By Rick Drennan
Toronto is the sum of its considerable parts.
The fourth largest city in North America is a world-renowned tourist destination, with dozens of attractions – CN Tower, Centre Island, Distillery District, TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), St Lawrence Market, to name just a few – that draw millions of visitors each year.
But one part of its tourism portfolio has been virtually ignored: Golf.
That’s about to change, says Christopher Barry, manager of Special Projects and Business Development for Tourism Toronto.
Toronto’s golf portfolio is huge, and runs the gamut – from the ultra private St. George’s (voted Top 10 in the world by Golf Digest), to the spectacular Glen Abbey (home to numerous RBC Canadian Opens), to high-end public courses like Copper Creek and Eagles Nest.
They match up against anything in golfdom.
On a per capital basis, Canada produces more golfers than any country on the planet, and southern Ontario is golf central with as wide a variety of private, semi-private, municipal, and public playpens as any city in North America.
So why isn’t it on the GPS of golf enthusiasts around the world?
“Good question,” says Barry. “I wish I had the answer.”
You can be sure of one thing: he’ll have one soon.
That’s just the nature of a man who brings both passion, and persistence to any project he heads up with Tourism Toronto, a membership based consortium that partners with other communities and associations in and around Toronto, to draw visitors from all over the world.
One of Tourism Toronto’s new golf partners is Ontario’s Central Counties, the picturesque communities just north of the city, in the heart of cottage country.
This add-on only adds to Barry’s ultimate plan to offer players an urban-rural mix.
Central Counties is home to more than 200 golf courses including many of the best in the province – Angus Glen, Wooden Sticks, Eagle’s Nest and The Club at Bond Head to name but a few.
They’re within an hour of the majority of Ontario’s population and are surrounded by other fantastic experiences – spas, breweries, wineries, fine art, motor sports, local cuisine, and historic towns and villages. Our goal is simple, says Chuck Thibeault, executive director of the region: “When you think golf, you think Ontario’s Central Counties.”
John Gordon, director of communications for ClubLink, the giant consortium of courses the rings the GTA, and runs north into cottage country, says the Greater Toronto Area is one of North America’s great golf destinations.
“There are literally hundreds of course within an hour’s drive of downtown Toronto, the vast majority of which welcome visitors. The Niagara region to the south is often called Canada’s Myrtle Beach with a variety of courses that round out a visit to the area’s wineries and world-famous tourist attractions,” he says.
ClubLink’s Glen Abbey Golf Club is Canada’s most famous course, having hosted a record 26 of the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Opens.
Barry is sitting at a table in the midst of a late winter gathering of golf enthusiasts at the city’s annual golf show, held at the sprawling, mid-town Toronto Convention Centre.
The floor is abuzz with golfers trying to shake off the last few weeks of a brutal winter that has driven golfers indoors. They are here to help try out the latest industry offerings, and visit travel booths that tout exotic golf destinations – from Italy to the Caribbean to the warm and sunny southern U.S. states.
Barry and his talented team take it all in, then sits for an interview with this writer.
Barry doesn’t just crunch numbers. He pummels them into submission. He says taking on a new project like promoting the Toronto and area golf courses is all about names and numbers: there are plenty of big-name courses, and millions to be won for the golf industry.
Toronto’s golf portfolio is huge, largely untapped, and virtually unknown around the world.
During the height of golf season, there’s no place better to play the sport than Toronto, he says.
It starts with baby steps, he adds. By slowly winning the local market (“look at the riches at their feet?” notes Barry), only then can Tourism Toronto take bigger strides in attracting visitors from around the world.
Barry knows that today’s golfer is much more savvy, and wants “a travel experience.” This plays perfectly into Toronto’s loaded hand.
Teaming with travel and tour operators in and around Toronto, plus other players (transport, restaurants, hotels, and club owners, private and public) is long overdue, says Barry, and can only enrich the industry.
With one eye firmly fixed on nearby cities, and the other locked on the lucrative foreign market, Barry foresees a time when international tour operators will start making a splash in Toronto’s deep golfing pool.
Patience might be a virtue, but it’s a downright necessity for Tourism Toronto’s game plan. It’s going to grow one market at a time.
Barry is enthused by golf’s dynamite demographic: the boomers. The vast majority of travelling golfers are older, retired, with plenty of disposable income.
Phase one in developing Toronto as a golf destination is “creating awareness,” and that means Barry and his team will visit golf shows (close to home, and internationally), team with industry experts (“our robust partners,” he calls them), and slowly build a brand.
Thanks to social media, it won’t take as long as it did a generation ago.
His team is on the cusp of unveiling its game plan, and the popular www.SeeTorontoNow.com website will soon add a golfing component.
Members will get plenty of return on investment for an initial outlay of $400.
Claudio DeMarchi, president of Lakeview Productions, has been tapped to assist Barry’s team. He has a deep and abiding understanding of the golf industry (here and around the globe), and his online publication, The Travelling Golfer, writes about golf’s greatest destinations spots. He thinks Toronto has “powerhouse potential.”
But, he cautions, turning Toronto and southern Ontario into Pinehurst North will take time.
Unlike most golf destinations, Toronto is a textured market. It has a unique ability to cross-market itself, meaning: a premium package might include golf, a TIFF package, two days in Niagara, and another round or two in mid-Ontario and/or Muskoka. Bogeys and baseball anyone?
Nothing would please Barry more than to have golfers arrive in Toronto, travel to play in other locales, and return to Toronto for the last part of their trip.
Creating a “customized golf trip to Toronto,” is the goal, and to that end, Barry’s team wants to partner with tour operators, major transportation firms (airlines, bus, rail), and even the Ontario or Canadian tourism branches.
“There will be a value-added component to Golf Toronto that other jurisdictions in North America just can’t match,” he says.
Tourism Toronto will spend a good portion of this year “educating the end users” (golf club partners, travel groups, even transportation companies) on how they can all grow their business together. “We want to get everyone playing the sand box together,” says Barry.
Perhaps he might like to change that quote to “sand trap?”
“Hey, I’m just getting used to all these golf terms,” he jokes good-naturedly.
Selling Toronto as a destination stop gets easier each year. That richness will multiply in 2015 when the Pan Am Games comes to the GTA, and the Pearson Airport-Union Station Express train is completed.
Meanwhile, the ‘’Toronto: A golf destination” logo is the works.
Growing its membership is well underway. The Tourism Toronto website (it comes in eight languages) will make that sale so much easier. A membership also includes a ‘See Toronto’ mobile app, and a listing presence in the Toronto Visitor’s Guide (650,000 distribution featuring your golf property listing). It’s also a chance to position your services to industry leaders in its membership (venues, planners, attractions, accommodations and tour operators) and participation in international media and VIP Familiarity (FAM) tours.
Grabbing a membership is like making a hole-in-one every day of the golf year, says Barry.
Toronto is now a synonym for variety: its eateries, theatres, sports venues, chic bistros and neighbourhoods, retailers, nightclubs, eco-tours, and museums/art galleries, are world class.
So are its golf courses.
Now, finally, they have been added to the mix.
It’s way past time, says Barry.
For more information on the great city of Toronto visit www.SeeTorontoNow.com