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.”