have a structure in place.

@36aday – I think, too, you can look now and see that you’re part of a broader system and it links into a national system. I can appreciate your enthusiasm now. You’re proving a springboard and a system to support their long-term development.

SC – Yes. So that structure that I’m referring to is something one day that will be available within a town or two of your town. There may not be one in every town but we’re trying to have these JGDC’s geographically laid out across the country so that every family can get their child to one of these facilities to learn the game of golf and know that they’re learning the game of golf and they’re going to be exposed to knowledge and information that would be very similar to what they would get if they lived in the Glen Abbey community.

@36aday – It sounds fantastic and you’re right, I know from experience. I’m just kind of chuckling, when you start of middle aged golf development clinic than sign me up because that kind of comprehensive program where you’re not just dealing with issues of grip and swing path but putting people on a path to enjoy the game and succeed on and off the course.

SC – Yes. So it’s less reactionary which you might say is a little more teaching. Where it’s like, ‘ok, come on in and let’s see how you’re hitting the ball, what’s not good, what can we fix up’. Coaching is more proactive. Let’s have a long-term plan and what type of golfer do you want to be and let’s make sure we address all these things over the next eight years. That’s different than, ‘I’ve been slicing it lately, how do we fix it?’. It’s a different approach.

Tomorrow – Part 5 – Future Stars in Golf in Canada?