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.


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:

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. 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.