Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a real swingers' club

Hip new Golf Canada aims to boost image, ranks

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Going from stuffy to hip just doesn't happen overnight.

Or sometimes at all.

But the organization formerly known as the Royal Canadian Golf Association is at least taking on the journey. It's late in the game for some, but then again, it's never too late to do the right thing.

Welcome to Golf Canada, a new brand and the new face and focus of the RCGA.

The focus is members and membership.

The tally so far is 360,000 members across the country. If you belong to one of 1,600 golf clubs in Canada, it's very likely you are already a member.

Most of those players in the past have been able to obtain an RCGA card that verifies their status and handicap. But now Golf Canada memberships must be activated.

The card and instructions to do so are available at your club.

A club membership, however, isn't required and you can become a member by going to www.golfcanada.ca. A base membership is $29.95 and the upgrade to gold level is $25 more.

"I think a lot of people would say that they're focused on the new logo and the new name without recognizing how much we've tried to change the back end as well," said Karen Hewson, director of membership and heritage services with Golf Canada. "There are now tangible benefits to belonging to Golf Canada.

"Up until now ... all it really did was contribute towards all of the things that are done to keep the game running in the country and you could maintain a handicap.

"We looked at it and found that a lot of people aren't interested in maintaining a handicap -- although personally, I think it's because they don't realize how easy it is -- so we needed to put some other meat into the package."

The new sizzle includes the customary ability to generate and keep an official RCGA handicap, access to preferred pricing on insurance and travel, discounts on Team Canada merchandise, the ability to turn Aeroplan miles into golf, a Golf Canada BlackBerry application and Golf Canada magazine.

You've undoubtedly seen the new Golf Canada logo, an admittedly modified borrowing of the popular Hockey Canada insignia.

It's attractive -- can't say that for any old version of the RCGA's -- and each provincial organization either already has or will be adapting the base design to a new logo for itself. We've seen B.C.'s, for example, and it's most appealing.

"I'd say the single most positive thing is identifying with Golf Canada, that they're liking the logo and the brand and understanding what we do," Hewson said. "That's been huge."

The 2010 cross-country roll-out of the new logo and memberships has raised awareness but it has seemed sporadic and at times rushed, though.

There have been some glitches with the sign-up and upgrading processes on the website. We experienced some of those first-hand, though all were resolved within a day.

Golf Canada's new BlackBerry app includes some great features like course listings, ratings, ability to put in scores and access the rules of golf. It has also caused some anxiety, especially that the gold-level GPS "swing view" function isn't quite the GPS some thought they were getting.

In Manitoba, in some instances, the resolution of the golf courses is blurry or doesn't work at all.

It's all part of Golf Canada's learning experience with the rebranding task, Hewson said.

"We thought (the GPS feature) would be a great upgrade, give you the ability to look at any golf course in Canada, (zoom) in and out to see it," Hewson said. "Most members keen to download the app, though, are probably good golfers and want to be able to accurately identify things. Our app is for the casual golfer and I don't think it's something we articulated that well or recognized until it was out on the market.

"And a lot of things irritating people have to do with settings on their phone and we haven't got enough (of a catalogue) of what those settings are."

Better testing might have done the trick, but one supposes you could cut Golf Canada some slack in its eagerness to modernize and improve.

Another such improvement will be golf scores. Currently, PGA and LPGA Tour results are easily accessible but there's no link to the Canadian Tour. That fix, along with likely links to top Canadian amateur events, is coming.

"There have been some glitches, yes," Hewson said. "Despite our best intentions, it's been a learning year."

As a starting point, though, the direction's a winner as long as the desire to improve and become more relevant isn't just a one-year wonder.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2010 C4

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