Growing the Game – Barking up the Wrong Tree?

Posted on Posted in Business Strategy, Industry Rants and Raves

It’s no secret that the Alberta economy is fuelled predominately by our abundance of oil. But tourism is also an important piece of our economic puzzle; as such, we’re also blessed with an abundance of provincial parks. About a month ago, “Parks Day” took place – it’s an event that celebrates our parks and brings awareness to the importance of striking a balance between our heavy demand for recreational activity and the preservation of nature. My boys, aged 5 and 7, and I visited Bow Valley Provincial Park near our home in Canmore, where a number of exhibits and educational activities were on display. Among other things, the boys were thrilled to be able to touch a live barn owl, see a golden eagle up close, saw a log with an old-fasioned crosscut saw and study a real cougar pelt.

One of the displays was that of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association), where they had a game set up for kids to play. The game involved pulling various objects out of a box and matching them to cartoon pictures of things that are contributing to grizzly bear mortality. For example, a small can of oil represented pollution and a piece of track from a model railroad represented the danger of being struck by a train or a vehicle. Also in the box was a shiny new Pro V1 golf ball.

Five-year-old Yoshi quickly matched the golf ball up with the cartoon of the golfer and in so doing said: “A golf ball?? What does a golf ball have to do with grizzly bears??” The basic gist of the reply from the girl attending the booth was that golf course construction ruins grizzly bear habitat. When I said I thought that was a somewhat unfair generalization, I was met with stony silence. Given the circumstances, I felt it best to let sleeping dogs lie, so I left the kids to enjoy the rest of the games while I drifted off to another area of the exhibit. While I wandered, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people across North America buy into that same broad generalization: golf course = “bad” for the environment. CPAWS is a national charity with over 40000 official supporters across Canada. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of them do not play golf; in fact, plenty of them would go out of their way to voice their criticism of golf’s impact on the environment. The bottom-line here is that “golf”, as an industry, is not doing enough to educate the broader public about the environmental (and other) benefits that golf courses can provide. I’d wager that those same people who summarily dismiss golf as “bad” for the environment would also say that golf is an elitist game reserved for rich dudes in ugly pants. Whether that’s “right” or “wrong” doesn’t matter; this is a question of influencing public perception by talking more loudly about the positive environmental contributions of golf.

There are some great #growgolf initiatives going on and I applaud those efforts. But in general, these efforts are preaching to the converted. Case in point: I just read a great article about an environmental initiative undertaken by Vancouver Parks Golf. But it appears on a golf-based website, mygolfwest.com – how many non-golfers will ever see that article? Click here to read the article

To make a long story short, when it comes to growing the game, I think we’re barking up the wrong tree. Yes, we’ve got to keep talking to each other, but we also need to talk to the people who don’t play golf and find out why that is. We need to sell them the whole benefits package – social, economic and environmental.