Colorado Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol gives industry leaders another chance to make the case for the many benefits of golf
by Gary Baines
It’s not a coincidence that the annual Colorado Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol is scheduled the week following the Masters.
The first major championship of the men’s season typically draws more attention to the game than any other event on the calendar. So it’s useful to capitalize on that situation when the Centennial State’s golf industry leaders are trying to make lawmakers aware of the benefits golf brings to the community.
But the proximity on the calendar to the Masters presents another opportunity — to contrast everyday golf with perhaps the most pristine and manicured venue in the game, Augusta National Golf Club.
And so it was Friday at the third annual Capitol visit for the leading golf organizations in Colorado, which gathered in the west foyer and engaged state lawmakers that stopped by — six Senators and eight Representatives this year. (Among them were Sen. John Cooke, in center in photo at left, and Sen. Larry Crowder, at left in photo below.)
“We have to kind of keep chipping away at the image” of the golf industry, said CGA executive director Ed Mate, referring to the stubborn perceptions that it wastes water and resourses and is inaccessible. “There’s always going to be people who think golf is the Masters. I think it’s worked out well that we follow the Masters. It’s a nice landmark date. That (venue and event) is unique. This (Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol) is about affordability, and not emerald green (grass) but environmental stewardship.”
A placard displayed at Colorado Golf Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol makes the case concisely, citing the economic benefits of the game, its environmental record and pointing out its health and wellness benefits.
Specifically, the placard points out that golf contributes $1.7 billion a year to the state’s economy and creates 11,000 jobs that generate $177 million in wages. On the environmental front, the 239 courses in Colorado include more than 12,000 acres of natural green space, with considerable benefits to the ecosystem and wildlife habitats, while using less than one-third of 1 percent of Colorado’s water supply. And golfers benefits physically and (sometimes) psychologically by playing the game.
Beyond that, golf is a huge driver of charity, generating more money for charititable causes ($3.9 billion overall) than all other sports combined, according to WeAreGolf.org. And Alliance members — particularly the CGA and Colorado PGA — have oodles of programs in place that benefit different facets of society, with particular emphasis on youngsters.
A proclamation from Gov. John Hickenlooper and a similarly-worded tribute read Friday morning on the floor of the state Senate applauded the golf industry for the benefits it brings to the table, and industry leaders were recognized during the Senate session (bottom photo).
“Golf is a good thing. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the soul, so get out and do it,” Sen. Lucia Guzman said after fellow Sen. Jack Tate read the tribute.
Giving state lawmakers the opportunity to meet and converse with the golf industry leaders in Colorado — and learn about the benefits of the game — has been a big plus in recent years, according to members of the Colorado Golf Alliance. The Alliance includes the CGA, Colorado PGA, the Rocky Mountain Golf Course Superintendents Association, and the Mile High Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America — all of whom had multiple representatives on hand at the Capitol on Friday.
Those industry leaders see such worth in this interaction that for the last three years they’ve had an Alliance lobbyist at the Capitol — Jennifer Cassell. She keeps an eye on any bills that may effect the golf industry — those dealing with water use, pesticide application, general environmental stewardship, independent contractors vs. employees, etc. — and helps organize the Colorado Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol.
“Absolutely there’s great value for the Alliance — for all of golf” — in the day at the Capitol and in Cassell’s ongoing presence there on behalf of the Alliance, said Eddie Ainsworth, executive director of the Colorado PGA. “We’d rather have someone here representing us even if nothing is happening to affect golf than have to react (when something pressing does happen). We’re being very proactive. …
“The perception piece when people think of golf, they think that we just overwater everything. So to hear somebody from the Senate floor this morning read and say that golf is good for the environment and they’re good stewards (was gratifying). We use less than one-third of 1 percent of the water in Colorado. That’s eye-opening to people in the state. They say, ‘That’s it?'”
Indeed, conservation is a high priority at golf facilities and much of the water that is used on golf courses is non-potable.
Friday’s event didn’t attract as many state lawmakers as last year, in part because about 20 members of the legislature were excused for various reasons. But golf industry leaders were happy to get the word out to those who were on hand.
“Whenever we can get our name out, that’s what we want,” said Gary Leeper, executive director of the RMGCSA. “We probably only got half the attendance we got last year, but anytime you can get out in front of these people, it’s great.
“I think most of the (lawmakers) who came this year were here last year so they remembered us. That’s really what it’s all about so when they have issues, they can call the RMGCSA or any of the people in the Alliance and ask them questions.
“We’ve been really lucky. We haven’t had a lot of water issues (that could affect golf move to the forefront at the Capitol), but those days are coming. The water, as it gets worse and worse and we get less and less rain and snow, I think we’re going to start getting those calls.”
Mate seconds the importance of water.
“If there’s any one issue that can cripple our business, it’s water,” he said. “You saw what happened in Cape Town, South Africa (when a severe water crisis hit). When water fails, everything fails. Health fails, hospitals fail, everything. Golf, I can promise you, would be the first thing to be cut if we don’t let people know, ‘Wait a minute, we’re only using a tiny (percentage). And when people are stressed, maybe being on a golf course (would help relieve that) and wouldn’t be a bad use of water.'”
Of course, the golf industry leaders understand that not all state legislators look at golf the same way, and that many may not have a connection to the game at all. But the goal is to provide information to all, and hopefully gain some allies along the way.
“We have some serious golfers in the legislature — those who really love the sport and love the game and try to get out as much as they can,” Cassell said. “There are others who wish they had more time to play but still appreciate the game. Then there are others who hopefully we can engage more — bring them out to play and educate them more about the benefits of golf.
“Today, it seemed like the legislators that came down here were very energetic about the day. They wanted to learn more and meet us.”
Which is a good indication that the Golf Alliance Day at the Capitol will remain a fixture on the spring schedule.
“It’s always a great opportunity for us to be here and for us to be in front of our legislature to let them realize how valuable golf is — valuable to the economy, valuable to the environment and that we are good stewards of the environment thanks to our golf course superintendents and different things like that,” Ainsworth said. “It’s always a highlight on my calendar.”
Watching the legislature operate — however briefly — on Friday made both Ainsworth and Mate realize that golf is a small fish in a big pond of issues. But it was also a heartening experience in some respects.
“It kind of makes me realize just how good we are,” Mate said of the golf industry. “There’s nothing controversial really about golf. The economics, the environmental benefits, the health benefits (are all pluses).
“You can say, ‘Why are we here (at the Capitol)? What’s the issue?’ We’re here because we want them to be aware of us because otherwise they’re going to come up with their own ideas about what golf is.”