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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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?

How do we get more eight year-olds playing golf?

How do we get more 8 year-olds playing golf?

There are two things I need to make clear: I love Twitter. Second, I have not had my morning coffee.

Twitter is amazing. One never knows when conversations, debates or contentious issues will emerge. Last winter I recall issues of slow play on the PGA Tour which allowed me to converse back and forth with gifted golf writer, Lorne Rubenstein. Last night, during the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary special, Twitter awoke with a conversation sparked by Robert Thompson about youth engagement in golf. I chimed in with a tweet to the effect that PGA Tour participation by Canadian pros are likely only having regional influences, the example being, how many kids in Saskatchewan have picked up the game of golf as a result of the success of Graham DeLaet? It’s an important question and even this morning there remains some very good and interesting ideas being shared.

To my second point, about coffee; it’s early and this is not at all thought out but it’s a concept to share for your consideration. Most eight year-olds in Canada play hockey. Most NHL hockey players like to play golf. Is there any way we can get Golf Canada to partner with Hockey Canada on a campaign that can introduce kids to golf as an activity that can complement their interests in hockey? Getting some NHL players as spokespeople to share – possibly grounded in research – why golf can help support hockey development is one pillar to my idea. Second, when kids are eight years old and playing house league hockey can they be given a chance to get a free golf lesson and free round with their parent or mentor on August 8 (after all, let’s really market this ‘eight’ theme). Third, and as a parallel to this, can we market rising golf professionals in Canada who can share their passion for hockey and how hockey influenced and shape their path to golf?

A friend of mine once told me there are no original ideas now and that we’re merely riffing ideas of the past. He may be right, again, the coffee has not kicked in and I have not done any research on this. This morning, I’m just an idea guy!