RCGA is spreading itself too thin

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

There has been considerable verbiage, both written and spoken, about the relevance of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

This begs the question: If the RCGA is so irrelevant, why are so many people talking and typing about it?

That aside, such chatter began a week ago after executive director Stephen Ross was given the golden handshake.

The RCGA has been accused of being stuck in the past and is still looked upon as a symbol of the country-club atmosphere that once surrounded the game, when the main concern among Canadian golfers these days -- and the RCGA's own participation study bears this out -- is affordability.

LIMITED FUTURE

If golf is to be a rich man's game, its future is limited. Private club memberships are declining, so if the RCGA is to be the association that grows the game, then it does need an image makeover.

To be fair, it has put an emphasis on junior and women's golf recently, but there is a certain amount of truth to the accusation that it is out of touch with today's golfers, many of whom don't even have an official handicap.

Yet, official handicaps will always be part of golf if tournaments are to be run properly, and there always will be a need for the RCGA running national championships and overseeing rules and amateur status.

Those functions and others have traditionally formed the foundation for the RCGA which, if it wasn't top dog among Canadian golf associations in 1999, achieved that lofty status after the $40-million sale of Glen Abbey to ClubLink.

Criticism ensued about a not-for-profit association having that much money, but that $40-million could be at least a temporary lifeline to keep the Canadian Open afloat as the RCGA searches for a new title sponsor. That loot can also be used to establish new programs.

The biggest problem is that the RCGA has tried to become all things to all people, which is why it needs to step back and examine its mission. In becoming an all-encompassing association, it has been perceived as a bully and lost focus as it tried to please everybody.

The National Golf Course Owners Association took on the RCGA which was perceived to be getting into course ownership after saying it would open facilities across the country following the sale of the Abbey.

The RCGA, with its Future Links junior program, had a long-running feud with the rival Canadian Junior Golf Association over control of that sector of the game although those two organizations have since made nice.

Women's golf was also consumed a couple of years ago when it amalgamated with what was the Canadian Ladies Golf Association, so all of the RCGA's tentacles have changed their very definition.

Obviously, it's not the governing body of men's golf anymore after merging with the CLGA. Is it an amateur golf association? Don't forget that it runs pro events such as the Open and CN Canadian Women's Open.

The RCGA has also gotten into development programs that, in most cases, groom high level players for the pros. But if those players were good enough, they could hone their skills on U.S. college scholarships.

As it stands now, the RCGA is going in too many directions, partly because it created that situation and partly because there are few other national associations willing to step to the plate and fund/organize a lot of programs themselves.

ETHNIC ATTRACTION

Once the new RCGA executive director gets past that big, hairy gorilla that is the Canadian Open sponsorship issue, there's another beast behind it. The RCGA needs redefinition, a vision that is clear to everyone.

At this critical time in the game's history, there are shifting demographics that need to be addressed at the grassroots level. For example, baby boomers are steaming towards retirement, if they're not there already, so affordability becomes more of an issue with so many people on fixed incomes.

Immigration is fueling our population growth, so how will golf attract various ethnic groups? Junior golf is declining in Canada with so many distractions for kids, so is a national golf-in-school program necessary?

These questions are directed at the RCGA because it is the most influential association, so its relevance is not the issue.

Its degree of relevance to Canadian golfers is what's at stake and that can certainly be heightened depending on what the RCGA does in the near future.


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