Hockey may well be the most popular professional sport in Canada, but when it comes to recreational pursuits, one could argue that the country’s truest passion resides on the links. Canada is home to more than 2,300 public and private golf facilities, making it the fourth largest nation in terms of the number of golf courses. Detail on the nation’s courses is now available in the 24-page “Golf Facilities in Canada 2015” report recently published by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada, and powered by NGF’s definitive international golf course database.
Earlier this year, the R&A published, the "Golf around the World" report, sharing information collected through that database resource. The report detailed international golf course supply in the 208 golfing nations around the world.
Canada is the first individual golfing country (outside the U.S.) to collaborate with NGF to create a comprehensive picture of golf supply in their country. The partnership has afforded a greater visibility into the overall picture, including openings and closures and new golf-related projects.
“This first-ever Canadian report offers an in-depth summary of national and provincial data,” said Scott Simmons, chief executive officer of Golf Canada, the country’s governing body of golf. “The numbers reinforce the massive financial, charitable, tourism and environmental impact our sport has in communities across Canada.”
The Golf Facilities in Canada 2015 report segments Canada’s 2,346 public and private facilities by province, type and facility size (number of holes). The document also provides interesting points of trivia. For instance, did you know that Aroostook Valley Country Club in New Brunswick is located in both Canada and the United States? Golfers can literally play a shot from Canada into the U.S. and not need a passport to go play it again (let’s leave it to the immigration folks to debate this border loophole).
“The Canada Golf Landscape”
More than 90% of Canada's facilities are open to the public, making golf extremely accessible to the vast majority of the population (75% of U.S courses are public). With such available supply, it’s not surprising that 2 out of every 10 Canadians play golf (6 million total golfers). That participation rate is more than double that of the United States (albeit from a much smaller population base).
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More than a third of Canada’s supply is 9-hole courses. In two provinces (Saskatchewan and Manitoba), nine-hole golf, a proven catalyst for growing participation, actually outnumbers 18-hole facilities. This is similar to some U.S. Midwestern states such as Iowa, where 9-hole golf is similarly prevalent. Canada is also home to at least nine 12-hole courses and several six-hole facilities, as a handful of operators embrace the idea that sometimes less really is more (we’ll circle back around to that shortly).
“Canadians are passionate about the game of golf. A snapshot of the Canadian golf landscape reveals an industry that is worth more than $14.3 billion to the Canadian economy and represents more than 1% of the nation’s total GDP,” according to Simmons.
As you can see from the map below, the overwhelming majority of the country's courses are located within 100 miles or so of the U.S./Canada border, which stands to reason considering that’s where the vast majority of the population resides. A significant number of those courses—three-fourths essentially—are located in Canada’s four most-populated provinces—Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. Ontario alone is home to more than a third of all courses.
A plotting of Canada’s courses from the Golf Facilities in Canada 2015 Edition.
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That southern population notwithstanding, the northern-most 9-hole facility in the world is found in Canada. The Billy Joss Golf Club is located in Ulukhaktok in Canada's vast Northwest Territories (latitude 70° 44' N), and features shale fairways, artificial greens and welcomes the truly dedicated golfers from June to September each year.
A Case for 12-Hole Golf
One of the more unique developments in golf supply revealed in the facility report is the emergence of 12-hole courses. 12-hole golf has been promoted by some in the United States as a way to address the time it takes to play, and the cost it takes to maintain, 18 holes of golf. The idea has received the support of some golf luminaries, including the 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus.
“We should consider the possibility of making 12 holes the standard round,” Nicklaus said recently. “Eventually it would be accepted because it makes sense in people’s lives.”
Derrydale Golf Club owner Jim Holmes heeded that advice when transforming his struggling 9-hole course, which had recently been trimmed from 18 following a land sale, to a 12-hole facility back in late 2012. Rounds and revenues were hit hard when the course was cut to nine holes, prompting Holmes to bring back three holes on remaining unused land. As a result, rounds have surged (30,000-plus annually), greens fees have stabilized and ancillary revenue from golf carts and food and beverage have rebounded. Ultimately, instead of closing his doors, Holmes revitalized his golf course by taking a risk that others might now consider.
“Nine holes weren’t enough and 18 holes were too much. Twelve holes, however, were absolutely perfect.” – Jim Holmes, Derrydale Golf Club owner.
Supply Correction and Development
Similar to the United States, Canada enjoyed a construction surge during the heart of the 1990s when more than 310 courses opened, or 13% of today’s total supply. During the past decade, however, Canada has undergone a supply correction similar to what’s been seen in seasoned golf nations such as the U.S. and England.
Still, the majority of the closures took place in areas where golf remains well supplied and, while modest, development continues across Canada. Since 2010, 22 courses (18-HEQs) have opened, the majority of which occurred in populated golf centers such as Ontario and Alberta.
Cabot Links opened to rave reviews along the shores of Inverness County in Nova Scotia in 2012.
NGF is currently tracking 31 courses (18-HEQs) in various stages of planning or construction across the country. While all of the courses are expected to be open to the public, nearly three-fourths are linked to real estate projects, resorts or both. This suggests that while the majority of Canada’s facilities rely on local play, signs point to future golf development being driven by golf-related tourism and real estate development.
“Our industry impacts hundreds of thousands (of) jobs, billions in taxes, and is a major tourism driver both domestically and internationally,” Simmons said.
For more information on the “Golf Facilities in Canada 2015” report, contact Greg Nathan at 561 354-1622 or email [email protected]. Click here to download a copy of the report.