What Makes Golf Good?

Junior golfers in Canada will now have the support of the R&A
Future-golfers-image
Golf is a great game for kids and families

If you’ve had your ear to the ground you might have heard a few negative things lately about golf.  Would they be true?  Maybe, maybe not, but perception is everything to the uneducated.  In a world where people want a sound bite over an in-depth story often the tone and headline serve the purpose of information, even if it’s not accurate.

There are plenty of victims when things are consumed this way, and golf does not go unscathed.

There seems to be a growing negativity about the game, much of it built around a slightly faltering growth rate, but the level of hysteria of late reflects far more than a blip in participation rates.

People confuse the health of the golf business with the actual workings and attraction of the game itself.  The game of golf and the business of golf are deeply intertwined but too often they are portrayed as one and the same.

Like any business, the golf industry faces constant challenges, and to deal with those you must adapt.  Unfortunately the hurdles being faced by the golf industry has resulted in the game itself being portrayed in a very negative light at times.

The result is that far too often these days the general population is being directed to negative messages about golf, the sport, when it is golf, the business, that is experiencing some hardships. (That said, there are many golf markets that are growing and thriving)

Golf is a multi-faceted sport that has been played for hundreds of years. It has survived down periods, time, and even laws that outright banned it in certain periods of Scottish history.

The difficulty is that many loud voices in the industry (particularly within golf equipment manufacturers and golf real estate developers) use words like “broken” when they talk about golf when they should be applying that to the challenges of the golf BUSINESS, not the sport itself.

Of course those people need to remind themselves that in the boom part of their businesses, golf (the sport they tie their business to) was aided by an unprecedented amount of POSITIVE publicity.

Just because the golf may not be meeting current business expectations for them they should not be portraying the game as flawed.

Yes, surveys shows that after a large boom period golf in general there is currently is slight retraction as far as how many rounds are being played but golf is far from withering on the vine. That portrayal is less than accurate and the depiction does little to attract people to the sport, which, like any, needs constant nurturing.

Are there adaption’s necessary for the golf business to adjust to the changing markets?  That can’t be denied, just as adaptions were made in the 1920’s, 1960’s, and 1990’s when the golfing population was on the rise.

But it does not mean there is something wrong with golf itself.  It’s still an amazing sport which provides a lot to many.

Recently the National Allied Golf Associations released their Canadian Golf Economic Impact Study. A follow-up to their 2009 report, it provides a snapshot of the impact golf has on the economy in Canada. Numbers like $19.7 billion in direct spending on golf and an estimated golf population of 5.7 million (making it our #1 participation sport) jump out from the report.  The golf industry directly and indirectly employs some 300,000 people in Canada.

Those are amazing numbers but the trouble comes when people want MORE from golf, from a business sense.  It is still a niche sport; it won’t be for everyone, so expecting it to happen is just faulty thinking.

But, as golfers, as part of our duty to nurture the game we need to better convey the attraction of golf, the reasons why we play, and how it can enrich the lives of others. Can we make it better?  Always, but there is little need for radical approaches.  They weren’t needed to attract 5.7 million people in Canada in the first place so would they all of sudden be a mandatory part of the sport’s future?

So in these times when the image of golf is unnecessarily being marred we thought we would provide a reminder about What Makes Golf Good.

To help convey this message we reached out to golfers of all kinds – those who work in the game, and those who play it, to share their thoughts.  It’s not going to change the golf world but even non-golfer gets a chance to read their words and become intrigued about trying the game, it will have all been worth it.

Heroes in golf inspire others. Graham DeLaet approaches the 18th green at the RBC Canadian Open.
Heroes in golf inspire others. Graham DeLaet approaches the 18th green at the RBC Canadian Open.

Of course, I get to provide my own take on the sport I have played for 34 years now.

I’ll excuse you if you consider me a bit biased on this topic.  Years ago I decided to make golf my profession and in years working at golf courses and in the golf retail industry, and in my current roles as a golf journalist and a professional I would appear to be a cheerleader for the sport merely for my own financial reasons. But it’s not really the case.  My attraction to golf has never been monetarily based – it’s deeper than that.

The magic of golf first appeared for me on a school soccer field during a furnace-like summer in Northern Saskatchewan.  A couple buddies decided to try and hit some golf balls with their parent’s clubs. The moment that I made contact with ball that actually flew where I intended I was hooked.

Within days we were begging our parents to make the twenty-two kilometre trip over dusty roads to the hamlet of Bruno where we could test our new found talents or lack of them) over the expanses of a nine hole hardscrabble field with sand greens that served as a local golf course.  The cost? $2 in the honesty box by the first tee.

