Golf Newfoundland and Labrador is well aware of the major decline in competitive golfers in this province and the association is working to alleviate the problem.
An example of the dearth of competitive female golfers was evident at the provincial championships earlier this month in Gander when only six women participated, even though the event included four female visions — the amateur, the mid-amateur, the senior and super senior divisions.
As a result, the province won’t be sending a team to the Royale Cup Canadian women’s amateur championship in Quebec next weekend. Junior-aged golfer Jillian Lawlor of Clovelly Golf in St. John’s, who was runner-up to provincial winner Sandra Sparrow of Bally Haly, will be the province’s only representative at the nationals.
Sparrow will not be competing.
Golf Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Greg Hillier told The Telegram this week that after this year’s provincials, “We said we have to sit back and evaluate what we need to do move forward and to grow the sport.”
The problem has existed since 2006, according to Hillier.
“There was a major drop-off in registration between 2006 and 2007. In 2006, there were roughly 100 women at the provincial championships and the following year we were down to 50.
“Since that time,” said Hillier, “the numbers have slowly continued to dwindle. It’s caused us some concern in all of our championships.”
He noted there were only 10 competitors in the men’s amateur championship this year.
Hillier said there are a number of factors involved in the decline of competitive golfers in this province.
He pointed out that previous provincial championships used to have gross and net prizes as well as full travel subsidies to national championships for both the men’s and women’s divisions.
“There are a number of different reasons that have created the current circumstances, including the fact that women’s invitationals have become stronger,” said Hillier.
For example, he said Gander has an invitational that drew a full field of 40 teams a weekend before the 2013 provincial championships.
“There is a major shift away from competitive golf across North America, not just in the women’s category,” he said.
He said it’s been estimated that only five per cent of golfers are “pure competitive golfers” these days.
Hillier said elimination of prizes at provincials, along with Golf Canada’s decision to eliminate subsidies for teams going to nationals, didn’t help.
“People are more into invitationals, recreational and social kind of events,” he noted.
“If you look at our numbers, we’ve got about 3,000 registered adult players in the province and if you take five per cent of that you’ve got about 150 players.
“Then you have to look at those who can’t compete because of work commitments, not fully committed or just don’t have the time and you are down to about 100 to 65 players.”
The provincial association is determined to bring back the numbers.
“We’ve identified a new competitions director position which we will introduced in the fall,” Hillier pointed out.
“We’re going to be looking at trying to do a few different things next year with our provincial championships to attract more competitors.
“For example, each club in the province has its own champion and we’re looking at inviting that individual or individuals to participate in the provincials and give them some form of exemption. We’re also looking at bringing back net prizes again and trying to provide a subsidy for those going to the nationals.”
He also said the association is looking at introducing an Atlantic Canada event for teams next year.
“We’re all about growing the game at every level, but we need to also focus on the competitive side of golf at the same time,” said Hillier.
In that regard, Hillier indicated there is a move to add golf as a demonstration sport in the School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador calendar in 2014.
“We’re trying to get into the school system where we can introduce a golf program. That’s our goal,” he said.