Back at the Golf Business Canada Conference and Trade Show in November, Jeff Calderwood sensed a feeling of cautious optimism among his members in Niagara Falls, Ont.
“The cautious part is that people are realistic,” said the executive director of the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada. “At that point, it was more optimism than not.”
The feeling was, and still is in the opinion of many, that golfers have historically continued to play during past recessions despite their economic concerns, with golf acting as a form of escape.
It’s been nearly four months since that conference in Niagara Falls and there have been numerous scary economic outlooks published in the interim, including jobless and consumer confidence reports that don’t paint a pretty picture for the economy with the 2009 Canadian golf season on the horizon.
Calderwood says he can’t put blinders on and block out the fact that there is uncertainty ahead, but he suspects that, like him, NGCOA members are still taking a positive approach.
“Nobody knows,” said Calderwood about what’s ahead in 2009. “The worst of it is happening in the off-season.
“I’m on the optimistic side of what you’re probably hearing from a lot of people,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as tough as the typical media message has been.
“I really tbink there’s a lot of over-reaction. I think the media is part of the problem. It’s so easy to do the negative story. Consumer confidence gets weak by (the media’s) perception of things,” said Calderwood.
Some areas of the country will get hit harder than others by the economy, so it may be unrealistic to expect growth overall in 2009, according to Calderwood, but he adds that’s just following a recent trend.
“I probably would net that out nationally as an expectation that it will be pretty much flat compared to last year,” he said. “Last year was a so-so year, averaging the whole country.”
That means dealing with the uncertainty ahead through various means, according to Calderwood.
“I think (owners) are all a little uneasy and so, they are looking at expenses and they’re cutting where they can. I think the good ones are going to be more creative than ever before on the revenue side, so you’ll see some collaborative marketing,” he said.
“You’re going to see a lot more of that kind of marketing – individually, some value-added things that they haven’t done in the past,” added Calderwood.
“There will be some discounting,” he said. “We hope that they don’t get too carried away on that end. That’s not the best solution, but the demand will be a little softer in some sectors and some of that will affect the price. I think they’ll have to be careful that they don’t let that deteriorate too much.”
With golfers still expected to play regularly in 2009, it has been suggested that the recession simply means that the focus of golfers will shift more to affordable golf courses from the high-end variety.
“It’s a bit of a generalization, but I think it’s a fair statement to make,” said Calderwood.
“That’s part of why I think the industry comes out somewhat flat, although there will be those sectors – the high end corporate, maybe some of the high end resorts where people aren’t traveling as much, some of the high end private (clubs) – that are susceptible.
“Those things are likely to soften a little bit, but I think a lot of that will get redistributed and the play will find its way to some of the mid-range from the high end,” said Calderwood, adding that people at the high end facilities will start to get creative in their marketing in order to deal with the problem.
The market may be changing due to the recession, which Calderwood says is part of the natural economic cycle that is usually followed by strong growth which is the reason for his optimism. In the meantime, existing owners will be looking to make their facilities more efficient, which is good for the industry
“This cycle is a correction and good operators will look internally and they’re going to flush out some inefficiencies that they didn’t even think about when times were good,” said Calderwood.
“This is a natural part of an economy. It has to happen every now and then. You manage your way through it.”