Like many GNN readers, I enjoy reading the blogs and I’m thankful that Hutch invited me to share my thoughts and clarify a few things with respect to Golf Canada and our new membership initiative.
When we launched Golf Canada back on April 22, we introduced a new consumer facing brand for our organization, as well as a membership drive focused around the retention of our current membership base and the recruitment of new members.
Did we achieve everything that we hoped to accomplish in this first year? No, but I’ll reiterate what I said to Hutch when we spoke – we set very aggressive targets for year one that, in hindsight, may not have been realistic.
Overall though, tremendous progress was made and a lot was learned in a relatively short period.
Our membership numbers have declined over the past five years and this year, we finally saw an increase over 2009. It’s not the increase we would have liked, but to reverse that negative trend and see an increase is very encouraging and a positive from which we can build.
Do we regret setting aggressive targets in year one? Maybe, but why not set a vision for excellence? Step away from golf – there’s not a single NHL team that begins pre-season without a stated goal to win the Stanley Cup.
Launching Golf Canada and our membership initiative was and still is a huge undertaking, one that will take considerable time to really evaluate. It’s not as simple as posting the question of success or failure on the GNN Poll and letting the readers cast their vote.
Like any business, we are tracking our results in year one. We are evaluating what worked, what didn’t and what we need to do differently in 2011.
Together, with our partners at the provincial golf associations, we spent considerable time leading up to and during our recent semi-annual meeting conducting a deep review of year one in order to plan our strategy for 2011.
The response to Golf Canada as a brand has been very positive thus far and the majority of our stakeholders believe that Golf Canada is a more impactful brand with which to reach out to golfers.
We are trying to develop a membership offering that resonates with our customers.
We want golfers to understand what their membership dues are being spent on and how they are helping the sport. Members are helping to fund incredible programs and unfortunately, many don’t even know it. It’s an emotional connection – we want golfers to take pride in giving back to the sport.
Take Golf in Schools, which introduces golf through the elementary school physical education curriculum. It’s about exposure, getting golf clubs into the hands of children and providing a basic introduction to the sport. The program is in almost 900 schools to date and our goal is to get golf into 10,000 elementary schools across the country.
There’s also CN Future Links Learn to Play, a junior golf program that not only gets kids into the system but also provides all the tools a club pro needs to implement a seven-stage approach to learning, no different than how kids progress through the swimming levels.
It’s a program developed in partnership with the Canadian PGA and the provincial golf associations that is free to all member clubs across the country.
I could write a separate article for all of the initiatives that member dues are funding, but the message is simply that programs like Golf in Schools, Future Links Learn to Play, Team Canada, Golf Fore the Cure, the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum and our national amateur championships are helping to grow participation and excellence in our sport. We are the National Sport Organization as designated by Sport Canada and that is our mandate.
Not to be forgotten, member dues are also supporting the more traditional governance function of the RCGA, including handicapping and course rating, amateur status and Rules of Golf education..
In addition to emotional “good for the game” benefits, this year, we tried to infuse more tangible benefits into our membership offering to deliver added value to golfers. Some resonated, others did not, but I disagree with a blanket assessment that we hung our hat on travel incentives and insurance deals.
Striking that balance between the emotional, tangible and functional benefits of membership is not easy, but we’ll continue to work at it.
We are working to better serve our customers. One thing we learned is that the most important relationships we need to solidify are with our current members and member clubs across the country.
Together with the provincial golf associations, we began a national club visitation campaign and this year, our three Regional Membership Directors visited over 650 member clubs across the country. That’s 650 opportunities to talk directly with Canadian PGA pros, club owners or general managers.
Every visit helps to build a trust relationship and the program will continue in 2011. We want our member clubs to understand the programming and services available to them and how it might help their members and/or drive new business.
The sinking ship mentality is one that unfortunately plagues our industry. Yes, golf is facing some tough challenges and Golf Canada is holding ourselves accountable as the NSO, but as I see it, if you’re a stakeholder in this industry, you’re either working to help make it better or you’re allowing it to get worse.
We can’t build the Golf Canada brand overnight, but we’re on the right track. Year one taught us that we need to take smaller steps instead of expecting instant success. The key is to continue making progress, which we fully intend to do.
- Scott Simmons is executive director and CEO of Golf Canada. To read his regular blog, see Notes from Golf House