International Women’s Day and Golf

I am sharing this submission which will be edited and posted on http://www.golfchat.org/ GolfChat is a forum that connects and engages golfers from around the world every Tuesday on Twitter (#GolfChat).

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I drafted this on March 8, International Women’s Day as a response to a call from the #GolfChat Author’s Forum on the topic of Women’s Objectification in Golf Media.  There are many places to take a topic like this and issues of social media, objectification, demographics, sexuality and history are all themes which I am certain we will see woven throughout submissions.  Any my guess is that some authors will explore the issue from a deficit model, specifically, critiquing what is not right about how women are perceived in the game today.  All understood, all recognized.  However, I am going to try to take a different approach.   Here, I want to look at the richness of the game because of women’s participation and where golf media gets it right.  I am not trying to put my head in the sand here.  I want to look at this issue and let people know there are success stories; there is some good taking place.  I am an optimistic person and believe we all have an ability to affect positive change.  Our attitudes and behaviour matter and today, while we pause to reflect and respect the incredibly important role of women in the world, here’s what I love about women’s engagement in golf.

My favourite golf commentator is Judy Rankin.  It’s not even close between her and a second choice.  She is a consummate professional.  She is intelligent, articulate, engaging and honest.  Her knowledge comes from experience on the LPGA Tour as a 26-time winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member.  She takes the time to get to know the players and helps viewers build important connections to them as golfers.  I like the fact that the team during LPGA coverage is focused on their professional roles.  The fact that she is a woman is irrelevant to me, she’s just excellent in her role and I appreciate her work.  Juxtaposed to this is Morning Drive (and I use that only as an example).  Here, I struggle to make sense of why the male co-hosts can enjoy a relaxed role – khakis, maybe even spikeless golf shoes.  Women? Cite the day where any co-host has not had on a dress and likely heels (on odd occasion one may wear flat shoes), which makes any demonstration of golf skill awkward.  This shows the pervasiveness of the issue in question.

Last summer I had a chance to play a semi-private course in Toronto, called The Ladies Golf Club.  I wrote a course review and while the course was designed by one of Canada’s foremost golf course architects, Stanley Thompson, the person most important to its development is Ada Mackenzie.  Her story of a woman golfer seeking greater access for play in Canada around 1920 is well documented.  Her perseverance and drive resulted in the development of TLGC in 1924.  This course “is the only private golf club in North America where women have priority access to tee times, and where both women and men can enjoy golf in a welcoming atmosphere.”  And while Ada was battling for greater access for golf for women around the time of women’s suffrage there is a more pervasive challenge for women as they choose to enter into the world of golf.  Cassie Norris, fellow #GolfChat author and blogger wrote a brilliant piece (https://bandwagonersguidetogolf.com/2015/12/30/bandwagoning-the-boys-club/) that shows the extent of this issue today for her as a young woman new to the game of golf.   Beyond that, Cassie makes important contributions to golf through her blog and coordination of #GolfChat.

It’s no longer 1924 but the challenges of Cassie’s participation in this game are – in my opinion – only wrapped with new and more modern layers of pervasive gender bias.  So today, of all days, it is important for us to understand the contributions that women make to our world.  Many of us will look to our mom, maybe daughter or a friend as a woman who have inspired and supported us.  Drawing from this process and in the spirit of the day here are some ideas we can employ to make golf less the ‘boys club’ Cassie wrote about.  Some simple ideas for golfers: scrap the term ‘Ladies Tees’ and let’s call them Forward Tees; consider support for Fairways Fund (https://www.facebook.com/fairwaysfund/) which provides opportunity for young boys and girls to play this game; and embrace anyone who is new to the game – boy, girl, man, women.  Learn about and support initiatives like Golf Ontario’s ‘She Swings She Scores’ (https://gao.ca/she-swings-she-scores/). It’s all about respect. I feel golfers can understand that principle, but let’s expand the circle of respect to everyone who participates in the game, in any capacity. I really believe our individual actions can truly make a difference.  As opposed to waiting for change, let’s be the change and start calling out those who engage in disrespectful behaviour.

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.

Take a Kid to the Course Week

Take a Kid to the Course Week

Regularly in social media circles there are conversations lamenting too little being done to grow the game of golf. Well, let’s take stock of initiatives which exist which help support the introduction of kids to the game of golf, for there are three which quickly come to mind within Canada:

CN Future Links Junior Skills Challenge, part of RBC Canadian Open week
She Swings She Scores – Golf Association of Ontario
National Golf in Schools Program

This, of course, complements the hugely popular initiative which leads off Masters week – the Drive, Chip and Pitch competition which is co-led by the USGA, PGA of America and The Masters.

Efforts to develop and grow the game are being seen through some progressive steps here in Canada and south of the border.

This week is ‘Take a Kid to the Course Week’ and it is the 13th year for this initiative. It has been reported that over 675 courses across country participate in this program which allows juniors a free round of golf when accompanied by an adult. There are many sponsors who have lent their name and support to this. It is generous of participating courses to engage in this but I am curious to know what the effect is on their bottom line? Does it actually bolster business through participation of youth who develop interests to return to play again? What about the effect on parents who realize golf is a great way to engage their kids in an activity they can all enjoy throughout their life. This is a progressive initiative which is generating interest across Canada and throughout social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Growth in the game of golf requires us to take a glass half full approach, and actively support initiatives like these designed to introduce young people to the game of golf.

This week, consider taking a youngster out for a round of golf. I fondly recall introducing my daughter to golf at our local course when she was young. For parents and guardians, this provides quality time together and the chance to share a passion, possibly kindling a new one for them.