Public gets some play

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

To its credit, the Royal Canadian Golf Association has been doing something about the perception that it mostly represents country club members instead of the masses who look forward to a Saturday afternoon round with buddies at a local public course.

The RCGA continued its slow makeover last week when it announced a public player program in affiliation with provincial associations that is designed to make the game more accessible to those who don't belong to a golf club. It's a start, but the Internet-based program doesn't go far enough.

"Research shows that there are over five million unaffiliated public players in Canada, 2.1-million of which are avid golfers that average upwards of 29 rounds annually," said Paul MacDonald, the RCGA's managing director of golf programs and services.

"The ability to connect with and organize such a large segment of golfers represents a terrific opportunity to grow the game of golf in this country."

The idea is to create virtual golf clubs through the RCGA Network that allow golfers to set up games with other members, search golf course directories, organize golf tournaments, receive and maintain an official handicap, among other things. The foundation is set, but there's more building to be done.

The goal of the program is to attract 80,000-plus golfers in the next five to 10 years and they'll pay anywhere between $20 and $50 to join, which hardly will break the bank.

What does break the bank, however, is the high cost of playing golf in certain parts of the country, including Southern Ontario. The RCGA found that out first-hand last year when its most recent golf participation survey indicated that the greatest barrier to people playing the game is affordability.

While the cost of joining one of these virtual clubs is reasonable, nothing has changed in regards to green fees, not to mention the high cost of equipment.

To this day, it's common to hear someone within the golf industry talk about how people will pay for outstanding service and a top shelf experience, but how far does that go? Even if they are willing to shell out $250 each by the end of the day, that's usually a one-off treat for many people each year.

Of course, there isn't a lot the RCGA can do about what a private enterprise charges to use its facilities, so it would need the National Golf Course Owners Association to be on board for this program. The problem is that the relationship between the two associations has been chilly the past few years.

The other alternative is to introduce the RCGA's recently-announced Skins loyalty program into the mix with the public player program.

The Skins rewards frequent play at participating clubs with free golf, but many within the golf industry are ticked because they feel the RCGA is stepping outside its jurisdiction with that program. Such is Canadian golf with no boundaries for the variety of interests within the game, which usually leads to controversy.

The Future Links junior program is doing quite well as a joint effort between the RCGA and Canadian PGA, which illustrates the good that can come when all interests within golf are working together. As it stands now though, the game is still fragmented in small pieces.

THE SHORT GAME

Golf course designer Clinton "Robbie" Robinson, standout player Susanne Hilton and golf professional Richard Borthwick will be inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame on Wednesday at Wooden Sticks in Uxbridge ... Annika Sorenstam was supposed to be at Aurora's Magna Golf Club in two weeks, but the Scotiabank Women's Charity Challenge has been postponed because of the back injury that has kept the former world's No. 1 female player off the LPGA Tour recently. A new date is expected to be announced within the next couple of weeks ... Stephen Ames was in 13th place in International team standings for the Presidents Cup last week. Mike Weir was 18th. The top 10 earn automatic spots on the team that will play the United States in late September at Royal Montreal .


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