The Royal Canadian Golf Association is hoping to shed its stuffy image with an aggressive makeover plan that includes changing its brand name after 115 years.
The organization will now be called Golf Canada as part of a culture shift that runs much deeper than the new handle and logo. Above all, it wants to start doing a better job of connecting with Canadian golfers and becoming more relevant.
"I think we really provide a critical role in Canadian golf, but unfortunately that role hasn't been communicated to our member clubs and Canadian golfers," executive director Scott Simmons said Thursday at a press conference. "I think we lost our relevance because people really didn't understand who we are and what we do and why it's important to them."
The rebranding is critical to the future of Golf Canada.
Simmons delivered a pretty frank assessment of the organization's financial situation, acknowledging it has lost roughly $10 million over the last three years and saying that it will be bankrupt in less than a decade if revenues don't start to grow.
A new membership program will be key to that growth. The organization hopes to add at least 39,000 new members in the next year to the 350,000 it already has through golf courses from across the country.
The new program will offer casual golfers that chance to join Golf Canada, providing funds for junior and amateur programs while getting benefits from corporate partners RBC Insurance, BlackBerry, iTravel2000, Aeroplan and InterContinental Hotels.
There are a number of reasons why Simmons thinks golfers should be willing to pay a $29.95 annual fee to become Golf Canada members.
"It's about supporting the game you love, supporting a game that we know is our great for our children, that's great for health and fitness, and supporting programs and trusting an organization that you know is putting 100 per cent of your dollars into programming and not overhead," he said.
The name change brings Golf Canada in line with national sport organizations like Hockey Canada, Skate Canada, Tennis Canada and others.
However, it also marks the end of an era for an organization with more history than any of its peers. The RCGA was founded at Royal Ottawa Golf Club in 1895 by a group that wanted one body to oversee rules and conduct a national amateur championship.
The organization is now responsible for much more than that -- especially since being given national sport organization status from the federal government in 2005. It is currently in charge of the RBC Canadian Open and CN Canadian Women's Open while also running the national amateur team and various junior programs aimed at getting youngsters involved in the sport.
Over the years, many have likened the RCGA's attitude to the blue blazers traditionally worn by senior officials: formal, staid and conservative. Those days appear to be over.
"I'm pleased to tell you the status quo is gone," said Peter Beresford, Golf Canada's chief operating officer.
The organization is putting on a full-court press to spread the word about the changes. It has launched a new website (www.golfcanada.ca) and wrote extensively about the new program in its most recent issue of Golf Canada Magazine.
Simmons also sat down for separate meetings with Canadian pros Mike Weir, Stephen Ames and Graham DeLaet during a recent trip to Florida.
DeLaet is a former member of the national amateur team who is currently in the midst of a solid rookie season on the PGA Tour. He took part in Thursday's press conference over the phone from New Orleans and voiced his support for the organization's direction.
"I think you guys are bang on where you see this all going," said DeLaet, a native of Weyburn, Sask.
The rebranding efforts are roughly a year in the making and have been no secret in the golf world. The biggest challenge now is spreading the word and connecting with golfers -- something the organization plans to start doing through various promotional materials and visits to courses across the country.
"This is just the beginning of a critical journey," said Golf Canada president Jack McDonald.
It will take plenty of hard work to increase the membership by more than 10 per cent in a year and there's bound to be some challenges in getting the message out.
Studies have shown that six million Canadians play at least one round of golf per year and Golf Canada hopes most of those people soon become aware of the role the organization plays in the sport.
"Anyone can change a name and pretend to the consumer that they're somehow different," said Beresford. "The key to success in launching a name is clearly positioning this new brand as more than just semantics. Our announcement today is far more than just a name change, this is about a brand change -- about who we are and what we are."