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Golf in Canada: Boom, Bust or Echo?

A recent story in the NY Times suggests more and more Americans are giving up the game of golf, which makes sense [photopress:golf.jpg,full,alignright]given that were also seeing more courses closing than opening. This will surely be exacerbated if the U.S. goes into full recession.
The Toronto Star follows the story, suggesting that Canada isnt in the same dire straits. Of course some of that support comes from the RCGAs largely discounted survey that was released just months before executive director Stephen Ross was fired. Ross held the study up as proof that his attempts to grow the game in Canada were successful. Too bad most golf pundits couldnt find anyone who agreed. The study, by Ipsos-Reid, and conducted by an individual who abruptly left after it was released in 2006, ran largely against the perspective of club managers. In fact, stories at the time had very little success in finding course operators who actually felt the game was growing.
Which makes a Toronto Star story by Garth Woolsley particularly interesting, mainly because Woolsley seems to buy into the notion that everything is hunky dory in Canada, and to support that he uses quotes from two GMs at local mid-tier public tracks.

The first comes from the GM at Hidden Lake:

John Cormier, general manager at Hidden Lake, a 36-hole operation in north Burlington, said he expects business to be brisk, as usual, when play resumes in a few weeks. The competition is healthy, he said, but he has noticed changing patterns. “I remember when you’d say “ it takes 12 hours to play golf, doesn’t it? Now, people golf and generally go home. We used to be swamped on weekends. Now we might be busier on a Wednesday than a Sunday. People cherish their family time.”

But the GM at Deer Creek has a much different take:

But Frank Campanelli, head pro at the Deer Creek golf complex in Pickering, said: “The ones we get out here still like to make a day of it,” while noting that adverse weather seems to be the only major factor to keep numbers down.

What is Cormier actually saying? Is he actually trying to suggest a mid-tier public golf course now makes more money mid-week than it does on weekends? Have even these sorts of courses become so reliant on corporate outings that no one shows up to play on weekends? And if thats the case, what happens if Canadas red hot resource-based economy slows? Do courses like Hidden Lake go out of business?

On the other hand, theres Campanelli, who seems to suggest that only weather is keeping his course from being full. That might have something to do with the relatively fair pricing at Deer Creek, a course you can still play at twilight for around $50. Thatll keep you full. But increasingly, with even the big courses (Angus Glen, Eagles Nest, Copper Creek, Bond Head, etc) offering lower weekend rates, there surely will be some downward pressure on the likes of Deer Creek.

And finally, can one really tell much of anything from two course samples in the GTA? What about other provinces, other cities? How are they doing? I know Woolsley is only writing for GTA readers, but the title of the article “Golf Booming in Canada, Not So in U.S.” is pretty damned misleading when all he’s talked to is a couple of local clubs, especially since no one trusts the RCGA’s survey.

But is Campanelli correct? Truthfully, most course managers Ive spoken with suggest last year was flat to slightly up in terms of rounds played, and that had everything to do with the long dry year that allowed play well into November. Which suggests more people arent playing, just those that are golfing had the opportunity to play more often.

Which makes me wonder just how far we are from the overbuilt American model described in the Times story:

The Times report quoted Jim Kass, research director for the National Golf Foundation: “The man in the street will tell you golf is booming because he sees Tiger Woods on TV. But we track the reality. The reality is, while we haven’t exactly tanked, the numbers have been disappointing for some time.”

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Rob, I think it’s more than a little unfair to say the survey was largely ‘discounted’ and that ‘nobody trusts the survey’. Talk about anecdotal generalizations……geez. The survey was conducted by an internationally respected firm.

    You also seem to suggest that the survey was conducted to somehow prop up Stephen Ross and that the survey was tainted because Ross and the staffer at Ipsos both departed shortly after the survey was released…neither of those suggestions are based on fact.

  • Matt: I don’t know if I’d go as far as you suggest I am, but I didn’t believe the survey then and I don’t believe it now. I think growth in the game in Canada is flat at best, and declining in some markets.

    It’ll certainly shake out the pretenders.

  • “And finally, can one really tell much of anything from two course samples in the GTA? What about other provinces, other cities? How are they doing? I know Woolsley is only writing for GTA readers, but the title of the article “Golf Booming in Canada, Not So in U.S.” is pretty damned misleading when all he’s talked to is a couple of local clubs, especially since no one trusts the RCGA’s survey.”

    Well done RT… so often Toronto writers (and habitants:)) become very T.Dot-centric. Glad to see you speak up for the rest of the country that is not as saturated with high-end public facilities. Which, incidentally, doesn’t mean the industry isn’t struggling.

  • There really is no reasoned thought in what you write. Yours is really ugly jouralism. In one stroke of the pen, you take shots at a study by Ipso Reid, the author of the study, and Stephen Ross. Why? You do it because it you can and because its easy. That is why so many really laugh at individuals in the media. Where is the analysis? Where is the thought Where is your own research? Most of your blog was nothing more than sound bites stolen from other media, who themselves did little if any research. Yes, the golf industy might have difficulties, but they are nothing compared to the incompetent individuals that seem to write about it. Thanks for the incredibly insightful article. Look forward to more of the same bs from you.

  • please stop’s comment begs the question: where does journalism end and “blogging” begin? is there grey? or…..? i’d like to hear your thoughts RT…

  • RPF: I don’t see a difference between blogging and the journalism I practise aside from occasionally offering insider material that perhaps wouldn’t appeal to a broader newspaper audience. In many instances I spend an hour of my time in the AM pondering a key issue that I’ve been drawn to. Does that mean I spend days working out all the details? No. Usually what I’m discussing, as is the case in this instance, is something I’ve written several large features on and something I’ve discussed with literally dozens of golf managers and club pros. If I hear a concensus from those people, even one that apparently runs against an Ipsos-Reid survey, then I’ll typically follow my nose. The truth is that surveys, regardless of what “please stop” says, can be altered to provide the detail one is looking for. Questions can be worded to provide certain detail and certain numbers can be extrapolated that can lead to a pre-determined conclusion. I’m not saying that is what happened here — but I could point you to articles in the Globe and in Score that would suggest this survey seemed out of touch with the reality facing those in the business.

    In the end, blogging to me is a variety of things. It allows me an outlet for my opinions on golf design and the business. It allows me to comment on issues of the day. And it allows me to call a spade a spade.

    And if “Please don’t” doesn’t like that, he can bugger off for all I care. I don’t give a flying f**k what he thinks. I don’t mind a debate, but I don’t like ad hominem attacks. They frankly have grown tired.

    Debate me — don’t just toss rocks at me.

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