RCGA Brand Golf Canada Reaches Out
To Canadian Golfers
by Scott A. Sumner
At the RBC Canadian Open at St George's Golf Club in Toronto, I sat down with Scott Simmons, Executive Director and CEO of the RCGA and Golf Canada to ask some questions about a variety of golf topics.
Above: Dan Pino Director, Media and Public Relations Scott Simmons
Executive Director & CEO and Bill Paul Tournament Director Golf Canada
How did you get into the position you currently hold?
I was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario and attended the Richard Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario. My first job out of school was with Proctor and Gamble. I was working for IMG in the early 90’s and had a consulting assignment with the RCGA to help
them with their Canadian Open event. I worked with them for about a year and after that threw my hat in the ring as Director of Marketing which I did for 7 years. In 1999, I left and went into the brewing industry. In 2007 I was again looking to make a career change and have been in this position for 2 years.
The RBC Canadian Open is a mammoth undertaking?
To make an event like this happen you plan 2 years in advance. This week we have 1800 volunteers and it is a multi million dollar project. We ramp up our work around Christmas time and the winter time is when you are doing the heavy lifting. The RBC Canadian Open and CN Women’s Open are the two events where we have our biggest opportunity to talk about our brand. This event is broadcast to hundreds of millions of homes around the world with a million Canadians watching as well as the 100,000 fans attending this week. CBS has done a great job in helping promote our brand. The CN event is arguably the best women’s event in
the world. We have found two companies that are committed to bringing these events to the top.
How has this years RBC Canadian Open been going?
Our field this week is one of the strongest fields of the year even the week after the British Open. We had a private charter shared with John Deere to allow players to jump on the charter and come back with us. It was a 6 hour and 40 minute flight coming back first class and a
key reason why we got players like Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Camilo Vilegas, Trevor Immelman, Paul Azinger and Rocco Mediate. We were back by 11 pm and with the 5 minute proximity to the airport it worked well. The guys have raved about the course and the practice facility. It has been a dream come true.
What do you think of the date on the calendar for the RBC Canadian
The date is not bad. We can’t have our event any later or until after the US Open given our weather. The fall series is an after thought with respect. You need to be before the playoffs to be a big event. If we move to early July our television underpinning cost will go up $2
million and our purse requirement up which would mean a $3 million hit to our bottom line. We had 4 times the field that Tiger had his week at the AT&T. It’s not ideal but working well overall.
What is the name Golf Canada all about to the RCGA?
The RCGA began in 1895 to be the governing body of golf handicapping and to run national championships in Canada. The RCGA is still the parent company and governing body of golf. In 2005, Sport Canada named the RCGA responsible for golf in Canada, the National Sports
Organization for golf with the pillars being participation, excellence, capacity and interaction. With that new mandate we have new responsibilities. Our new mandate is to grow golf with the national golf in schools program, the learn to play golf in clubs, the national amateur program and our work with young pros and the PGA Tour. We are trying to be the catalyst and to be accountable. We decided to put these activities under the Golf Canada brand and be relevant to the average golfer. Over the last 100 years our membership has been comprised of the members from private and semi private clubs for the most part. We have the highest per capita participation rate of golf in the world as roughly 1 in 5 Canadians play or about 6 million in total. Half of those are called avid or core golfers who play 20 plus games a year. About 500,000 are members of a club. We therefore have an audience of about 2.5 million golfers left that we have never had a relationship with and that is whom Golf Canada is trying to reach to broaden our membership base. We need to build the pipeline or the sport will suffer. The changing demographics and competition for sports for kids with cricket, soccer, basketball and hockey are a challenge for us. We thought Canadians could relate to this logo and the brand of
Golf Canada better than the RCGA. Golf Canada is owned by the RCGA. It is the name we want to promote.
How can you reach youth to become more interested in golf?
We need to bring golf into the schools. Our curriculum is now being used as the poster boy for other sports. The curriculum is so good that even a math teacher can use it easily. The learn to play at the club level was developed after three years working with South Africa and Australia as their countries have done well in the game on a smaller population basis. We have our high performance golf initiative as well. We are seeing the results with guys like Adam Hadwin who was on the team 3 years ago, Graham Deleat on the PGA Tour, Matt Hill and others. The women are also doing well. The country is now doing a lot of things right. The future is bright now.
How does it work becoming a member of Golf Canada?
Today we have 360,000 members of Golf Canada who are members of semi-private or private clubs in Canada. For $ 29.99 we want people to join who are not members of clubs. They will
be proud saying they are a member of Golf Canada and supporting the game they love. Every dollar is going to fund programs like the golf in schools. The tangible benefits are that you can keep your handicap if you want to, get some corporate benefits with Blackberry with the
software for distance measuring on your smart phone. There are discounts on RBC Insurance and you can collect Aeroplan Points. For me the biggest thing is emotional. For $29.99 you know you are supporting the game you love and 100% of your dollars are going to grow the game.
What kind of shape is the RCGA in financially?
The RCGA is not great financially. We sold Glen Abbey and have $30 million in reserve but that is for the future. We want our annual operating budget to break even. In 2007, when I came on board with no sponsors for the Canadian Open we lost $5.5 million. The year after was
a $3 million loss and this year will lose $1 to $2 million but we are getting better by growing revenues and cutting costs. We were very fortunate to have some cash surpluses, but they are gone. We just have the $30 million. It is nice to have but we have to solve our yearly
operating budget issues and you want to keep some of that money around for a rainy day or to generate surplus investment income to put into the game. We do have a game plan and are right on target. I see being in the black possibly as soon as next year. We believe RBC will
renew with us and CN has just renewed. We really need to increase core revenues and membership is our biggest revenue possible. If we can get another 500,000 members our share will be $10 each and provide some $5million more dollars in revenue and help a lot. The major focus is on membership. We need the funds to put into programs.
How big an organization is the RCGA?
We have a staff of 50 full time at our offices at Glen Abbey- 6 on the Canadian Open- 6 on the Ladies Open and we also staff the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, our membership department, player development and administration. When I joined we had 74 staff. In Calgary we bought a
driving range, short course and short practice area 10 years ago. We are using it as a guinea pig as we feel there is a gap in short courses for young kids to learn how to play. It is like a prototype and we may build a few more.
The new Golf Canada brand seems to be very well thought out and making good in roads in achieving new members. The future of golf in Canada looks great!