Association Spearheads Move To Address Industry Challenges

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By Jeff Sutherland


On March 27 the newly renamed Allied Golf Associations of British Columbia (AGA) hosted a one-day symposium to examine the problems facing the golf industry and find solutions.


Titled "Symposium For the Future of Golf," it was held at the Richmond Country Club and attracted more than 80 of golf's heavy hitters from across the province.

The major thrusts of the day were to take stock of the state of golf now, where it may be headed and then look at possible solutions and directions.

In part one of this multi-part feature, we will review the first major presentation where BC Golf's Jim Lee's looks at the "State of the Golf Market (Where have all the golfers gone?)"


Lee began by quoting some National Golf Foundation (NGF) numbers that showed a steady decline in the number of golfers, the net result of which, is that:

"Goals supply and demand undoubtedly hangs in the favor of the golfer. Since the ratio of golfers to courses has declined, over the past 20 years, the competitive environment is allowing today's players to secure unprecedented values in terms of the quality of golfing get for their money."

Data from BC Golf's own recent surveys back this up.

They are finding that 4 out of 5 core golfers (10+ rounds played per year) are opting to find ways to pay less to play.

Close to half are choosing to play during off-peak times, using coupons for green fees and food, or booking online for discounted tee times.

While Lee idenfifying that price-sensitive golfers may be the new reality might not have been earth-shattering news to many in the room, his examination of where we may be headed in terms of the total number of golfers, definitely was.


In 2008 the Canadian golf market hit a high with more than 4.2 million golfers. By 2010 that number had dropped to approximately 3.8 million.

Since then, the levels of flattened across the country with only BC posting a slight rebound in 2010.

Still, Lee's projections would indicate that goal's overall participation rates will then continue to decline. Lee sums up this situation succinctly," By 2016, we will have one-half the golfers we have now unless this changes."


So where have all the golfers gone?

Well first of all the percentage of youth playing golf has dropped significantly since 2003.

In that year 14% of children aged 12 to 17 were teeing it up at least twice during the year. In 2010 that number had dropped 8.6%. The percentages were similar for those aged 18 to 24.

The only age group to show any growth whatsoever during this period was the 65+ age group where 3% more of that population is playing.

Looking at it from an income point of view, It looks like the well-off are actually playing more as well. The participation rate for households with annual incomes over $75,000 has risen from 25% to 33%.

Other than that, it is a cut of a thousand knives... consistent 2-5% drops across the board no matter how you look at it.

Lee concluded his talk by identifying the group where the biggest immediate impact could be made to get golfers back on the links.

It appears that for casual golfers (3-9 rounds played per year), the number of round played peaks around the age of 35 and then declines.

If you can turn this casual player into a core player before this point (10+ rounds per year), then it's likely they will play forever with even more rounds played when they pass the age of 55.

Lee continues, "I think the biggest opportunity are lapsed golfers (who were casual golfers). They have the equipment and they have shown they have the time and interest...  but in order to achieve this, prices will have drop."

What's next on the stats side?

There is a woeful inadequacy on the data side. Lee's data comes from reliable sources but more specific information on items like green fees charged to pro shop purchases is essential. Recent attempts by the NCGOA to get courses to provide information have seen only a 22% response rate.

That has to change. Without a solid baseline set of data, it is hard to see where you have gone and predict where you are going.

Concludes Lee, " We need to know a lot more about a lot of things."

In part two of this "State Of The Game" Feature, we will look at the long term growth initiatives currently underway to grow the game.

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