Going for the Green

Robert Thompson's comments, criticism and opinion on the world of golf.

Another tired take on the demise of golf in Canada

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.54.08 AMLast week Canadian Press reporter Alexandra Posadzki wrote another in what has become a series of badly researched and poorly written stories on the demise of golf. This time she waded into the issue of corporate golf:

Hitting a few rounds was once considered a staple of networking for Canadian business leaders. But there are signs that, due to a perfect storm of factors, golf’s status as the go-to activity for the business elite is slipping.

Fewer players

After steadily accelerating for years, growth in the number of participants has stagnated, with an equal number of people entering and leaving the game, says a 2012 study done on behalf of the National Allied Golf Associations.

Another report released last year by that group said the number of rounds played declined to 26,100 per course in 2013 from 28,700 in 2008.

Experts say many of today’s executives are too busy to commit five hours or more to an 18-hole game. Derbyshire says much of his networking takes place at less time-consuming events such as parties, or over breakfast or lunch.

I could start with the fact that I’ve never met a golfer who was “hitting a few rounds,” so it is clear that Posadzki knows, well, probably next to nothing about the sport. The story uses the president of Holt Renfrew as its focus group of one. I guess if the president of a retail store isn’t playing, well no one is.

From here the story becomes “golf is dead” by rote. If one is to write a story about the game’s demise, you’d quote:

1) Jeff Calderwood, president of the NGCOA

2) Don MacKay, owner of Muskoka Highlands

Why? Because they are quoted in basically every other story about the demise of golf. It is lazy, obvious reporting. If I were to do a story on corporate golf—which is the basis of Pasadzki’s piece—I’d call some of the clubs that are big corporate golf hosts. Places like Eagles Nest in Vaughan, Ont. or Heritage Pointe in Calgary or Westwood Plateau outside Vancouver. Find out if their tournaments have declined. Don’t use general golf round figures to support a thesis that corporate golf is on the decline—that’s not an apples to apples comparison.

And why continue to quote MacKay, other than it is easy and he picks up the phone when a reporter calls? I enjoy talking with Don, but the truth is he operates a course in an overbuilt part of the country with a short season. The courses that are better than his track have struggled, cut fees and now compete directly with him. That’s a tough business to be in. But Don MacKay’s interest in foot golf has nothing to do with the president of Holt Renfrew not playing golf.

To me this is a story that an editor suggested:

Editor: “Hey Alexandra, I hear company CEOs aren’t playing golf any longer.”

Alexandra: “I didn’t know that. But I don’t know much about golf. Where did you hear it?”

Editor: “I read it in a Maclean’s from last summer. Can you get on it?”

So they story gets widely circulated, the game takes a hit and another story that is pretty much exactly like those that came before it—right down to the sources—gets recycled.

Which makes Curtis Stock’s story in the Edmonton Journal interesting. Stock, who does some independent research, says golf isn’t dying in his part of the country. In fact it is doing very well indeed:

Doom? Uh, hold off on that thought.

Gloom? You might want to take a mulligan on that one, too.

While there have been several reports of the sky falling on golf courses across North America, that certainly doesn’t appear to be true in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“You hear all the sob stories but that certainly isn’t the case here,” says Shawn Lavoie, general manager of the Elks Golf Course in Calgary.

“People are nuts about their golf in Alberta. We put through 36,000 rounds last year.”

“We had a record year in 2014 and we expect another record year again this year,” echoes Taylor Scinski, head professional at Edmonton’s The Quarry golf course — one of three new courses that came on stream in 2012.

“When Mill Woods opened their driving range this spring they were packed with people lining up to hit balls,” Scinski says of another very busy Edmonton golf course. “That doesn’t happen in many places.

The article points out that while some places have seen declines in rounds, Alberta and Saskatchewan have seen increases. Does that get mentioned in other stories on golf? Nope. Why? Because it doesn’t support the thesis that golf is dead. Of course a news story is supposed to include the nuances and points that don’t always support a singular angle. That’s why they are news stories and not editorials.

Could Canadian Press have included any of Stock’s material? Of course they could have. But that would have required a couple of phone calls and frankly, it isn’t the story the editor wanted anyway.

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