My initial reaction to the National Allied Golf Association’s Canadian Golf Consumer Behaviour Study was that it was mostly a confirmation of beliefs the golf industry already held, with maybe a few nuggets thrown in to raise eyebrows.
The study and an executive summary of that study can be read here.
Jeff Calderwood, executive direction of the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada, agreed by weighing it 80 per cent in favour of things the industry already knew in a country that doesn’t regularly provide numbers in studies such as the one unveiled yesterday.
However, there were a few things that caught the eyes of member associations within NAGA.
“All of us in this room and across the country continue to say that the time it takes to play the game and the cost of the game, if we fix those two things, we’d be off to the races,” said Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons.
“The biggest epiphany for me in this report was that, while those are two relevant factors, they certainly don’t drive choice,” he said.
“I don’t understand the push for six and 12-hole courses. There are nine hole (courses) out there and Tee It Forward. The cost, when people say golf is too expensive, I vehemently disagree with that. There is all sorts of moderately-priced golf in this country,” he added.
“I guess my short answer is that time and cost are not the big problems. There are more things that are driving people’s behaviour to either play more golf or less golf,” said Simmons.
“That would be my biggest `ah-hah!’ but it was also reaffirming that a lot of information in the report is consistent with what we at Golf Canada are trying to do and I know my (NAGA) peers across the the table are trying to do to make the game healthy in Canada,” he said.
Gary Bernard, executive director of the PGA of Canada, believes the important point that the study underscored is that there is not just one or two specific answers to growing the game.
“I think we have to stop looking for that one silver bullet, or one strategy that’s going to be a panacea for all of the challenges that exist in the market,” said Bernard.
“I think that this study clearly indicates that, if we segment the population and then look at strategies that can address the segments, then we have a better opportunity of being successful,” he said.
“That was one of the things that I thought was really important from the study and very important for PGA professionals to start looking at their programs a little differently, instead of having one blanket statement or one blanket program for all golfers,” said Bernard.
Elizabeth DiChiara, executive director of the Canadian Society of Club Managers, went right along with that thought.
“I think the other highlight for us was probably the need to look at how we can further engage those that are currently playing golf and get them to play golf as opposed to trying to get people to start playing golf,” said DiChiara.
The focus on avid golfers was a loud and clear message yesterday.
“I would reiterate what Elizabeth said about maybe focusing more attention on the people we currently have playing the game,” added Ken Cousineau, executive director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association.
“Not to completely forget about bringing new players in, but to place a little more emphasis on the people we currently have playing the game. It does seem that it will be easier to get them to play more and potentially spend more than to get a new player in the door,” he said.
Whether it confirms points that the industry already knew or uncovers things we hadn’t realized before, the study is merely a starting point. A study is only as good as what you do with it.
The NAGA associations will be taking a closer look at its findings and divvying it up as to how it affects each individual association’s agenda.
Not only will the associations need to take a closer look, but so will their individual members, who can choose to use this study as an impetus for change, or not.
One clear message from yesterday is that one size doesn’t fit all in a vast regionalized country and that golf operations and people in various parts of the country will need to tailor their use of these findings according to their individual markets and demographics.
“Each club is going to have to look at the findings of the study and really figure out whether at their level, they’re doing the things they need to do to attract the demographics that are present in their communities,” said Cousineau.
“That’s going to be different, depending on what part of the country and what community you’re in, but there’s stuff there for everybody to utilize,” he added.
The good folks at NAGA agree that a study is only as good as the impact it has on the industry, but they point out that previous studies, particularly the economic impact study that NAGA introduced three years ago, have been carried to the next level.
“The economic impact study in 2009, we’re still feeling the positive benefits of doing that study. It’s been used widely to change perceptions about the game at government levels and other levels,” said Simmons.
“If you look at the lobbying effort that we undertook last year to talk about the tax issue, again I think we’ve created a lot of awareness and stimulus for the industry there,” he added.
Calderwood was a key player when NAGA lobbied governments last year.
“Since the economic impact study, we have had some pretty good integrated strategies and outcomes,” he said.
“Certainly, the government advocacy part of the overall picture, which had never been done well in the Canadian golf industry, is now being done quite well,” added Calderwood.
“There are 20 or 30 issues at various provincial and federal and occasionally municipal levels where that economic impact study is the actual centrepiece of how the case gets stated,” he said.
Like that economic impact study, the jury remains out on this one until it has time to make an impact.