Gordon on Golf

Where Canada’s golf business stands

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(Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

The Golf Facilities in Canada 2015 report was published last week by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada in cooperation with the U.S. National Golf Foundation.

While it contained interesting data about the current number, distribution and type of golf facilities in this country, it also provided the opportunity to analyze just where the game in Canada stands from some wider perspectives, historically and globally.

The “snapshot” summary of the report is available here. Snapshots aside, from a historical long view, the game remains popular and accessible, with almost six million people playing at least one round annually. In total, almost 60-million rounds are played in Canada each year.

The Golf Facilities report indicates that of the 2,346 golf facilities in Canada, more than 90 per cent are open to the public, putting to rest the misconception that the game is elitist and exclusionary. To the contrary, thanks to the variety and number of facilities, combined with the handicap system, it can be argued that golf is the most democratic of all sports.

Those who worry about the length of time it takes to play will be interested to find out that nine-hole layouts account for close to 40 per cent of the country’s courses. And it goes without saying that most 18-hole courses are composed of two returning nine-hole loops, making it possible to play in little more than a couple of hours.

Just as happened after golf booms in the 1920s and 1960s, course construction has dropped off following the spectacular growth of the game in the 1990s. In the 1960s, more than 420 facilities opened across Canada, closely followed by more than 310 new openings in the 1990s. Golf, like any other business and recreational activity, is tied to economic factors and changing consumer behaviours. As such, it cycles periodically and unpredictably. In the past 10 years, 158 facilities across Canada have closed for various reasons. Since 2010, 29 courses have opened in six different provinces and 31 18-hole equivalent facilities are in various stages of development.

When the report was released, it also pointed out some inarguable facts about the vital role golf plays across Canada.

“The golf industry is worth more than $14.3-billion to the Canadian economy and represents more than one per cent of our nation’s total GDP,” the report summary stated. “The $5-billion in direct revenues generated by Canada’s 2,346 facilities are more than the revenues generated by all other participation sports and recreational facilities combined ($4.8-billion). The numbers reinforce the massive financial, charitable, and environmental impact that golf has in communities across Canada including hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions in taxes, and a major tourism driver both domestic and international. Canadian golf facilities are a channel for major charitable giving with close to 37,000 events at Canadian courses raising more than $533-million annually for worthwhile causes.”

The accessibility, affordability and popularity of golf in Canada cannot be disputed.  A recent global study by the R&A in partnership with the NGF puts us third in total golf facilities behind the United States and Japan.

The R&A study also reported that there are 34,011 facilities in 204 countries worldwide, providing the opportunity for international participation in showcases such as the current Pan Am Games and the 2016 Olympics. Professional golf tours around the world also reflect this positive international trend.

(The Pan Am golf competition starts Thursday, July 16, at Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont. The Olympic golf championship takes place next August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.)

Viewing the three- or four-decade downswing between previous golf booms, we can be hopeful the game will once again recycle in a few years. However, it is impossible to predict economic trends or whether the presence of the game on global stages such as the Pan-Am Games and the Olympics will enhance its popularity or encourage construction of more facilities.

What is known, in the wake of the release of last week’s study, is that there is plenty of golf to go around in Canada and plenty of people interested in taking advantage of it.

The complete Golf Facilities in Canada 2015 report including national and provincial data is available for download here.

For more information about the impact of golf in Canada, visit www.canadagolfs.ca.