Competing with myself and others, the laughs shared on the course, and eventually the time spent with my parents during golf would forever attach the game to my soul. From there it blossomed into so much else.

I’ll not bore you with a blow by detail of my affinity for golf,  but it’s safe to say that the “game of a lifetime” is one that has and will always continue to provide a backbone in my life.

The same affection for golf is felt by millions in Canada alone.  Everybody has their own reasons to play and it’s safe to say that they do so voluntarily.  Young and old, skilled or inept, it attracts them for so many reasons.

Strip away the fancy clubs and flashy clothes and you have a simple game.  Behind all that golf has become, on television and in the board rooms – no matter the demands of those wanting to make it an industry, it has survived for hundreds of years.

Golf is good. Ask a golfer and they will tell you why.  So that’s exactly what we did.

Kris Barrie, Arnprior, Ontario (Supply Teacher)

“Golf is good near nearly every conceivable way. Besides the obvious health and social benefits, my favourite thing about golf is the game itself. In no other sport can you have so much fun regardless of your skill level, and in no other sport can you be just as competitive as you want irrespective of the same. Whether a scratch or double bogey golfer, how much enjoyment you get out of the round is entirely up to you.

As a high single digit handicap factor, I can play a new course and be thrilled to shoot in the 90s, or play at my home course and be utterly furious with a 76. There is such a wide net of participants who can enjoy the game and/or let loose their competitive spirit as compared to any other sport. There is simply no other activity I have found where you can want (want !) to swear and break something but still be thoroughly enjoying yourself.”

Matt Diederichs, Events Manager ,Professional Golfers’ Association of British Columbia

“A couple notes about what I love about the game:

The Travel – Golf has taken me to some of the world’s most beautiful places, Cape Kidnappers and Royal Melbourne among them. The world’s great golf courses are special places; stepping onto the tee at a new track in a gorgeous setting is an awesome feeling. And taking the clubs through airport security never fails to start a chat.

The People – Golf attracts a LOT of fun, social people who like to have fun on and off the course. From the community at your local club to the global golf community, it always feels like people who golf are open and welcoming. As Harvey Penick said – “If you play golf, you’re my friend.”

The Competition – I don’t play competitive stroke play events much anymore (can’t STAND grinding) but the competitive outlet is awesome. There’s nothing better than playing a beer match with your buddies, trash talking the entire way, presses and expletives flying around. Most of my best golf memories are from memorable matches with good friends. I played a match once with the HP (Head Professional) at Millbrook and two of his assistants – I couldn’t tell you what any of us shot but I remember my partner had GREAT white pants, we won the match, and the beers afterwards were magic.”

Lee Tamburano, Director of Golf, Canadian Golf & Country Club 

“It’s unlike any other sport… I can bring my 4 year old son, and my 70 year old parents‎ out for a game of golf, enjoy the outdoors, chat and share stories – and be together as a family.   That time spent on the golf course is priceless and builds memories that will last a lifetime!

And…

Golf encompasses everything good about sport. It teaches honour, respect, competitiveness – it creates lasting relationships – and helps to encourage and active life style at any age.”

Christine Jarrett, PGA of Canada Professional, Renfrew Golf Club

“To me the greatest gift golf gives us is people and the relationships with those people. The time that people spend with one another playing this great game is rivaled by no other pastime.

A few years back I had a lady come to me for golf lessons. She was a middle aged woman with three high school and college aged kids and aging parents. For most of the year she and her family lived seven hours away from her 80 year-old parents. In the summer months they all resided in the same community and so her desire to learn the game and take lessons from me was to connect and enrich her relationship with her father during that time. Suzanne was a natural athlete who took to the game quite naturally and because her goal was quite simple she put none of the usual pressure on herself like others may do – her goal was simple and uncomplicated. After two or three lessons she started to play nine hole games with her father and after the summer we spoke of the experience. She said very simply, “without golf she would never have spent this valuable time with her dad.”

Every day as a golf professional I get to witness these relationships and this time spent golfing. They are probably a good reason why I enjoy my profession so much. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren and friends all learn more about each other and spend that time that we never get back.

So for those considering trying this game for the first time, think about those that you can spend time with on the course and all of the great people that you have yet to meet that you will; simply by playing golf.”

Joe McLean, Editor, “The Jigger” – official newsletter of the Golf Historical Society of Canada”

“With all due respect to Nike’s current campaign encouraging “Golfers to play in the Now”, I am a member of the Golf Historical Society of Canada and we play golf with hickory-shafted golf clubs. Some of these clubs date back to the late 1800’s through the early 1930’s.

