New housing vs golf’s popularity:
Will the number of Aylmer’s golf courses remain at par?
Aylmer’s landscape has considerably changed over the last decades and with continuing construction this trend should maintain itself for years to come. That shift could mean the conversion of several of Aylmer’s golf courses into housing.
Aylmer sports seven golf courses, five near Aylmer Road. One certain to be lost is Les Vieux Moulins in Lucerne, north of Blvd. Allumettières. It sits on land owned by an allotment company and will be transformed into a residential development. This will leave Aylmer, home to roughly 55,000 residents, with six courses and according to Jeff Calderwood, CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada (NGCOA), that number should stay at par.
“It’s possible that more golf courses in Aylmer could close if the best use of their property becomes real estate development. It’s unlikely new golf courses will be laid out because that market is well served by the existing courses, with the possible exception of some brand-new community electing to build around golf as its central amenity,” Calderwood told the Bulletin.
Councillor Richard Bégin, chair of Gatineau’s advisory planning committee (CCU), tells a similar story. According to Bégin, there’s nothing on the horizon indicating a change in the future of golf courses in Aylmer, besides Les Vieux Moulins.
“The CCU addresses specific requests, such as zoning changes, minor variances, etc. The CCU hasn’t received [major] zoning requests for changes in any zones where we have golf courses,” said Bégin.
The CCU did receive a zoning change request from the Château Cartier condo developer looking to expand the residential zone H-14-027 using part of the recreational zone R-14-025 just to the south. That’s because the Aylmer Road lot of roughly 11,300 square meters has both recreational and residential zoning and the projected project overlaps zones.
“Most golf courses are zoned ‘Recreational’; should an owner wish to abandon golf and replace it with something else, they would have to first ask for a change in zoning, and this requires a recommendation by city services and the CCU, and, in the end, council’s approval – all after a consultation process.”
The entire process takes time, but it does work -- as exemplified by the Connaught Racetrack Park. Previously zoned recreational, the former famous Hippodrome site is now home to a spreading neighbourhood, complete with a new school.
Decades ago when horse racing was popular, the Connaught track welcomed thousands of horse racing fans and celebrities; few would have predicted today’s widespread housing on this once-famous site.
Golf is not growing
Canadian golfing is not facing the dire situation of race tracks, but interest in the game of golf has stagnated. According to a Canadian golf consumer behaviour study published by NAVICOM in 2012 on behalf of the National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA), “the number of people entering the game is equal to the number of people leaving the game.
Furthermore, among the population of golfers, the number of golfers playing fewer rounds (38%) is greater than the number of golfers playing more rounds (14%).”
Attracting new players remains a challenge because, according to the report, there’s “limited interest in the sport outside of those who already participate in the game.”
Roughly 73% of Canadians who could play the game, do not swing golf clubs on the links. With this potential for growth, golf promoters are hoping to generate a buzz; the president of the Ottawa Valley Golf Association says his mission is to grow the game through amateur competitions.
“Golf Canada, the USGA, the CPGA, provincial associations and others are all working to increase interest in the game,” said President Tom Hossfeld.
To generate an enthusiasm for the game among the online generation and to keep those already playing interested, all stakeholders are working hard to bring major golfing events to the National Capital Region.
“We had and will have high-profile events. The World Junior Girls Championship will be held at the Marshes Golf Club (in Kanata/Ottawa) in September,” noted Hossfeld; “a Canadian Women’s Tour event was held in June at the Smiths Falls Golf Club, which is the home of Brooke and Brittany Henderson. Both professionals are role models for juniors and have the potential to inspire girls to take up the game. Closer to home, Hylands Golf Club hosted a Canadian PGA Tour event in August. High profile events like these do generate interest. Golf returning to the Olympics in 2016 should be very positive as well,” added Hossfeld.
Carol Ann Campbell, LPGA, Regional Director for the NGCOA for the Eastern Ontario-Outaouais Chapter, also hopes the return of golf to the Olympics will inspire youth.
“The future of golf is bright,” she insists. “It’s a great sport that can be played at any age and at any skill level, in every corner of the globe. Golf will take to the world stage at the 2016 Summer Olympics. And with so many young talented Canadian players making it into the professional ranks, it’s an exciting time for the game and all those who love to play and watch,” said Campbell, who’s also the Ottawa-Gatineau Golf EXPO Manager.
The events in the National Capital Region should also entice golfers to follow the game more closely. According to the study, “there is a fundamental lack of engagement among consumers in the Canadian golf industry.” Engagement is defined as playing, following, supporting and endorsing the game; according to NAVICOM those engaged also spend more on the sport.
Regardless of positive attitudes, the numbers speak for themselves. According to the NAGA study, 17% of today’s golfers took up the game as a child, while only 7% of today’s golfers have a child who plays, and 9% of today’s golfers have a junior (12 – 17 years) hitting golf balls.
To attract the younger generation some argue that golf should modernize, but Calderwood is cool to the idea.
“Although innovation is always good, and you do see golf courses testing creative ideas, I don’t think golf needs severe adaptations. In Canada, golf is the number one participation sport. And around the world, Canada’s golf participation rate is number one of all countries. Furthermore, Canadian golf generates more economic impact than all other participation sports combined,” reports Calderwood.
“We’re the number one sport because golf does appeal across the board as it is and so we don’t want to try fixing something that isn’t broken. Golf’s slight decline in interest may have more to do with our fragile economy than the game itself,” continued Calderwood. Consequently, if Aylmer’s golf courses have weathered the current economic storms, they will likely remain viable and continue as Aylmer’s hallmarks. “Aylmer has a long history in golf. The Royal Ottawa here is approaching its 125th anniversary and Rivermead is over 100 years old. There is no reason why golf can’t have a strong future in Aylmer,” said Hossfeld.