Handicapping the handicappers

So a few weeks back I played at Tarandowah near London, Ont. Anyone who has read this blog in the past will recognize I have a certain fondness for Tarandowah, a modest public golf course that I think gets it right. Its fun to play time and again, and I’ve frequented it when visiting my hometown, which is about 15 minutes from the course.

After a recent round, I went to input my score using Golf Canada’s handicap software. Now I don’t play events, but I like keeping a handicap and enjoy inputting my stats after each game. The problem was no Tarandowah. It was no place to be seen, though it had been there only a few weeks before. I contacted a friend at Golf Canada, and he said he had noticed that Tarandowah wasn’t there and that he’d heard it had something to do with unpaid dues. Fair enough. So I contacted Bryan Row, the owner of the club, and he said there was a mixup at the GAO, which manages member clubs for Ontario, and that it would be fixed soon.

I played Tarandowah last weekend, taking my good friend Fairway Stevie to see what I had been talking about. After the round I went to input my score, which was pretty solid, and still no Tarandowah. This time I was fed up. I’d now played three rounds at Tarandowah and couldn’t input them.

I contacted the GAO. I asked why I couldn’t input my scores. Claire Welsh at the GAO got back to me promptly:

At this point in time, Tarandowah is not a member club with the GAO/Golf Canada, so rounds played at the club are not valid for handicapping purposes. We’re hoping the situation is temporary – but that is how it stands at the moment.

This strikes me as part of the problem golf organizations in Canada face when trying to attract members. I’m sure the GAO is correct and Tarandowah isn’t a “member club.” Fair enough. But as a member of the public, why do I care? I understand that for the GAO and Golf Canada, these member clubs have been a big source of revenue. The problem is why go to the trouble of being a member if I can’t input my scores? I could just use some free online software — and it would have Tarandowah. Interestingly I can input American course scores and they have no connection to the GAO or Golf Canada. This seems wrong to me.

Most consumers don’t have an active handicap. They don’t play in events and don’t care. But I’m trying and I still can’t do it properly. The GAO and Golf Canada need to offer the average golfer value– not offer something less than what you can get for free elsewhere.

I hope Tarandowah sorts the situation out. I hope the GAO and Golf Canada consider that not covering all Canadian courses only hurts their members.

In the meantime, I was tipped to something on Golf Canada’s site called “manual entry.” Type in Tarandowah’s name and its slope and rating and I’m in business.

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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.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, I can’t agree with you more. I’ve been a public player for 15 years, first with the OLGA, now GAO. I don’t run into this as often anymore – thankfully – as I mostly play Copetown Woods, west of Hamilton and don’t venture too many other places these days.

    Biggest problem I used to have – similar in many ways – was the lack of courses rated for women. Or worse, rated, but only on the forward-most tees. My choices were play the 5,000 yard courses the beginners and old ladies play, or play what I wanted to play and don’t submit a score for handicap.

    For the longest time, OLGA in particular and GAO at a point didn’t rate all the tees, because courses would not pay them to rate tees “their” women rarely played. (That’s the excuse I would get from the OLGA/GAO) Crosswinds in Burlington comes to mind, for years I’ve never played it because they were never rated, and then only the forward tees. Now I think their tees are all rated, but I haven’t ever bothered to try the course… and it all came down to member clubs paying fees, similar issue.

    It’s starting to turn around, they are basically forcing clubs to have all tees rated, which is great for above average female golfers like myself.

  • Robert

    Had the same issue a few weeks ago and used the same solution as you did. Just want to say thanks for speaking highly of this course. I live on the west coast and was back home for the week so I did the 1 hour drive from Hamilton with my parents to check it out. It was quite enjoyable and fun to play. Only a couple of holes that I thought were ill-designed, but what was fun about it is that you had several options where you could choose to hit it safe off the tee or bang it down the fairway as much as possible. The course had some rough spots to it but they never seemed to come into play.

  • Same thing happened to me years ago at Osprey. Interestingly, to maintain a valid handicap one must enter all their scores, so the concept of not entering a score after playing a non-GAO member course doesn’t cut it. I would say the GAO gave you bad advice. Anyway, I also did the old manual entry thing.

