Surfing the Turf: Gamechangers in local golf

Aug 02, 2017
Golfboards - one of the latest innovations to hit the golf world - appeal to a lot of young golfers. While I don’t necessarily fit into the category, I’ll admit that I couldn’t stop grinning as I weaved from side to side down the fairway at Southampton Golf and Country Club.

About four holes into my round, I was starting to feel confident with this four-wheeled, battery-operated device. It reminded me a bit of my alpine slalom racing days - that feeling of freedom as you fly down the mountain with the wind in your hair. Except in this case, I’m only doing 10 mph and the breeze is hitting my scalp, you know, since my hair left town a long time ago. Still, as a guy old enough to have two millennial-aged daughters – I considered it a pretty good attempt at recapturing my youth. 


Admittedly, it takes a few holes to get used to the tilting skateboard-like platform that controls your direction. But once you do, it’s a whole lot of fun. And you even get a little core workout because of the weight shifting and leaning needed to make turns. One big advantage of the boards is they increase pace of play with each rider going directly to their ball instead of driving to two different locations with their power cart partner or leaving the cart on the path and walking to your ball.  

The golfboards haven’t really taken the golf industry by storm just yet - only 8 courses in Ontario offer them - but they are one sure sign that golf courses are willing to try different things to draw more people into the game.

The Southampton club is a perfect example of that willingness to appeal to younger golfers. Under new ownership, the 54-year-old facility is not only the first to bring golfboards to the area, but is also turning its traditional pro shop into a cozy pub complete with a fireplace, high ceilings, hardwood floors and a large bar. The idea is to make the club a cool place to hang out, even for those who never get around to swinging a club. 

 A short drive up the road at Sauble Golf and Country Club, Bogey’s Pub has become a popular spot with golfers and non-golfers alike. Line-ups out the door are common on Wing and Karaoke Night (every Thursday), a new addition that brings a younger crowd to the club. Initiatives like those at Sauble and Southampton are helping crush golf’s stuffy, country club sterotypes; they’re shifting the perception that older men in funny-looking pants (think Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Caddyshack) are their ideal client. That shift is key to golf’s future, as it diversifies and develops new revenue streams.

This push for innovation has led clubs to introduce music at driving ranges and Topgolf - an indoor driving range/bar/restaurant -  is already wildly successful south of the border.  Topgolf –who recently announced a Canadian expansion—attracts a younger crowd and, perhaps more importantly, new golfers, about 50% of whom have never golfed before. 
And while some view these new efforts as desperation, others will tell you the business model for golf has changed. With this massive cohort coming of age, the sport needs new players and will have to work hard to attract them in an era of endless entertainment options.
Efforts to reach young potential players are happening across our region. Some are going into schools to introduce students to the game. Others are offering a rate for playing only four or six holes - their response to the objection that golf takes up too much time. Many clubs are offering their best membership rates for those in the 19-to-29-year-old age group.
Simply put, the times they are changing. And that’s a good thing for the game and golfers.
Whether it’s golfboards, financial incentives or pro shops that look like a pub, there’s an overriding willingness among golf course owners to look beyond traditions to help grow the game.
Steve Harron is marketing coordinator for Golf BruceGreySimcoe and can be reached at