London Muni Golf System Alive And Well
Wilson Golf Reed On The Greens, by Jeffrey Reed
September 13, 2012
As Published By London Community News
Just like almost every other business sector in North America, the local golf industry is experiencing unprecedented tough economic times – not counting the Great Depression, of course. But during the early-1930s, golf was still predominantly a pastime of the wealthy, and there were only scores of golf courses in London and area.
Today, there are about 120 courses in southwestern Ontario – without a doubt, an oversaturated golf market. London’s Thames Valley Golf Club (est. 1924) has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, a 1980s recession, and today tough economic times affecting the game of golf and the thousands of Londoners who live and die by the sport.
Most recently, the City of London municipal golf system has encountered its own crisis in lack of play at River Road Golf Course (est. 1992), joining Thames Valley and Fanshawe Golf Course (est. 1958) as part of a trio of offerings to the public links golfer. The courses will report to City Council this fall on the health of River Road and the system as a whole.
Just when the City was about to pull the plug on River Road GC, along came the spring of 2011 – one of the wettest on record and disastrous for local golf coffers. The course was given a year’s grace. This year, record temperatures and dry conditions have seen a resurgence in play at the City courses, according to Steve Bennett, golf professional/manager for the City of London golf course system.
“We are in the vicinity of 10,000 rounds over budget. But keep in mind, 6,500 of those rounds were played in March, and March is not part of our forecast,” said Bennett.
This season marked the earliest opening ever for our City courses – golfers were out in shorts in 30° temperatures for three days. That spelled good news for our local links which are always at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“You’re never going to have 200 perfect days in a golf season,” said Bennett. But thus far, there have been only a handful of days not fit for golf – and that’s as rare as an albatross at Augusta National.
“We are probably going to surpass our target of about 118,000 rounds for the year and hit the mid-120,000s. River Road is up in rounds and will most likely surpass its budget. We changed our membership categories. It’s more affordable,” added Bennett.
Recent studies by governing golf bodies worldwide point to lack of time as the biggest deterrent to growing the game. Preparing your gear, warming up, playing 18 holes and commuting to and from the course takes up the better part of a day. But even before Old Tom Morris teed it up, money was a factor when it came to playing golf.
I’ve been passionate about golf since I was a junior golfer hacking it around London’s East Park Golf Gardens, and later Fanshawe GC, and I can say without a doubt there have never been so many coupons, golf-and-dine discounts and course alliances as there are today. Yet I’ve heard many course managers still complain about lack of revenue this season.
The London Golf Trail, offering 22 London and area courses to its members during its charter season, understands what it takes to grow business and grow the game. With the economy as bad as a triple bogey, its business plan makes perfect sense. Golfers simply purchase their London Golf Trail pass and choose one of seven green fee credit packages, all of which provide them access to all 22 courses at a reduced rate.
London’s municipal golf system has since 1924 been the envy of eastern Canada. Pristine conditions, a strong operations crew, reasonable rates and an unparalleled commitment to growing the game locally make it a London institution. And it’s imperative to think of the trio of clubs as “a golf system” instead of three separate entities, according to Bennett.
He’s right. Every week, I speak with golf contacts across Canada who ask about the health of our local muni golf system. Despite tough economic times – and not matter what City Council decides regarding the future of River Road GC – it’s good to be able to tell those people, our muni courses are alive and well, and still putting local golf on the map.
About Wilson Golf
For nearly a century, Wilson Golf has designed, manufactured and distributed premium and recreational golf equipment throughout the world. Since 1914, Wilson Staff irons have won 61 Major championships, more than any other iron manufacturer in history. Wilson Staff’s Ci11 irons, Di11 irons and FYbrid RS hybrids were honored with Golf Digest’s Hot List awards in 2011 and 2012. Wilson Staff, Profile, ProStaff and Hope consumer brands offer excellent craftsmanship and tradition today by delivering the highest quality golf equipment to all golfers to enhance performance on the course and overall enjoyment of the game.
Wilson Golf is a division of Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sporting equipment by Amer Sports. Visit www.wilsonstaff.com or call 773.714.6400 for more information.