In a column earlier this week I referred to some of the challenges facing Golf Canada. The organization's president Diane Dunlop-Hébert told me that the financial challenge is ongoing, and that it's always on the table during meetings. Executive director Scott Simmons confirmed this week that it's unlikely that Bell, formerly the Canadian Open's title sponsor and more recently a "Premier" partner, will participate at the same level when its contract expires after this year's tournament. It wouldn't be a surprise if Bell doesn't come in at any level.
That's one aspect of the financial squeeze affecting Golf Canada. Additionally, Canadians haven't been renewing or joining Golf Canada in numbers that would significantly help its bottom line. Simmons mentioned in an e-mail that Golf Canada "needs to resonate" with the 2.5 million Canadians who don't belong to clubs, and who therefore aren't automatically members by virtue of the dues they pay. He claimed that the name Golf Canada, which the RCGA rebranded itself as two years ago, is catching on with "many, many golfers, especially public players," and that this was the intention of the name change.
Whether or not that's true, and in my experience, the name hasn't caught on, the fact remains that not enough golfers are joining Golf Canada. The organization therefore has had to take steps to cut costs. One obvious place was to look at the $200,000 it has spent annually, at least until recently, to subsidize travel to its national championships for golfers across Canada who qualify for provincial teams held at the same time.
Simmons said that Golf Canada has been subsidizing team travel for more than 20 years, but that it's turning off the tap after this year. The subsidy will amount to $100,000 this year, and that, he said, will be it.
"By way of background," Simmons said, "no other sport in Canada subsidizes provincial athletes to come to nationals. If you can find one let me know. Doesn't happen and shouldn't happen. We started doing it for the provinces in the mid-70s when a federal grant came along. (By the way, the provinces/athletes paid for decades before that)."
The grant stopped in the early '80s, but the RCGA continued to subsidize the travel. Simmons didn't know why that was the case. He pointed out that team championships, such as the historic Willingdon Cup, will continue. This interprovincial team championship has been a staple of the Canadian Amateur. Simmons said that cancelling the team championships at all levels, up to and including its senior championships, has never been discussed.
"Never been on the table," he said. "It will be around as long as I have anything to do with it." A rumour has circulated that Golf Canada will stop the team championships. Not so, Simmons emphasized.
Of course, some provinces in this dire economic climate might not decide to subsidize teams. Will they seek sponsors for team travel? Would sponsors respond?
Greg Blake, a 62-year-old who is retired and who plays out of the Fredericton (NB) Golf Club, made his provincial senior team in 2007. He and his teammates went to the Canadian Men's Senior Championship at Kawartha Golf and Country Club in Peterborough, Ont.
"Needless to say, it was a big deal for me," Blake told me in an e-mail, adding that he felt he had won the lottery. The players on the team received a golf bag with a provincial logo on it, a crested sports jacket, two pairs of pants, two shirts, airfare and accommodations, a per diem for meals. A non-playing captain came along, drove the team around, and treated the golfers to a "captain's dinner."
Blake loved it all.
"This was in addition to the RCGA banquet and reception including the piping in of all the teams, and a photo shoot," Blake said. "It was hard not to feel special, and even though nerves and a lack of talent prevented me from breaking 80 and I missed the cut, I have memories of a week I will never forget."
Those days are about to come to a halt, unless provinces can find ways to subsidize the costs, or players themselves raise money to take care of their expenses.
"If more of the costs are downloaded onto the provincial golf associations, their resources may not be able to keep up," Blake said. "Maybe this is all because of global economic factors. After all, cuts are being made at all levels of government. The good days may be over. I am just glad I got to experience being a member of a provincial team."
Blake emphasized that he did not want to be perceived as whining. He wasn't whining at all, but only expressing the way things are changing. Simmons understands.
"I don't blame his sentiments, but the finger can't be pointed at Golf Canada," he said. "It's simply not our responsibility. By the way, team jackets, etc., come from the provinces. We've never been involved in that, and most players nowadays refuse to wear jackets. Sad but true."
It's also sad but true that some, or even many, golfers who make provincial teams may not be able to make it to national championships starting next year. For those provinces that still manage to send teams, Simmons added, "Even without the team subsidies, all players get free food and transportation at the events, nice gift packages, etc. They are treated very well at every event."
Given the financial constraints about to hit hard, it remains to be seen whether all the team events will continue. Simmons says Golf Canada won't cancel them. But will the financial squeeze do just that? We'll find out.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein