There’s lots written today about the National Allied Golf Association’s study on the behaviour of Canadian golfers. It is the third survey I can recall in recent years about the sport, following a 2009 that showed golf in Canada was an $11-billion economic driver.
The sport of golf in Canada is on a precipice. With nearly six million people participating on some level, the sport has a huge opportunity. On the other hand, the cost and time it takes to play means golf has some big hurdles to overcome. Imagine the state of the game as a long par five over water. The sport in Canada has a shot at the green, but it is risky and failure could be disastrous. Or we could conclude golf is a niche game, too difficult and too nuanced to ever reach the masses, and determine the 1.4-million Canadians who are considered “core” players and are engaged with the game are enough. In other words, we could lay up and play it safe.
The direction the sport will take was central to a study released this week by the National Allied Golf Association, an organization representing almost all of the key segments in the sport in Canada, including course owners, administration, equipment makers, golf professionals and club managers. The study didn’t specifically set out to look at participation, but to look at the behavior of golfers.
“The game is still currently successful but may be vulnerable if nothing changes,” the report claims. “The future growth of golf will require a coordinated, integrated effort within the Canadian golf industry to sustain the game.”
In fact, those behind the report are relatively bullish on the health of golf. It isn’t, as some have suggested, on life support.
There are lots of different takes on the report. I had a call this morning from a high-ranking member of the industry who was unimpressed with the study. He felt the industry didn’t need another survey, what it needed was action. He said the time had come for the various organizations to put aside their self-serving interests and decide on a course of action for the game. Of course, that’s probably pretty idealistic. After all, time and again on the call it was said that while the organizations come together for the survey, what they do with it after is up to each group. The last study has been beneficial in lobbying the provinces and Ottawa, apparently, but Jeff Calderwood, the head of the National Golf Course Owners Association, was clear that it hasn’t brought about results — at least not yet.
Anyway, there were other perspectives on the survey, including this from Bob Weeks at Score:
But to me, this yells out for a national advocacy program marketing the sport. If all the groups that form NAGA – and other stakeholders – came together and promoted the benefits of the game, it could go a long way towards at least altering perspective of non-golfers and casual golfers.
When I asked the members of NAGA through the teleconference if that were a possibility, it got a rather lukewarm response. I’m not holding my breath.
What about a Canadian Golf Week where the powers that be offer up free lessons, reduced green fees, open houses, etc., along with some knowledge through the media (compare the cost of playing golf vs. the cost of playing hockey on an hourly percentage, for example) right across the country?
That leaves about 4.3 million Canadians who play some golf, but aren’t into it in nearly the same engaged way. Forget about growing the game for a minute. Forget about the reasons people give for not taking up the game, such as it takes too much time and costs too much. Navicom’s president John Pulley, who answered every question from the media in as straightforward a manner as possible, said that people don’t really know why they make decisions anyway.
Pulley’s point was that people use linear, logical thinking to explain why they do things – such as taking up golf, or, as participants, why they take lessons – if they do. But they provide their answers after the fact, that is, in a linear, and of necessity, backwards-looking manner. Pulley explained that science has demonstrated that people make decisions for non-linear reasons. As this applies to golfers, their attachments are emotional more than they are reasoned out.
I think, surprise here as we don’t agree on much, that for the most part Ian Hutchinson is correct in his take on the study:
My initial reaction to the National Allied Golf Association’s Canadian Golf Consumer Behaviour Study was that it was mostly a confirmation of beliefs the golf industry already held, with maybe a few nuggets thrown in to raise eyebrows.