  • I too enjoyed Tarandowah scribe.
    You have raised an interesting point in this article; what value is the average amateur golfer receiving from Golf Canada and the GAO?
    (I would love to see you write a piece on this issue and on the financial efficiency of both the GAO and Golf Canada).
    Here is one example of what I am referring to (the numbers may be a little off but they’re close):
    1 AGO event $125.00- The golf courses donate the course to the GAO and in turn the GAO gives back to the participant…??..Nothing. No water, no mementos, no caps, ball markers etc.
    1 USGA event-$65-70- The golf courses donate the course to the USGA and USGA gives back to the participant…??..A keepsake (ball marker, cap etc), bottled water, a lunch voucher and a friendly environment.
    If you’re a member of a club in Canada that club MUST submit a fee to the provincial golf organization (and Golf Canada gets a cut). If you belong to 2 clubs, they charge you twice. I believe the fee is around $30. Now the question here is the same: What does the member get in return for their $30 from the GAO and GC?????
    I’ll leave it to your readers to do the value proposition and also to determine the use of these funds by the two organizations. If I owned a golf course in Canada I would try to join the USGA!

    • John – not sure what GAO events you are referring to, I play regularly in GAO championships and I would say they are better run than the national events or even events in the US. A tee gift is always given as well as a lunch/dinner voucher and water. I’m pretty sure the course isn’t donated either.

      As for the other benefits, I’d like to know what the GAO does vs. Golf Canada for my membership dues.

  • The above comments are correct about a flawed funding system for the RCGA and duplicate provincial bodies. I support the governing body of golf 100%…. the RCGA, but I cant write that check to them every spring for $1000’s of dollars when my members dont even care enough to pick up their cards at the counter or keep a handicap. I support their CEO Scott Simmons and the changes has made and needs to make ahead. And i beg his organisation to support him and make the tough choices that need to be made.

  • John,

    Not sure what events you are referring to that cost you $125 to play in and you receive nothing. This summer I played in two GAO events. One at Georgian Bay Club and the other at Bond Head. Both of these are part of the “GAO Member Days” series. Concept is one day event which any GAO member can play in. Each of 12 events all at (for the most part) private clubs were sponsored by Genumark. Gifts and prizes for everyone in attendance along with a lunch (sometimes before and after).

    You should get more info on this as the events are ran very well and seem to be exactly what you are looking for.


  • I was chatting with someone at the GAO during a round. Casual conversation about how to increase player membership and revenue.

    I suggested a complete overhaul of their revenue model. Instead of charging member clubs, private club members and avid public golfers who pay…take a small amount for EVERY round played at all courses. yes, it’s a GAO/Golf Canada tax…BUT all people of the public could now use the RCGA handicap system for FREE.. Private members would still be billed one amount annually, but the public player would have it hidden in their green fees.

    obviously, it’s scary to change your revenue model, but one huge gain would be more involvement by all golfers to enter their scores, which only connects them to the game of golf more. obviously, some weekend hack and many more players would have sand bagging handicaps entering events but that’s a small price to pay in the short term until the education of how to keep track of your handicap improves over the years.

    a huge upside is the increased traffic to the GAO/RCGA site and the ancillary ad revenue from increased traffic.

  • dixon-Yeah, that’s what the public player wants. We all (industry included) complain about the HST and green fees, and you suggest yet another tax on top of that, for what? To supplement the ‘members’ so they can pay less? Should we call it the ‘Supplement the Elite Tax’? The vast majority of players in this country don’t have a ‘registered’ RCGA handicap, and have no need or desire for one. They just want to go out and enjoy a round of golf, if they can afford it. If I feel the need to ‘donate’, it will be to The First Tee Program, which goes to people who actually NEED the help.

  • I was a public course player and paid my dues to GAO, the problem was the course at which I play 90% of my golf was not a member, so no handicap information.

    I no longer pay the $ 30.00 ?? a year so GAO lost my dues, and how many others.

  • steve: club members are paying the same they do now. the tax would equal only$0.25 or so a round. a busy course like don valley would generate 8-10k in revenue. could be sold for those first tee you talk about. iwould think you would see more handicap tracking than public players joining the gao on their own .. tracking scores is a major incentive to play more . this is only a suggestion. courses wouldnt have to pay their membership fees anymore to be listed

  • why any golf course or member is paying money to support an association that offers little to no value is ludicrous – 90% of golfers don’t input their scores anyway, they share a beer after their round not the fact that their index is down a point
    and Dixon, courses are in the business (or should be) of making money, not collecting taxes for another layer of well heeled golf bureaucrats – these associations collect dues under the radar because it’s the only way they can
    – golf clap to Tarandowah, they are now on the list of must play courses

  • Slammin Sammy, maybe look beyond yourself and do a little digging to see what those membership dollars are funding. It’s not all about ‘value for me’. Anybody who begrudges the $25 measly dollars per year clearly doesn’t see the bigger picture. And to say that any golf association person is well-heeled is simply laughable, trust me.

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