As caretakers, followers, devotees, participants and servants of golf, stop for a moment and chuck your passion for the game out the window.
I realize that’s a ridiculous statement to make to people who have devoted their lives to the game, a passion that in many cases was rooted in childhood and strengthened each year to the point each individual is at in their respective careers in which success is directly related to the overall health of the game.
Of course, this Golfweek story that we linked over to from GNN on Tuesday indicates that the number of American golfers continues to decline, so how healthy can the game be in the United States?
The positive side of that, if you can call a weak economy positive, is that financial pressures appear to be what’s keeping golfers away. It’s never good when golfers aren’t showing up, but at least it appears that their absence isn’t due to waning interest in the game, which would be more of a long-term malady.
Does that mean the economy is to blame in Canada? This where our warm and fuzzy for the game and our first reaction to defend it must go out the window, at least temporarily.
The first difference between Canada and the United States is that we have no industry numbers by which to judge if participation is plummeting, stagnating or growing. The last indication of any kind came in 2008 when the National Allied Golf Associations were preparing their economic impact study.
Since then, we’ve gone through a tough recession, admittedly not as severe and lengthy as in the U.S., and a strong recovery, if you believe what became a Conservative majority in the recent federal election. Despite that being propaganda, most would agree that Canada has recovered faster than most countries.
If that’s the case, can we really say it’s the economy keeping golfers away from the game, or is it waning interest? Personally, I think Canadian participation numbers are stagnant at the very best and that may be overly optimistic.
Overly optimistic is what comes out of our desire to automatically defend and promote a game that many of us grew up with, even when fact or fiction about golf courses going into receivership or other golf companies struggling to make ends meet continue to swirl.
As we’ve discussed on GNN, there are economic factors influencing participation, including fear of continued inflation, a possible rise in interest rates, the introduction of the HST in British Columbia and Ontario and apparent profiteering by oil companies and the roller-coaster of gas prices that go along with it.
It’s even tempting to say crappy weather is affecting rounds played, but there was a time when empty fairways on cold, rainy days only meant increased business on sunny days to balance it out back in the day, but can we afford to be nostalgic anymore?
The good times that the game provided for us is tough to relate to a newbie. For that reason, the denizens of the golf industry can’t be insiders looking out into the world, but instead try to figure out how to become an outsider looking into golf, as best they can.
The first challenge is getting potential golfers to take a look in the first place. I’ve had a few discussions with Jeff Calderwood, executive director of the National Golf Course Owners Association, about the perception of golf being for the well-to-do financially.
We can scream and holler about that not being true, but it’s up to the golf industry to change that, whether we like it or not, and that exclusive image is not only based on income levels.
Immigration is changing the face of Canada, but how inclined will newcomers from India be to play golf or even hockey, for that matter? It’s a challenge facing all traditional sports that we play here, but how active has golf as a whole been in welcoming newcomers and identifying potential golfers from other countries?
That’s just one example. We can go on and on, and have in the past, about demographics such as women, juniors, families, etc., and the majority of those groups just aren’t getting what drew us to the game and as much as we don’t want to believe it, dropping participation may be as much, if not more, to do with declining interest than economics.
Argue that if you like, but the only way to convince yourself about the factors that influence your business is by shucking your preconceived notions about golf and trying to take an objective view through the eyes of people who don’t give a damn about the game.
Once you understand them, you just might figure out how to open their minds about golf, as well. You never know, they just might get it.