One of the best parts of my “job” is galavanting around the country spouting off about the state of the industry. I throw around a ton of statistics and make bold assertions like “labor will be a problem in coming years” and “it would be awesome if someday all of our customers weren’t old white men.” Giving superintendents around the nation a 40,000-foot view of the market seems to offer some perspective about the future of American golf, so I get a lot of requests for that topic.
Thus, my conundrum upon accepting an invitation to talk about the state of the industry at the Ontario Golf Superintendents Association’s terrific annual event: Exactly whose industry are we talking about?
So, I did some research on the Canadian market in general and the Ontario market specifically and came up with a few facts and observations:
-- Ontario is home to 805 of Canada’s 2,300 courses, including about half of the nation’s 230 private clubs. About half of the 60 million rounds played annually in Canada are played in Ontario. Toronto is effectively the epicenter of the Canadian golf business.
-- There hasn’t been a ton of research on maintenance spending, but the assumption is budgets, even in upscale clubs around Toronto, are generally lower than similar American facilities due to shorter average golf seasons and a slightly more accepting customer base that doesn’t piss and moan about every brown spot in a fairway.
-- Regulation of turf fertilizers and pesticides is undeniably strict up there, but the golf business has been able to get exempted from many of the outright product bans the lawn care business has faced. With that said, there are many products used widely in the U.S. not yet registered in Canada due to tougher approval standards or registration expenses that can’t be justified based on the smaller size of the market.
-- Labor is still a problem, but less so than in the U.S., according to superintendents from the area who secure good immigrant labor and — shockingly — high school and college students.
-- My sense is that opportunities for women in maintenance are better north of the border are a bit better than down here. I met a dozen female assistants who, in many cases, also carried the title of “IPM Agent.” In short, they are trained and certified pesticide applicators who meet stringent criteria under Canadian and provincial standards.
-- Finally, there is much more open and healthy conversation about stress, anxiety and work-life balance in their culture. I think it helps that companies like Bell Canada and others have been encouraging open dialog about mental health. But, more importantly, there have been leaders like Paul MacCormack, Miranda Robinson and architect Ian Andrew. They’ve been open about their challenges in a way I hope will continue to inspire turfheads everywhere.
I’ll conclude by thanking my hosts, Sally Ross of the OGSA and Al Schwemler of Toronto Golf Club. I think I learned more from the experience than they learned from me. And, yes, everyone was incredibly polite. And the poutine was fabulous. And don’t even get me started about those maple glazed donuts at Tim Hortons!
Pat Jones is GCI’s editorial director.