If you have never hit one of these old clubs and you have the opportunity, please do so. It’s a quieter game where the ball emits a “click” as it bounds through the air off my spoon or play club.

I have nothing but praise for the golf champions from the early 1900’s. To shoot the scores they did with clubs named jigger, brassie, cleek, baffy, driving iron, mid-iron, mid-mashie, mashie, spade mashie, mashie niblick, pitcher, niblick and others was certainly an accomplishment.

Having reached the age that I receive a regular stipend from the Canadian Government, I have nothing left to prove in the game of golf. I was the winner of a few club championships in my earlier days and was in contention in various tournaments. During that period of time I was obsessive with my game. It wasn’t until much later that I learned to enjoy the game, the golf courses, my surroundings and the friends I was travelling with on the lush, green fairways.

The game of golf itself hasn’t changed as the goal of the game is still to get the ball in the cup in the fewest number of strokes whether it is in medal or match play. What has changed is the length of golf courses, the equipment being used and the cost.

I love my game as I can play from a forward tee because of my age and the equipment that I am using. I don’t really care whether I am competitive or not and live for the occasional magical shot with my old sticks.

Golf is a game for all ages. Some golfers learn the game at a young age and then have to set their sticks aside as they get into the work-force and start to raise a young family. Don’t despair as the game of golf will still be there waiting for your return. It is a game for all ages.

John Wrenton, Avid Golfer and Flagstick Reader

“Golf is the only place where I can spend time easily with every member of my family, either together or individually.  Whether it is my parents aunts, uncles, wife, or kids, we laugh, we joke, we talk about a lot of non-golf things that often might not have been said during the hectic pace of everyday life.

In the summer our two boys would spend hours at the golf course.  It was a safe place for them to be together in the outdoors, for not a lot of money.  They never got hurt playing golf (unlike the many emergency room trips that were a result of hockey and skiing) and they learned to be respectful of others. They built relationships with adults that benefitted them later on in their lives with summer jobs.

The golf course is a place where we can always come together and enjoy each other’s company and maybe even a little competition.

It’s the only sport I know where, if I live to 90, I can still be enjoying it, no matter what I shoot.”

Joan Sobil, Co-Owner, Blue Heron Golf Club

“You’ve gotta love golf…..it’s the game of a lifetime!

Personally I started golfing when I was 15 after meeting a handsome young man, and later married, whose family owned a golf course.  That was the beginning, and then five years ago we bought our own course, the Blue Heron Golf Club outside on Perth, ON, 40 minutes from Ottawa.

As a Nurse, golfing is a great sport.  It is very “heart” healthy. Studies have shown that playing golf can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, bone disease and arthritis.  If walking, one golf game can often produce the recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise required for the week.  Golf is included in the new “Green Exercise”, which is given to any physical activity performed in nature. Both physical activity and exposure to nature affect health in a positive way.  It helps boost self esteem, reducing anger (really?? ), confusion, depression and anxiety. (The Wellness Express March 2013)

As a woman, golfing with other women also has positive health benefits.  Not only does it have the same heart health benefits, it has a further mental health benefit.  It is well known when women spend time with women, the “happy hormones” Endorphins and Serotonin are released.  These hormones are responsible for making you feel good about yourself, reducing anxiety and just plain makes you feel happy!  I love “Ladies Night”! Being out in the sun also releases these hormones in all of us, men included.

As a golfer, life happens.  I played, when shift work began, I didn’t, as I got more organized, I did, as kids came along, I didn’t, as they grew up, I did, now that they’re gone I have plans to play more and look out retirement. The great thing about golf is you can do exactly that, pick it up again, starting where you left off (so to speak…).

As a mother, time was always a factor.  Eighteen holes of golf were almost always out of my reach, took too much time away from all my duties.  When time allowed, nine holes were just right.

As an owner, we check off all of these boxes.  Our course is a picturesque 9-hole course in the heart of the country with just enough elevation changes to be a good cardio workout if you’re walking.  The beauty of the walk around the course is calming.  The lush green of the fairways combined with colourful and attractive flower beds promote it.  We have resident blue herons that give a show from time to time.  Deer often watch you play; last year we had triplet fawns. This year a den of foxes are in the rock wall of hole # 2, with 5-6 kits who will give a playful show as well.

We have leagues almost every day of the week.  Our ladies night is best known as the “yak and wak”-  a great opportunity for women to spend time with women in a non competitive environment.

Best of all we realize that “time” is important to all of us.  Our statement is:  Life is busy, time is important. Golf nine and it still allows lots of time for all of those other life commitments.

You’ve gotta love golf………it’s the game of a lifetime.  There’s always time for nine!!”