Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Comments on RCGA Canadian Golf Study

Kids playing on the Eden coiurse at St. Andrew's

First off I needed a break from architecture, because the hole series took a lot out of me. So I thought I would look at the most current news, although I’m admittedly a few days late on this item.

The RCGA released a study about golf a few days ago and I feel like commenting on some of the key numbers. Golf participation in Canada is 21.5 per cent. I must admit I’m surprised that participation equates to one in five, but we have always been known for one of the highest participation rates anywhere in the world. But when I looked into why it became obvious. Playing one round or company scramble counted as participation – this leads to 20% participation rate according to the survey. To me this number has no meaning.

The number that matters is the number of core golfers which is defined as people who play eight or more rounds a year. This group grew supposedly by 47.5 per cent since 2001. Does that seem like an unreasonable amount to you? It sure does to me. Through my own anecdotal evidence I have watched friends come into the game in the last 10 years only to leave in large numbers in the last five. Why? “The game costs too much and takes to long to play” is there standard reasoning. I find it hard to believe we have this much growth in a time when the largest region is in a sharp decline.

Now I get the ideas that this is not an issue in Saskatchewan and other smaller population centers where green fees did not take off recently. I get that Toronto is actually only a part of Canadian golf, but tell me how does the area that comprises almost as many players as the next three largest playing provinces combined - not show up in the numbers. Again when you look deeper in the polling it was proportional and this would make a huge impact on the numbers. It was made with an equal representation from provinces and right down the regions – this methodology makes Toronto and Montreal largely disappear despite representing close to half of all Canadian golfers. How can this be an accurate assessment of the game in Canada? I believe the survey was done intentionally this way to “help” the numbers along. This is not to suggest a conspiracy, but to point out consultants often find a way to deliver what people want to here.

Where this all gets confusing is the contrasting information with other major bodies in golf. We started the new millennium with 3 consecutive drops of 10% each - for the participation rate in golf - according to the National Golf Foundation. While I will concede that they are American based, but I still find it very hard to believe that Canada is running in complete opposite direction of the US. All I want is an accurate sense of where we are and where we are headed and I don’t believe this survey is releable.

Finally the survey confirms what has worried me all along – that junior participation is dropping. I think the Tiger Factor that everyone got a free ride from does not draw in new players anymore. The awe we and our kids once had for him wonder has largely run its course and kids are on to new heroes and new sports. We are back to cost being the single most important determination of participation in golf. As a parent with a child who plays, I know the cost is tough to deal with because many courses do not offer junior discounts near as much as they did when I was a young.

Affordability is the top barrier to increasing participation in the game of golf. The smaller centers are still healthy, but the large centers are not. I don’t see how this survey could not possibly pick that up when the rest of us see it so clearly.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Yes, Ian, costs - especially in urban areas like Toronto. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many lovers of golf architecture fail to see that their rather narrow definition of great design doesn't help this situatiion in the least. Yes, I know, I know: the Old Course is great, and so is NGLA, and Pacific Dunes, and Shinnecock -- but why do seemingly ALL the courses conventional wisdom calls great happen to be either very private or far, far away? If I was a designer, I too would want to work on the very best pieces of land, but unless good designers start actively looking for and accepting work on lousy pieces of land (e.g. old landfills etc) and MAKING them great, the game for those of us in large urban centres will just keep getting more and more out of reach.