Getting Golf Up to Par

Jeff Calderwood and the NGCOA Canada are using efficiency and advocacy to maximize profitability and reposition the game’s image

CEO Jeff Calderwood has spent the past two decades building the NGCOA Canada to prominence.
CEO Jeff Calderwood has spent the past two decades building the NGCOA Canada to prominence.

In the golf industry, some people look at the recent economic trends and see a sand trap. Jeff Calderwood, though, sees a fairway. From the greens of the nation’s courses to the steps of Parliament, Calderwood has been decisive and persistent in his pursuit to advance the game and business of golf in Canada.

As CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada (NGCOA Canada), Calderwood has spent the past two decades building the organization from nothing but an idea into a national advocacy group with a $4 million operating budget to provide marketing, education, purchasing, and research for golf course owners. Along the way, he has created regional chapters throughout Canada and expanded the association’s staff to initiate more than 300 programs for 1,300 golf course owner members. And to keep membership costs low, Calderwood has developed more than 50 non-dues revenue streams to fund the association, allowing for maximum benefit to Canada’s course owners.

“Most association CEOs would move on after a few years,” Calderwood says. “But I’ve experienced more than 20 years of the ride, from zero at the beginning to all of the success we’ve accomplished today.”

The association’s greatest strength is its numbers. With more than 60 percent of Canada’s golf courses now in the organization, it can effectively lobby government or take advantage of bulk demand for food and beverages, scorecards, golf carts, equipment, insurance, and pro-shop inventory, among other items from the suppliers that serve the golf industry. To manage demand, Calderwood created Golfmax, a purchasing program doing more than $80 million in business—at a savings that averages 10 percent for course owners.

The NGCOA Canada also delivers various research reports to the golf industry, providing course operators with management tools such as standardized benchmarks on salaries, expenses, and other categories relevant to the golf business.

One of the association’s most important initiatives has been an ongoing campaign for tax fairness. Successful lobbying won course owners a retroactive property tax refund in 2011, and now the NGCOA Canada is focused on the Income Tax Act’s unfair treatment of golf as a client-entertainment expense, a 50 percent deduction that golfers using the sport to conduct business cannot currently benefit from.

There’s a perception that permeates politics that golf is a rich man’s game, making members of Parliament historically less sympathetic to the fiscal concerns of course owners. That’s one reason Calderwood is arming himself with figures such as 341,794: the number of people the sport employs in Canada. Also, $11.3 billion: golf’s addition to the Canadian GDP. Though golf leads all Canadian sports in popularity, with a 20.5 percent participation rate among adults—that’s twice that of the United States, and the highest in the world, too—Calderwood argues that the industry needs more than healthy demand to continue its valuable contributions to the national economy.

“The more we meet with Parliament, the more we hear, ‘You’re totally right. Golf should have the same 50 percent business-client entertainment deduction that other industries have,’” Calderwood says. “As a matter of fact, golf is recognized as actually being better for entertaining clients than any other.”

Regardless of its success with Parlia­ment, the Canadian golf industry will continue to face the challenges of a market that, like many others, hit a plateau in 2008 and is still searching for the return of prerecession growth. But Calderwood is more optimistic (and perhaps more opportunistic) than most.

“Many people think the golf industry is destined to contract for several years because society is so busy and financial situations are tighter than they used to be,” Calderwood says. “I tend to turn that around. Although those are factors, they aren’t the ultimate drivers of the decision to play golf. We’re just being forced to do a better job—and we can—of telling the world what’s so great about golf. There’s still lots of untapped potential that requires more innovative marketing solutions.”