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Canada vs. Scotland Golf Tourism; Highlands on the Rise; Can You Sign My Scorecard, Mr. Carrick?

I spent last evening at a pre-Toronto Golf Show event with representatives from East Lothian and East Scotland Golf, both of which were in town promoting Scotland as a golf destination.

What? you say. Scotland needs to promote itself as a golf destination?

Truth be told it does. Scotland has been out marketed and out promoted by Ireland when it comes to golf. Ireland spends a great deal of its tourism budget pushing itself into the spotlight when it comes to golf, whereas Scotland has been content to sit back and rest on its historic laurels.

Visit Scotland is the country’s tourism agency, but they have no specific focus on golf, and many of the regional organizations that promoted golf in the country have been closed after struggling with funding. That has left a handful of organizations — like Golf East Lothian (one of the hosts of last night’s event) — trying to get the message out. They’ll be at the Toronto Golf Show this week, along with a group from The Links Trust, who will be promoting the new Castle Course at St. Andrews.

In the meantime, Ireland has had a longstanding presence at the show — while Scotland has been no where to be seen. It doesn’t matter that Scotland has better courses and a depth of courses that Ireland can’t rival — it has been crushed when it comes to marketing itself as a destination, and many of the dollars that could have come to the country have now gone to Dublin, Belfast and Shannon.

Canada has a similar problem.

Interestingly, the one organization promoting golf tourism in Canada — the Golf Tourism Alliance — was shuttered last week. Funded by a handful of groups, including ClubLink, the decision was made to close the organization. It was involved in bringing golf and travel writers to the country and promoting Canada as a destination. That is now gone.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time writing about Canada as a golf destination, especially in areas like Kelowna, Cape Breton, and PEI. But other areas, like Toronto, have almost no presence in promoting itself to tourists from other areas of the country or from outside of Canada. Like Visit Scotland, it would appear we’re simply hopeful that tourists will somehow discover the region, despite the fact that dozens of other destinations are actively promoting themselves to prospective visitors.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a concerted effort on behalf of Toronto course operators to create a marketing vehicle to promote the region — after all, we have some of the best public golf in any large center. But that’s our own little secret.

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The new General Manager for Cape Breton’s Highlands Links, Graham Hudson, was at the event last night. After years of neglect by the Parks Canada system, it looks like the course may have finally turned a corner. Hudson is smart, understands how to negotiate the nebulous government infrastructure, and appears prepared to put his neck out to return Highlands Links to its rightful place as the best public golf course in Canada. Let’s hope he’s successful.

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[photopress:carrick.jpg,full,alignleft]Ever wanted to meet the man who builds those tough courses — places like Eagles Nest and Humber Valley? Well here’s your chance. Doug Carrick will be at the Toronto Golf Show — and he’ll even sign autographs! He’ll be at the Bigwin Island booth:

We are excited to have world renowned golf course architect and Bigwin Island designer Doug Carrick on site. Youre invited to drop by our booth and meet Mr. Carrick and hear his thoughts and vision during the construction of Bigwin Island. Mr. Carrick will be autographing souvenirs for all golf enthusiasts. Mr. Carrick will be in attendance on Friday February 29th from 1pm to 3pm at the BigwinIsland booth (#1314) located in the Play Golf Ontario Pavilion.

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Ran into Scott Simmons, the executive director of the RCGA, last night. He said yesterday’s blog was correct — he’s repositioning management and that meant only a handful of job cuts. Everyone has been asked to demonstrate the additional skills they can bring to the organization. After yesterday, I’m sure he has their attention.

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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.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • I agree Toronto has far better courses than any other city in the country but I think that most Canadians from outside of the GTA would choke on the $150+ green fees that the public courses charge. And then there is the problem that the top 5 courses in the Toronto area (according to Score) are all private so even at these steep prices you can’t play the best that the GTA has to offer.

    Bigwin being at the golf show in 2008 must indicate that their original business model didn’t make much sense – weren’t they supposed to be ultra-private by now, open only to owners of cottages on the island?

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