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Weeks: What are the biggest issues facing golf in Canada?

Bob Weeks
9/12/2012 3:37:05 PM
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To the average golfer out there, NAGA won't mean much, but it's an association of associations. Basically, the leading golf stakeholders (Golf Canada, PGA of Canada, etc.) have an association that comes together for industry purposes. So far, the most prominent exercise of this group has been in the area of research. Recently, it commissioned a study on the economic impact of golf in Canada and Wednesday, it released its second big study, which deals with the Canadian golf consumer behaviour.

The results, which came from 1,300 surveys completed online, were largely what most people connected to golf would have predicted with a few surprises. Here are a few of the highlights:

* Of the golfing population of 5.7 million, the majority of the rounds are played by 26 per cent of golfers. 

* The number of people leaving the game is the same as the number taking up the game, roughly one million on each side of that ledger. That's actually a good sign, indicating that the game does not appear to be losing players as many believed. However it's a bit stunning considering that it means 18 per cent of the total number of golfers started in the last year and that an equal number dropped the game. (This could be as simple as the guy who plays one game in 2011 and plays no games in 2012, but to me, it seemed stunning.)

* There is limited interest in the sport outside of those that already participate in the game. So this is a case of trying to work harder at keeping people playing (See point 2 above) and getting them to play more golf (See point 1 above) as opposed to trying as hard to recruit new players.

* Only about a quarter of Canadian golfers would be considered engaged in the sport. That's defined as someone who plays, follows, supports and endorses the game. If the 75 per cent of those who golf but are not considered engaged (roughly 4.3 million players) could be moved into the engaged column, the game would grow considerably.

* This lack of engagement means less spending in most areas of the game. While green fees were up 10 per cent, spending on golf lessons was down 12 per cent and on golf travel and vacations eight per cent.

As the report concluded, golf is still very strong and is (as best as I can tell) still the most-played sport in the country. It remains fairly healthy although there are certainly areas of concern. It really comes down to getting more people engaged in the game and getting them to buy into the sport. The report said that the most important way to do that is to deliver more value to the consumer. That's easier said than done, of course.

But I plucked the following from the report's conclusion, which is interesting:

"There is no way to remove the vulnerability from the game without significant innovation and no way to innovate without collaboration across the Canadian golf industry. The Canadian golf industry must communicate, inform, educate, indoctrinate and integrate with golfers and non-golfers where they play, shop, learn, practice, socialize, experience and connect with the game."

That's old news, of course. Certainly a number of the associations involved in NAGA offer great programs to help generate consumer involvement, which can turn into engagement. I think of the National Golf Course Owners Association's Take A Kid To The Course Week and Golf Canada's successful Golf In Schools program.

But to me, this yells out for a national advocacy program marketing the sport. If all the groups that form NAGA - and other stakeholders - came together and promoted the benefits of the game, it could go a long way towards at least altering perspective of non-golfers and casual golfers.

When I asked the members of NAGA through the tele-conference if that were a possibility, it got a rather lukewarm response. I'm not holding my breath.

What about a Canadian Golf Week where the powers that be offer up free lessons, reduced green fees, open houses, etc., along with some knowledge through the media (compare the cost of playing golf vs. the cost of playing hockey on an hourly percentage, for example) right across the country?

You can find the study here.

So, dear readers, what do you think are the biggest issues facing golf right now?

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