Just as I was about to pontificate on the results of the current GNN Poll, regular readers Michael Schurman and Ted Maude beat me to it, which is okay by me.
Better we discuss it through the words of a couple of industry veterans who, like many in the industry it would appear, are greatly concerned with the way the game is going. You can read Ted’s and Michael’s comments at the bottom of each blog here and here.
What sparked these comments was the GNN Poll, which asks “Which factor is causing the stagnating or decreasing number of Canadian golfers?” The available choices were lack of interest, economic reasons or readers could take issue and say that the number of golfers in Canada is actually increasing.
Nobody felt the number of golfers was rising, which is somewhat of a surprise because there is usually somebody who disagrees with a point, especially one such as this with no real, hard numbers available in this country. Apparently, everybody sees the writing on the wall or the lack of people on their fairways.
The really surprising aspect of the poll, however, is that for most of the week, the majority of respondents felt it was lack of interest in the game that was causing the dwindling number of golfers more than economic reasons, which is both good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. Lack of interest in the game is chronic and will continue to eat away at the game over the long term compared to economic reasons that are more short term and might turn around when things get better.
Now, the good news. Traditionally, people close to golf will blindly defend golf and deny that potential players are turning their noses up at a game those within it grew to love over the years. It was that blind faith that somehow painted somebody who took a critical look as a boat-rocker.
In a previous GNN Poll, we asked, “Do you feel inhibited when it comes to voicing your opinion in golf?” and the result was about a 50-50 split between yes and no. One thing is clear on the current poll and that is people aren’t only using the economy as an excuse and people who will speak their minds are important.
Concern is much more positive for the game than the apathy so prevalent in the Canadian golf industry these days.
In his comment, Schurman discusses how the fun has been sucked out of the game, how courses are too expensive and difficult to play.
Maude talks about how junior golf is only being paid lip service compared to the past and mentions Sam Young, who earned a well-deserved reputation and built his business at the Shelburne Golf and Country with juniors as a strong foundation before being named to the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame this year.
Those comments reflect just some of the important challenges facing the golf industry. We also need to concern ourselves with women, seniors as baby boomers get older, immigrants and other demographics if we are to attract more people to the game.
In order to do that, we need to look at golf from a perspective newcomer’s eyes. Does the difficulty or the game or a perceived notion that a golf club is an unwelcoming place enter into it? We can argue these points all we want among ourselves, but what good does that do?
Instead, we need to be out in our communities, speaking to service groups and other places where people gather, perhaps do focus groups among non-golfers to see what they’re seeking from their recreation. If dress codes are restrictive, perhaps it’s time to lighten up, but golf does need to be a warmer place.
Blah-blah-blah, we’ve already discusses such things in previous blogs, So, where do we go from here?
It’s fashionable to point a finger at the national associations in all of this, but we also need to look at the root of the problem at the game’s grassroots where most of these dilemmas will be solved or left to fester and hopefully, there are enough stewards and caretakers of the game who care enough to turn it around.
My own little corner of the golf business, the media, saw rapid change taking place, but many established businesses weren’t willing to accept the influence that the Internet and 24-7 news and sports channels would have on that industry.
As a result, many of those established outlets are now playing big-time catch-up to survive and you have to wonder if it’s because many executives at the time were either too closed-minded to realize that change was necessary or were just willing to ride it out until retirement and let the next generation deal with it.
Is the same thing taking place in golf? Are many of us at an age at which it’s difficult to be motivated to change and just want to ride out our careers and leave golf’s challenges to the next generation?
Back in the mid-90s, many golf courses were bought or built by people who loved the game so much they wanted to be in the industry or just wanted an expensive toy.
Reality has set in and if they were 40-something back then, they are pushing 60 now, with waning enthusiasm that can also affect somebody who has been in the game all their lives.
With the number of golf courses going into receivership these days, and almost all of us know of one or two in our areas, does the receiver really care about the game or just making a buck? With that in mind, does the receiver really care about who eventually gets that particular golf operation?
We’ve discussed in the past the legacy that is being left for future generations in the golf industry and it isn’t looking good right now.
Our first concern is and should be our own operations. Of course, looking after the core golfers who have been playing the game all their lives is critical, but so is turning potential golfers into core golfers, but it means we need to go beyond the traditional ways of doing that.
By doing so, it will start to pay dividends for this generation, either through increased play or more value when we sell our establishments, and make the game’s future brighter.
It’s unfair to paint everybody with the same brush and I know the passion that exists out in the industry. The question is how does it compare to the apathetic types, which we will never know.
All we can do is concern ourselves with our own operations and use every means possible to make it vibrant and viable. That will ensure that the strong survive.