Inside Golf House

And now a word from our president

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Douglas Alexander (Golf Canada/ Claus Andersen)

On Saturday, February 9th, 2014, Douglas Alexander of London, Ont. was introduced as the 111th President of Golf Canada. Below is the acceptance speech shared by the London Hunt and Country Club member during Golf Canada’s Annual General Meeting.

Past Presidents, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your welcome – and thank you for the honour of allowing me to be the President of this great organization.  This is a game, a sport I love and I can assure you that I am excited about what we can achieve together in the year ahead.

I am going to share with you my views on the state of the game and what I see in the year ahead for Golf Canada.  I will share my reflections shortly, but before I do that, let me start by properly recognizing the contribution made by our Past President Mike Carroll. 

Mike, we all thank you for all you have done for Golf Canada. You have provided very effective leadership in a year when we have made significant progress. Our financial results are the best in many years and you have encouraged us to focus on matters of strategic importance. I believe the gathering of all of the Provincial volunteer leaders in Prince Edward Island last fall was a pivotal moment in deepening our relationships with our partners.  It is an initiative we will build upon as we move forward.  You have been very generous with your time, for which we also thank Ann and your family, and you have shared your passion for the game, your wisdom and advice. I am delighted you will continue to be at the Board table throughout the coming year and I will be most appreciative of your advice and support.  Please join me in acknowledging our Past President, Mike Carroll.

As Mike mentioned a few moments ago, I took up the game at a very young age in Scotland so there is no question that many of my perspectives have been shaped by my introduction to the game and the way it is played there.  

In Scotland, golf is part of our culture. I played with my grandmother as often as I could and with some people who are still my closest friends today.   I would go out and play nine holes in the evening with my mum and dad – it was the one family activity that we all enjoyed and we spent quality time together.  Fifty plus years later I still view golf as a game that at its heart and soul is about camaraderie and friendship. 

Where else do you get to spend several hours walking with your friends, sharing conversations and laughs, enjoying some competition and afterwards sitting down and enjoying a drink and a bite to eat?  What other game has such a deep grounding in integrity and sportsmanship – calling penalties on ourselves and being quick to congratulate a player on a good shot.  From my perspective the qualities or the experiences that are at the heart of the game are as strong as ever. 

I reflect on starting the game at the age of five and then think of my friend Ed Ervasti who recently celebrated his centennial birthday. He plays four to five times per week and is disappointed if doesn’t shoot his age or better every time he plays. What an example of golf as the game of a lifetime. For Ed, it’s as much about competition as it is about camaraderie.  We can all relate.

So, if I can build a case that the game of golf is something that we love and are passionate about, why are there discussion about the challenges in the game and the need for change.  There has been much discussion since the HackGolf concept was introduced at the PGA Show two weeks ago, a discussion that has continued into the hospitality suite this week!!

Certainly any dialogue about the game is good and I welcome the discussion. In reading about the initiative, I wonder why they chose to ask what folks didn’t like or would change, rather than encouraging golfers to share what drove their own passion for the game. The phrasing of the ask ultimately dictates the tone of the response.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe the game is strong, but I would suggest it is perhaps how we play the game that can be improved.  Time, cost, length, difficultly are all factors bandied about however, I’d suggest that in most communities across the country, there are course options that present wonderful alternatives.

I am currently reading the “The Kingdom of Golf in America” by Richard Moss and he offers some interesting insights.  He argues that part of the great enjoyment of the game is the challenge it offers each of us every time we play. In his words, mountain climbing will not become more popular by blasting the tops off the mountains.  We cannot take away the challenge – but also we probably do not need the supply of 7,000 yard courses with deep hazards and punishing greens.

We need a balance.  We have to be aware of social and cultural changes – the game of golf and golf clubs originated as places where friends came together.  Today, all of us – and younger generations in particular – can communicate through social media and lay claim to their number of friends as a badge of honour on Facebook. 

I think we’re all very conscious of what’s happening in society. We probably don’t spend as much quality time as we’d like with friends and loved ones. You don’t have to go someplace to connect with friends – technology makes it easy. We don’t spend quality time with those closest to us – that’s more of a cultural issue than a golf issue, but it’s certainly impacted our sport.

As we move forward I believe it is critical that we respect the traditions of our game, but be relevant for modern society.  That means that we must protect our core values, but be prepared to make changes to adapt to current cultures.  I think we are making progress and we must recognize them and promote them.

Equipment is better than it’s ever been. For the recreational player a ball that flies further and a club that is easier to hit is a welcome development.

The quality of teaching, coaching and program delivery has never been stronger thanks to the efforts of PGA of Canada professionals.

