For a few reasons, I’m not really a golfer. First and foremost, I’m not good at it. Secondly, I actually like spending time with my family and so the prospect of eating up multiple hours of a weekend being frustrated on a golf course is far less appealing to me than being with my wife and son on one of the two days a week I get to spend with them. Thirdly, there’s a nagging tree-hugging snowflake part of me that can’t help thinking there are better uses for picturesque wide open spaces than charging people in silly pants to chase a little ball around them.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, while I could probably occasionally overlook all of the above and go golfing simply to enjoy being outdoors with friends drinking good beer, it’s almost never the case that I get to do that. Because the beer at most golf courses, of course, sucks. It is almost always the usual gamut of industrial lagers and, frankly, it doesn’t much matter to many people who are out golfing because it’s hot out and it’s the weekend someone just drove a little car full of beer right up to me and my buddies so I’ll take two of whatever the heck you’ve got on ice.
I get it. Beer at golf courses sucks because it doesn’t really have to be good. The owners of golf courses, much like most bar and restaurant owners, are very likely to simply go with the brewing company that offers them the best deal and thus pour whatever lowest-common-denominator cold shit keeps the throngs of sweaty, sunburned linksmen happily whacking away at their balls.
But to my mind, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s 2019 and it should be a given that people in this province like golf. We have a whopping 811 golf courses in this province. It is also an increasingly obvious fact that Ontarians have developed a taste for locally-made craft beer. Depending on who you ask, the market share for craft beer is at about 8% and it is growing every day. Surely between theses two demographics there is some overlap. So who wouldn’t be able to see an obvious opportunity for appealing to both of those markets and supporting local business by opting to provide some craft beer to golfers?
Well, certainly not the City of London, Ontario.
In fact, on January 17th the Corporation of the City of London issued a “Request for Expression of Interest to seek interested applicants for Advertising and Preferred Pouring Rights for Beer for City of London Golf Course.”
Yes, they are literally auctioning off the right to sell and advertise beer at the lounges, “halfway houses,” and beverage carts at Fanshawe Golf Course, River Road Golf Course, and Thames Valley Golf Course for a period of three years, with a possible extension to five years. Additionally, the REOI document notes that “[t]he preferred supplier will also be asked to sponsor specific initiatives and events at the golf courses to be determined on an annual basis, these events include the annual Men’s and Senior Invitational Golf Tournament and the City of London Club Championships.”
If this all sounds a little sketchy, it’s because it kind of is. As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum over the years, offering or soliciting cash or incentives in exchange for exclusivity from a beer-maker is illegal. It says so right here in Regulation 720 of Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act, see?
A manufacturer of liquor or an agent or employee of a manufacturer shall not directly or indirectly offer or give a financial or material inducement to a person who holds a licence or permit under the Act or to an agent or employee of the person for the purpose of increasing the sale or distribution of a brand of liquor.
As recently as October 2018, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) confirmed to me that it is not only illegal for brewers to offer to do this, it is also illegal for licensees to ask breweries for keg deals, cash, or other financial incentives in exchange for selling their products.
For anyone familiar with my writing on the subject, the fact that this is illegal of course stops almost no one (the AGCO has never issued a fine for it) and so this instance is perhaps unsurprising, but to my mind, it is fairly galling to see it written out so explicitly, in a municipal government’s request for expressions of interest no less. It looks like the city is pretty openly disregarding, or at least skirting the line, with our province’s liquor laws to attract the best possible offer to pour cold ones into the suckholes of London’s golfers.
Of course there are some lazy efforts in the document to appear on the level, as when they’ve added language like “the city will continue to stock and sell other packaged brands at these locations” and “insofar as the AGCO rules and regulations allow,” but the inclusion of sponsorship demands and a note that “proposals will be reviewed for proponent qualifications and best overall value to the City,” to me has a stinky whiff of illegality. How much variance, for instance, can there be in the “value” of the responses when the AGCO has set bare minimum alcohol pricing?
And again, while I hate that bars and restaurants do this, I get it. For six years I’ve screamed about shitty beer in nice bars and restaurants until I rage-vomited blood. But I know licensee margins are razor thin so the brewery with the biggest swag budget often wins the day—and the draught line. But when it is actually the City of London laying bare the “right” to $300,000 in annual business by insisting on sponsorship deals, it’s not only illegal-looking, it’s kind of gross.
London is now home to Anderson Craft Ales, Curley Brewing Company, Dundas and Sons Brewing, Forked River Brewing, London Brewing, Powerhouse Brewing, Storm Stayed, Toboggan Brewing Company, and at least one more brewery in the planning stages, and many a London politician has paid lip service to supporting these local businesses. Many City Councilors are frequent patrons of Pub Milos and their closest local brewery, and I know of at least three occasions where city officials helped local brewers navigate zoning and licensing issues. Yet, when the time comes for the city to seek a beer vendor for the golf courses that they own, apparently the city is OK opening the process to the highest bidder, demanding sponsorships, and effectively pricing out our local brewers and paving the way for the big guys to buy their way onto yet another draught lineup. It is disappointing, to say the least.
I know that not all the breweries I mentioned could meet the demand to supply the beer for all these golf courses, and it’s entirely possible that this REOI process is simply always the way beer vendors have been contracted for London’s golf courses, but to my mind, that doesn’t make it OK. Why not make this process equitable for the small businesses revitalizing neighbourhoods and creating jobs in this city? That’s a question I put forward when I sent this REOI to the AGCO for review tonight and the one I put forward when I reached out to my city councilor tonight as well.
Will anything change? Maybe. I might finally pick up a used set of sticks on Kijiji this year and join my friends on city-owned links, happily tipping back a local brew. But given that the only plan taker listed on this REOI as of this post going live is the area sales manager for Molson-Coors, it seems to me highly unlikely.