For Richer or Poorer, time for action for Golf in Canada

Some would argue that you can’t put a price on something you love. But, the results are the newest National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA) consumer behavior study would suggest otherwise as the perception remains that golf is a game for the rich.

According to the study, the number of people who are entering the game is equal to the number of people leaving the game, raising concerns on how to right the ship for golf in Canada.

Where does golf in Canada go from here? (Courtesy: Golf Canada

NAGA met with various members of the media on Wednesday at Golf Canada’s offices on the property of the swank Glen Abbey Golf Course to unveil the findings of the Canadian Golf Consumer Behaviour Study, formally pulled together by Navicom, a market research company.

The average golfer probably doesn’t know that NAGA exists, but it’s basically an organization of the prominent golf stakeholders in Canada, i.e. Golf Canada, the National Golf Course Owner’s Association of Canada, the PGA of Canada (etc), and unites them under common interests like research and government lobbying.

In 2009, NAGA released the Economic Impact of Golf in Canada study aimed at “helping the Canadian golf industry to better understand the current state of golf in Canada, as well as factors that influence the behaviour of consumers as they relate to golf.”

The current study – aimed at “helping the Canadian golf industry to better understand the current state of golf in Canada, as well as factors that influence the behaviour of consumers as they relate to golf” – was less than ground-breaking, and challenges remain.

I’m skeptical of the sample size of the study – 1,300 people – because if you can’t get a very high number of people to answer a survey about a game that nearly 6 million people play then that’s a problem in itself.

Golf in Canada is a brand, and the problem it’s having is a reflection of one that most brands are having these days: engagement is low.

If you read through the entire study you’ll notice the recommendation at the end is rather wishy-washy – getting golfers “playing more, following more, supporting more, and spending more.”

So, what does it all mean?

The conclusion leaves out the very question that should have been asked as soon as the first draft of the study was completed: How?

I disagree with some who suggest that shorter golf courses are the answer. Golf is a game rich in tradition, and it should stay that way. But the key word in that sentence for why the game is likely struggling to keep it’s audience engaged is “rich.”

The perception remains that golf is a rich person’s sport only.

For parents signing up their kids to join athletics, are they more likely to join the league with a one-time fee, or the one where they would have to pay each time their son or daughter would like to go out and play.

Some programs are already in place to address the issue of kids not entering the game early enough: Take a Kid to the Course Week and Golf in Schools for example, but does this leave the audience engaged? Or would they rather still play Angry Birds?

And as I alluded to earlier, the numbers of golfers coming in are equal to the number of golfers coming out.

It’s great to have these findings consolidated for the governing bodies and it’s members to review and debate, but now that the powers-that-be for golf in Canada are equipped with (surely expensive) results it’s time to put a coordinated plan in place.

Perhaps there is a financial solution on the horizon, but it would be up to the NAGA coalition to “work together on matters of mutual interest, and (promote) ways and means to grow the game of golf in Canada,” per its mandate.

The current situation may not be one of lipstick on a pig, but it’s clear that golf in Canada has a business problem, and no amount of studies will be able to help that.

It’s time for action, and to bring together the governing bodies of Golf in Canada under a common goal – to promote a great game with lifelong health, social, and environmental benefits to the rest of the population, young and old.

If you’d like to read the whole study, you can find it here

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