If we think of one common theme to the winter that just passed, certainly its refusal to release its grip on the golf industry is one of them in contrast to last year when many parts of the country saw spring come early and stick around.
However, weather isn’t the only common theme to the cold, dark days of winter 2012-13, when municipal golf courses seemed to be making news almost on a daily basis and it wasn’t encouraging for the game.
Play is down. Operating costs are high. Cities are figuring out what to do to fix the problem, but the disappearance of munis in communities across the country is either a done deal or a very real possibility.
You can spend an entire day reading up on what’s happening, so depending on how much time you’ve got, click here, here, here, here, here, here and here. There are more, but this list will give you a good idea of the extent.
This blends in with shrinking waiting lists at private clubs, many of which are now holding open houses and offering trial memberships to allow potential members to test the ambience and facilities.
In an era when discounting of green fees and the proliferation and use of third party resellers are common practices, the threat to munis should be considered another layer of concern for the Canadian golf industry.
One comment I’ve heard within the industry is that governments shouldn’t be in the business of running golf courses, that it’s best left up to private interests, but governments run arenas and other venues to provide recreation for citizens.
In an era when you hear so much about growing the game, munis can serve as a launching pad for people getting into golf. They are the antithesis of the common misconception that golf is for the well-to-do who have the means to enjoy a country club.
I was one of those people. Growing up north of Toronto in the early 70s, there were no munis, but we would play some of the affordable golf courses in the area once every couple of weeks when we weren’t working or in school and when we could afford it.
The first green fee I paid was $15 and if I recall correctly, the first set of clubs I had cost me $50, including bag, at Canadian Tire. They would be loaded on to a pull cart and away we’d go for a few hours in the sun, either after school or on Sundays.
These may sound like the meanderings of a guy in his 50s, but the reason for mentioning it is that many of the guys I played with back then are still playing today and many are paying green fees at higher end courses.
Recently, we’ve heard about developing players. PGA Tour Canada, for example, is expected to be part of a feeder system to the PGA Tour by way of the WebDotCom Tour. Munis can serve the same purpose in recreational golf.
Get somebody hooked on the game, hopefully he or she becomes a lifer and a core golfer and that person gets the kids involved later in life.
Munis can actually serve as a foundation for the game, but that layer is beginning to rot in this country.