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The economy and social trends impact golf


By GMNET Staff

The current economic downturn in Canada is exerting pressure on many golf managers, testing the assertion that golf is recession proof. Clearly, golf is a sport and leisure pastime affected by economic conditions, and it's equally clear that the severity of the current recession means many clubs face uncertainty in 2009.

While some clubs report falling memberships, shorter waiting lists, and the spectre of reduced play, there is also evidence that significant social shifts are afoot: declining rates of physical activity, less time for leisure pursuits in a busy 3rd Millennium world, and, of course, cost weighed against an increasing number of other options people have for leisure time that didn't exist just two decades ago.   

So, perhaps more than ever, golf club managers have to strategize how to engage potential players, how to identify what existing golfers want, and what is stopping those who have the will to play from actually making the commitment. Thus, the main issues would seem to be:

  • Although golf participation rates in Canada are historically very high, are we entering a phase of decline?
  • How can the industry widen the playing base? (this is the perennial question)
  • What effect, if any, will the current recession have on golf in 2009 and beyond?
  • Is the industry doing enough to attract lapsed and potential players back to the sport?
  • Does a feeling of intimidation persist amongst nongolfers who want to play (especially women)?
  • What changes do golfers want to see to make the game a more viable activity?

The economy aside, a Statistics Canada report titled Sports Participation in Canada released in 2005 contains insights of interest and importance to golf club managers.

National sport participation rate continues to decline

The national sport participation rate dropped in 2005, a continuation of a persistent downward trend first observed in the 1998 General Social Survey results. Participation in sport declined from 45% in 1992 to 28% in 2005 in Canada. In 1998, more than a third (34%) of the Canadian population aged 15 and over had participated in sport on a regular basis; seven years later, the figure was about one quarter of the population. That was down from 9.6 million Canadians in 1992 to 7.3 million in 2005.

Participation highly concentrated in a few sports: Out of nearly 100 sports played in Canada, participation is highly concentrated in about 20 sports led by golf, ice hockey, swimming, soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball, skiing and cycling. For men, concentration was mostly in hockey, golf, basketball, baseball and soccer, in that order. A quite different picture emerges for women. They preferred swimming, golf, soccer, volleyball and skiing.

Relaxation ranked the most important benefit of sport participation: Active Canadians cited relaxation as the most important benefit of sport participation. In 2005, 73% of active Canadians ranked relaxation as the most beneficial outcome of participating in sport. Physical health and fitness came second with 68%. Improvement in social networks through association with new friends and acquaintances was ranked the least important at 34%.

Teens aged 15 to 18 have the highest sport participation rate. But even among teens, sports participation is declining, from 77% in 1992 to 59% in 2005. Conversely, Canadians aged 55+ had the lowest participation rate: 17%, down from 25% in 1992. Overall, the study found that as Canadian adults get older, their rate of participation in sport decreases.

There's still a gender gap in sport participation: men participate more than women. While this gap is closing, it's not because more women are participating in sports, but rather that fewer men are. Whereas in 1998, 43% of men and 26% of women participated in sports, by 2005 the rates had declined to 36% of men and 21% of women.

Participation in sport has declined in every province except PEI. The biggest drops were in Quebec (which used to led the nation with a rate of 38%) and British Columbia. Quebec has now dropped to 27, and Nova Scotia is now in the lead with over 32%, followed by Alberta with 30%. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest participation rate of 24%.

Participation increases with education: the higher the level of education, the higher the rate/likelihood of sporting activity. E.g., Among Canadians aged 15+, those with a high school diploma or less participated in sport at a rate of 25%, those with a postsecondary diploma participated at a rate of 30%, and those with a university degree participated at a rate of 33%. And, as would logically follow from the above stat, those with higher income are more likely to participate in sports. The study reveals that "Income has a profound influence on sport participation. Sport participation increases as household income grows." Families with a household income of $80,000+ were twice as likely to participate in sports as those with household incomes of less than $30,000.

The study also examined people's reasons for not participating in sports, which differed by sex and age. Among males "lack of time" was given as the primary reason (34%) for non participation in sport, followed by "lack of interest" (23%). Among females, 28% cited lack of interest as the main reason, followed by lack of time (26%). Overall, 30% of all non-active Canadians reported "lack of time" as the main reason for not participating in sports, although this rate was higher among 25-to-34 year olds (45%). For older non-active Canadians (aged 55+), 28% cited "age" as the biggest factor for not participating in sport, followed by "health conditions" (25%) and "lack of interest" (25%).

And, according to the data, "lack of time" is not just an excuse...the study found that among non-participants who gave "lack of time" as their main reason for not participating in sport had: less free time; worked more hours (spending nearly twice as much time on paid work as other non-participants); and spent less time on sleep, meals and other personal care than those who gave other reasons. "They also watched less television, socialized less and spent less time reading books, magazines and newspapers than other non-participants."



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