Just like Tiger Woods, the golf industry will be fine (Sept. 11, 2014)

Tiger Woods is golf. Or at least they have a lot in common.

After decades of booming success, Woods is going through hard times and a debate rages over whether it’s a permanent decline or just a bump in the road.

The same is being said about golf in North America. After years of prosperity, the industry is being squeezed and everyone seems to have a theory as to why. We’ve heard that golfers are too old, that the economy is bad, that the game takes too long, even that people aren’t picking up a club because they don’t want to put down their phones.

Truth is, there isn’t one simple answer and the question of what’s wrong with golf is flawed.

The public shock at Tiger’s poor play and the overreaction to the trouble in the golf industry is more a testament to the boom years than an accurate depiction of the state of the game. Tiger and golf were on such a hot streak that failure didn’t seem possible.

Then it happened.

But, it says here that both Tiger and the game of golf will be fine.

Woods is 38 years old, not 58. He will eventually get healthy and win more majors.

Golf is hundreds of years old and – despite what you read – its future is not bleak. The sport’s secret weapon is the people it attracts. Always has been.

A trip to a private golf club is a good place to go if you’re looking for optimism. Sure, many private courses are quietly feeling the same pain as the rest of the industry, but it’s also the best place to see the sport’s core supporters. If golf were a political party its strength would be a strong base and strong leadership, both of which are obvious at any successful club.

Does any other sport have captains of industry and world leaders ducking out of work early to play?

This week I visited The National Golf Club of Canada during its 40th anniversary season. Great golf clubs always have great stories and great people, The National is no different.

Sick of slow play? Buy your own golf course.

As this story goes, in 1972 Harvey Kalef was playing a round of golf at Maple Downs and after waiting on the tee for one too many holes he declared to his playing partners Gil Blechman and Irv Hennick that they needed to buy their own golf course, and not just any course, the best course around. A week later the threesome purchased a golf course in Woodbridge named Pine Valley. Two years later, with the expertise of George and Tom Fazio, Pine Valley was gone and The National Golf Club of Canada opened.

That bold philosophy survives to this day and is a big reason the course is a mainstay at the top of SCOREGolf’s popular list of greatest Canadian golf courses.

“Our members want the best and they are willing to pay for it,” club chairman Dion McGuire said as we toured the revamped practice facility. “That’s why we are number one.”

The course was built to be the best of the best and the all-men’s club takes that very seriously. There is no greens committee at the club, all modifications to the design are made by Tom Fazio, who visits every year.

The diabolical course is constantly evolving. As drivers get longer, so do fairway bunkers. When one tree dies, another is moved … probably closer to the fairway. You get the idea.

The concept was brazen, the design is formidable, the course near perfect.

After forty years, The National Golf Club of Canada has never let up.

Back in the city of Toronto, Donalda Club is showing similar determination, albeit in a very different direction.

The family-friendly private club has a pool with a slide and a splash pad for kids, a new fitness centre, a new men’s locker room and is about to start a $1.2-million dollar renovation of its ladies locker room.

Besides golf, there are tennis courts, squash courts and curling sheets.

According to director of membership and marketing Brett Mance, Donalda believes they are setting themselves apart from other clubs.

“We have certainly had a few club GMs through our doors in the past few months and they have been impressed,” he said.

There is no doubt that the hand-wringing will continue in the golf industry and much time and energy will continue to be spent trying to figure out what’s wrong with the game. The silver lining is that the leaders of golf in the community and in the business world are doers not watchers.

Next time you read a doom and gloom story about the state of the game, take heart in the fact that the game is loved and run by people who prefer to look for answers, not handouts.

Golf will be fine.


Turning forty is a good time for reflection.

That’s the feeling you get walking around the clubhouse at The National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge. If you can take your eyes off the golf course for a minute, you’ll notice a movement afoot to recognize the history of The National.

Club Captain Dale Clayden has spearheaded the effort as members and guests now have plenty of reading material on the walls throughout the clubhouse.

If you have a hard time believing that the founding threesome of Harvey Kalef, Gil Blechman and Irv Hennick would buy their own golf course because they were sick of slow play, look no further than the club’s original press release which hangs on the wall.

“We intend to accept only as many members as will allow golf play without waiting.”

Did you know that Ken Venturi was originally hired to be the club’s first professional before a TV job came calling?

The National has always been one of Canada’s top places to play. In fact, it was No. 1 on SCOREGolf’s inaugural top course list in 1988 and it remains atop the 2014 edition.

For years The National seemed to have everything going for it except a celebrated past. But after 40 years, stories that seem like just yesterday turn into the building blocks of a rich history.

These guys don’t miss a beat.

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