Initiative like Tee-it-Forward remind us that golfers always have the choice to play a course that fits their game.  While we may aspire to play like the PGA TOUR players we watch on a Sunday, the reality is we don’t hit the ball as far.  More importantly, I would argue strongly that golf is more fun when we can reach greens more easily and play the courses as they were designed to be played.

There is a greater awareness than ever about what courses can do – both with conditioning and setup – to impact the golfer experience.  Again the vast majority of us are not good enough to be playing on Augusta-like greens. I played in Scotland last fall when it is questionable if any of the greens were running above 10 on the stimpmeter – and we had a wonderful time.  Let’s make sure courses are set up for enjoyment, not difficulty.

The rules of golf are critical to the integrity of a competition – I’ve played in club, provincial and national events and understand how the rules protect the entire playing field. But the rules don’t dictate any golfer’s ability to enjoy the game. It’s a false argument to suggest the rules are driving people away.

Handicapping is the great equalizer in our sport – that doesn’t preclude golfers from negotiating strokes on the first tee. Any golfer regardless of ability can compete equitably and that is something unique to our sport.

Golfers should be encouraged to be competitive to their own degree of comfort; to fully test one’s game and strive to improve but not stress about it; to enjoy the challenge and to share the experience with friends.

And finally, and most importantly, I think clubs and courses are better understanding the opportunities that come by making their facilities welcome to all members of the family and developing programs that will bring children into the game.

I don’t believe we need to change the game to make it more fun. I think we need to do a better job of selling the experience of golf. Selling the idea of spending quality time with friends and family; selling the values and integrity that golf can offer our children.

I know the people in this room are prepared to tackle the challenges that face our game. Outside of these meetings, we need to be leaders in every sense. We need to be ambassadors. If we’re not talking up the sport, marketing what makes golf great, who will?  

As I begin this term as president, I’ve challenged myself to be a vocal advocate of the sport. I look forward to working closely with the (Golf Canada CEO) Scott Simmons and the staff, our volunteers and our industry partners.  As leaders in the industry – whether at the club, provincial or national level – it’s our responsibility to be the most vocal ambassadors for what makes the game great.

Let me offer a few comments on my vision for Golf Canada – it is a question I have been asked many times in recent weeks.  There is a smart answer I could give that says I don’t have a vision – because simply we all share One Vision – and I honestly don’t believe it is something that any president should bring forward as an individual. We have worked collectively to develop our vision for the future and in the course of the last few days, we have shared the progress we have made – and the work that remains to be done.

I am very comfortable with our role as the National Sports Organization and the four pillars in our plan – participation, excellence, capacity and interaction. It’s important for all of us to understand what it means to be the National Sport Organization and governing body of golf in this country. The four pillars represent the areas of focus that drive our strategic plan. It means getting real serious with what we need to do.

I want to build on the initiatives started by (former president) Mike Carroll and our past Boards. It’s encouraging that Golf Canada and the provincial golf associations – with buy in at both the staff and board level – are working collaboratively to promote, market and support the game. Synergies – working together to make an impact greater than any of us could do on our own.

I want to better understand how we can work with all of our partners in the golf industry for the betterment of the game. 

I want to understand what the course owners and managers are doing to welcome new participants and how can we help.

I want to get a better sense of what superintendants have planned to impact the golfer experience and how we can promote it.

I’m just as eager to find out how PGA of Canada professionals are delivering quality golf activities at the club level and how we can support it. Golf has a wonderful story and I want to help tell share it.

Let me close by saying that I am encouraged by the state of the game in Canada. Golf is a great game.  We are still the highest participation sport in Canada. 

Our athletes are performing against the world’s best.  We have Canadian heroes emerging – Graham DeLaet is performing at a very high level. We have more players on the LPGA, PGA and Tours than we have seen for many years and PGA TOUR Canada has made a tremendous first impression.  Our Team Canada National Amateur Squad players are winning and we have 9 players inside the top 100 of the World Amateur Rankings, including 16-year old Brooke Henderson. 

We have the Olympics just around the corner which will give the game greater profile. 

We have a clear direction with financial stability and we are committed to working closely with our partners across the country. Yes there are challenges – but we I am very confident we can deal with them. And my confidence is grounded in this room – with the commitment and passion you have shown in our meetings this week. 

I am looking forward to working with the Board and I want to offer a sincere thank you to everyone – volunteers and staff alike – who has agreed to give their time and talents in the year ahead.

I hope everyone comes away from this week’s Annual General Meeting leaving positive about the game; enthused about the many aspects in golf that can make our sport a more attractive option than the recreational activities we are competing with.

I would challenge everyone in this room when you head home to your respective provinces or golf clubs to look for opportunities to make a difference.  Let’s embrace every opportunity to better promote this great game.

Also, click here to check out Golf Canada’s Strategic Plan.