Doug Smith has been a regular at the Cedar Hill Golf Course for years – both on the course and in the clubhouse.
"I used to go to the restaurant every weekend for breakfast. They had a regular clientele," he said. "We weren't totally surprised when they closed it down because we had seen how the restaurant had been maintained for years, which was bad, in our opinion."
It's been a year and a half now since Saanich made major changes to the golf course and clubhouse operations, after determining they were facing an $820,000 deficit by the end of 2012 if nothing changed. Last year the municipality closed the restaurant and replaced it with a snack bar, and raised annual pass fees.
"I'd say we're doing OK compared to last year. I'm cautiously positive," Doug Henderson, Saanich's manager of parks and recreation, said last week when asked about the golf course's financial situation.
At budget time earlier this year, Henderson estimated the overall deficit would be cut to $342,000 if it was a good golf season. While the weather has been nice so far this summer, it hasn't translated to a surge in numbers.
"It's not like we're overrun (with golfers). All the courses (in the region) are still feeling the pressure of the economy and just the fact there's lots to choose from in town here," he said. "We certainly looked at an improvement when we did budgets this year. We're cautiously optimistic we're going to meet that budget."
Val Mieras, president of the Cedar Hill Golf Club, commends Saanich staff, namely Henderson and the course's new manager, Carole Ireland, for the efforts they've made to try to make things work. But there remains one major hiccup, she says.
"They have to get a handle on the food and beverage side of things. They need someone that understands hospitality management because they're not taking advantage of this place at all," she said. "Everybody's trying hard. Given that they're very conscious that they need to make money, not lose money, and they're very conservative and they're very cautious. Part of that is there's a lot of unknowns still, and they're out of their depth."
Henderson says Saanich council will get a close look at the golf course's numbers in September, once the golf season is over. At that point, council may decide to make changes to the operations or fee structure.
Smith, who holds a restricted golf pass, says the changes he's observed at the golf course in the last two years have been superficial, and haven't been to the benefit of returning players.
"It's all been cosmetic changes and you don't really notice them, other than some irrigation work," he said.
John Scott, who was out on the course last week alongside Smith and two other friends, said he's not seeing the value in the cost of the annual pass. "They need a better, fairer pass system."
Pass holders continue to pay more and get less year over year at the golf course. Earlier this year Saanich tightened restrictions on the maximum number of rounds playable in the summer season, while increasing a full annual pass by $70 and the restricted weekday pass by $38. For an 18 hole course, municipally-owned Cedar Hill has the lowest green fees in the city.
Mieras hopes this is another element of the golf course finances that council will review in the fall.
"If they carry on the way they were going – pass prices go up another five per cent and down another five rounds, they'll lose more passholders, guaranteed," she said.
"We have a good thing here, it just needs a bit more change. The course is in better shape than it's even been. I think Saanich understands now that if you want to attract golfers, if you want to make money, the golf course needs to be in beautiful shape. And they're doing a great job on that."