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Female golfers key to industry's future

By Tony Saxon, Guelph Mercury News

GUELPH, Ontario — Golf course owners and managers were told that women golfers, not young golfers, are one of the keys to survival in the future.

High-end golf consultant Stephen Johnston spoke at the About Golf Courses seminar put on by Golf Canada at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute Sunday.

Johnston’s talk was on current and future trends in the industry. He told the 50 or so men and women in attendance that nurturing young golfers had always been seen as the secret to the future.

“People thought that teaching juniors was how to survive,” Johnston said, “but the most important person in the future of golf is women. Women play a critical role in that future.”

Johnston is the president of Global Golf Advisors, an 18-year-old golf industry consulting firm that has over 2,000 clients in Canada and the United States.

He said changing demographics and the changing role of women in society means they play a bigger role in the golf industry that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Women control the family and it becomes a family decision to join a private golf club,” he said.

Keeping prices down, marketing your course and finding a spot in the golf market are also keys to success in an industry that has been losing golfers for the past few years.

Johnston said golf courses have to keep prices down. The “snob appeal” of exclusive and private courses just isn’t that important with younger golfers, he said. They care more about golfing with friends, playing a quick round and not paying too much for it.

Noted golf author and columnist Robert Thompson said during the subsequent panel discussion that “I don’t know a course that hasn’t seen a decline in play in the past two years,” to which Johnston replied: “because of price point.”

Johnston encouraged courses to “find their niche” in the industry.

“You need to define who you are and become best in class,” he said. “If you try and compete with everyone else, you’ll be in a slow death spiral.”

Sunday’s day-long seminar featured talks and panel discussions on a variety of industry issues, including environmental and pesticide issues, golf courses as heritage properties and current and future regulations and trends for golf courses.

Golf’s future

Leading golf industry consultant Stephen Johnston spoke at the All About Golf seminar in Guelph Sunday. Some of his key points:

  • Attracting and looking after female golfers will be crucial to a course’s survival.
  • There needs to be more emphasis on couples and family golf.
  • Discount books are not the answer.
  • Service should equate to the green fee.
  • Be prepared for less emphasis on green golf courses.
  • Build smaller clubhouses because you’re lucky if you break even on food and beverage sales.
  • Women deserve equal access to tee times.
  • “Snob appeal” of private clubs is lessening.
  • Fewer corporations are subsidizing golf for their executives.

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