Guest blog: Why does being tops seem underwhelming

RT Note: I’ve had several good chat with Colin McDougall while sitting at London’s Hunt Club or in a nearby Starbucks in recent months. Like most conversations I have people in the golf business, the situation inevitably leads to a discussion about the state of the industry. Colin, whose family ran the Accuform brand of golf clubs, is now a Professor of Golf Management in the 4-year degree program at Georgian College in Barrie. I suspect he’ll pop up on G4G more in coming weeks — or perhaps with his own blog. Regardless, I like Colin because he has strong opinions that he backs up — which makes discussions with him always entertaining, while also making me reconsider my perspectives.


A quick thank-you to my new friend and fellow London’r, Robert Thompson on this, my maiden blogging voyage here at!

Now, on with the blog!

# 1 Never Felt So Bad?

I’m pretty sure there are ironing boards with more fluctuations in them than golf’s recent history in terms of participation rates.

For a long time now the game of golf has seen players quit at virtually the same rate at which new people take it up, much to the concern and chagrin of those who have an economic or empirical stake in the game.

The sheer amount of calories burned across our industry in a continuous navel-gazing, Eeyore-like ‘Woe is me’ fashion is enough to drive a man to the 19th hole – without even playing the previous 18.

Typical of our passive, polite, quick-to-say-sorry Canadian culture, we in the golf industry have taken to seeing this participation plateau as a problem we must fix rather than for what it is – the top of the mountain.

Fact: 1 in 5 Canadians play golf.

More than baseball, more than soccer and – yes, more than frickin’ hockey, golf has the highest participation rate of any sport in our country.

So how do we in the golf industry celebrate our lofty position in the sporting landscape you ask? Surely there must be an annual soiree held somewhere by someone in exaltation of our continual domination of being the sport most loved by the most Hosers in the land, right?


What we do, in fact, is waste hordes of time, energy and perhaps most importantly spirit trying to find out what is so wrong with our game that we can’t attract even more people to it than we already have.

It’s like TV’s Mad Men winning 14 Emmy’s and watching the entire cast & crew mope around the set for the entire following season wondering why they lost out on ‘best supporting key grip’.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoughts on ways to improve participation (you’ll no doubt see them written about here if you decide to return…) and I certainly see merit in the creation and execution of programs that will encourage the non-illuminated to experience and connect with our wonderful game.

My point is, well, chill out everyone.

Take a closer look at things and you’ll see that participation in all sports is on the decline (Canadian Heritage Sport Participation Research Paper 2013).  The fact that we are staying relatively level in comparison to sports like football & hockey suggest that our game is much stickier in its appeal than we may appreciate.

As a parent of a 9-year old hockey player, I can tell you that discussions are already under way with my better half as to whether he should continue to play once body contact is introduced two short years from now.  Concussion-prone sports like hockey and football are in serious jeopardy of being marginalized in terms of participation over the next several decades as increasingly concerning data emerges regarding their long-term health risks.

Now, my little diatribe here certainly won’t mitigate our industry’s concerns over its self-image to be sure, after all, it’s in our country’s national fabric to evade overt celebration of being the best at anything, save for that brief Olympic respite in 2010.

Btw, did I mention that our participation rate for golf in Canada is actually tops on a per capita basis worldwide?

#1 in Canada

#1 in the World

Let’s take a look up from our collective navel and enjoy the view from the top for a moment, shall we?

Colin McDougall is a Professor of Golf Management in the 4-year degree program at Georgian College in Barrie, ON

Follow him on Twitter: @doogs70












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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Participation rates are strong but the devil is in the details. How does one define participation? Big difference between active golfers and folks playing 3 corporate rounds a year in a scramble format. I would suggest that active golfer rates are declining due to busy schedules and 5+ hour rounds.

  • I don’t believe the “I golfer per 5 people play golf” stat. Canada must figure it differently than other countries, do we count people who play 5 times a year as golfers?

    Other than that, good blog Colin, is your dad still around?

  • If this is the same survey from Golf Canada, I seem to remember the folowing:

    1. playing once counted as participation
    2. the tremendous overweighting of samples from rural areas meant participation would appear statistically high because the data selection did not represent the actual population distribution.

  • Colin,

    I should have began with a either hello or welcome to the blog. My bad. I did enjoy your piece and you did make some fine points. My issues are with the survey and not with anything you said.

    All the best,


  • Doogs, great piece but like others here I argued that the definition of participation is very misleading as you only have to play once. By this definition, 4 out or 5 people probably play soccer!

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