Canada can't be smug about its game

IAN HUTCHINSON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

There was a time not long ago when use of the term "American cities" by Canadians meant decaying infrastructure, guns, drugs, crime and gridlock, with the underlying tone that these problems couldn't possibly occur here.

Well, take a look around folks and realize that any sense of superiority that Canadians get from problems in the U.S. means only short-sightedness on our part.

We should be using signals from south of the border as a wakeup call to prepare now for issues that could affect us. Such a signal came last week when Canadian media reports talked about a story in the New York Times that used figures from the National Golf Foundation and Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

The Times story pointed out that the number of Americans playing golf had dropped from 30 million to 26 million since 2000, which really isn't a shocker to those in the golf industry. Affordability and time were offered as the main reasons for this drop in participation, not exactly a surprise.

What was a surprise was an Ipsos Reid participation study for the Royal Canadian Golf Association that was released in 2006, showing that participation actually rose significantly in this country. Last week's Canadian media reports used this study to trumpet how well the game is doing in Canada by comparison.

However, many at the grassroots level debated the rosy tone of the Canadian study, saying that participation in this country is, at best, flat. Besides, if there were similarities between the American and Canadian studies, it's that cost and time are huge obstacles to playing the game in both countries.

Three years ago, a Stats Canada study showed that golf has the highest participation rate of all sports for people over 15 and while that finding has merit, it can't be used as a reason for Canada to rest on its laurels.

If cost is an issue now, what happens if Canada falls into a recession (a very real possibility)? What can be done to lure juniors, families, women, minorities and other non-traditional demographics to the game? These are all critical questions that need to be addressed by golf associations in the near future.

Of course, the target will be the RCGA, which seems ready to take on the challenges under new executive director Scott Simmons, but the golf industry as a whole needs to be on board.

A positive step could be the Play Golf initiative set up by a group of associations, but that's in its infancy. The important thing to remember at this point is that trends affecting the United States often eventually come to Canada, which could mean declining participation here if it isn't already happening.

The feel-good commentary that came out last week may have provided Canadians with a warm fuzzy, but while it may be what they wanted to hear, it may not be what they should hear. The truth is that Canadians cannot afford to be smug.

THE B.C. BRIDGE

Lisa Walters, who was announced as a 2008 inductee into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame last week, was part of a strong British Columbia contingent who contributed to the growth of women's golf in this country after the retirement of Oakville's Sandra Post, Canada's first tour star.

Walters, Dawn Coe-Jones, Gail Graham and Jennifer Wyatt accounted for nine wins together after Post got the ball rolling with eight victories, including the 1968 LPGA Championship.

"They were like a very powerful wave that happened in the '80s," Post said. "They were the first gals that really represented our country with (American college) scholarships.

"That was a big change because when I joined the tour, there weren't scholarships out there, so I think that really helped the growth of women's golf in this country as examples and role models for getting an education through golf," she said.

THE TRUTH HURTS

The book, Golf In Canada: A History, has been hailed as the definitive resource on the Canadian game's past, but Jim Barclay, another 2008 inductee into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, says his research didn't sit well with some people.

"I was surprised to find out when some of our clubs were instituted because their own histories, I'm afraid, were wrong," Barclay said.

"One club threatened to sue me. The president of the club threatened to sue me, but I think he was wise enough to realize that my 20 pages of evidence more than outweighed memories."

THE SHORT GAME

Wayne Gretzky reports that he has received interest from several marquee names to play in the new Nationwide Tour event that bears his name this summer. John Elway, George Brett, Grant Fuhr, Brett Hull and Joe Thornton have indicated that they would like to play in the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, to be held June 26-29 at the Georgian Bay Club and Raven Golf Club at Lora Bay near Collingwood ... Barclay will be officially inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame on May 13, at St. George's Golf and Country Club, while Walters' induction will take place during the CN Canadian Women's Open in August at Ottawa Hunt.


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