Golfers asked to pay more for less at Cedar Hill

Golf Club president says loyal customers pushed away in favour of higher-paying ones

The president of the Cedar Hill Golf Club thinks the camel’s back is about to break.

While the municipally run golf course has seen the number of annual passholders drop 48 per cent in the last decade, Val Mieras says the changes Saanich is proposing to help offset an $820,000 deficit could be enough to drive the remaining holdouts to a different course.

“We pay our money up front – it’s money they can count on – but they don’t want us to play. They’re worried about us getting too good a deal,” she said. “Most businesses understand that you treat your loyal regular customers very well, and Saanich seems to think they should do the opposite.”

Following a jam-packed open house on the future of the course last Monday (Jan. 30), council is expected to discuss proposed changes tonight (Feb. 7) to help make the course financially viable.

In a report to council, parks and recreation director Doug Henderson recommended councillors support a $68 increase to $1,418 for a full annual pass, which allows passholders to play on the weekends. A restricted pass will increase by $37 to $1087, and holders can only play Monday through Thursday.

However these diehard golfers will have to pay more to golf less.

While last year’s full pass allowed a maximum of 120 rounds per year, this year’s more expensive pass would only allow for 90 rounds annually. There are restrictions on how many rounds passholders can play each week, and how many can be played in the summer.

“As a taxpayer, never mind as a golfer, I find it quite offensive,” Mieras said. “There is nobody running the place that understands golf or understands business.”

If council approves the new pay structure, green fees will also increase by $5 this year, and $2 each year in 2013 and 2014.

“It’ll backfire on them,” Mieras said. Saanich decreased green fees in 2011 (from $48 in 2010 to $40 last year to play on the weekend), but the number of rounds played still dropped.

“They only got 42,000 rounds last year … they should be getting 60,000,” Mieras said. “If they couldn’t even get 50,000 with bargain basement rates, I’m not sure how they can get 60,000 by charging more.”

Doug Henderson, Saanich’s director of parks and recreation, says the numbers game is more complex than just a new fee structure. The course currently averages $23 per person per round – but to make money, that average needs to be at least $30. “The patronage of passholders has always been valued. It’s just trying to find that right balance between what sort of bargain opportunities you can give people when they want to invest a little bit of money up front, versus what’s the real cost associated, and what are the funds needed to kept the course sustainable?” Henderson said.

At Monday night’s council meeting, four councillors were behind a motion asking staff to seek formalized public input on how to improve golf course operations.

“We didn’t do any public process with the greater community,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff, talking about a solely in-camera decision to close the golf course restaurant, which will take effect Feb. 17.

“Any time there’s been a community need (for Cedar Hill), we’ve come out,” said Margaret Bachmann, who lives at the north end of the course. “The way in which Saanich has operated in the past to benefit this community is not how they’re handling this now.”

She, along with hundreds of others, are upset about the restaurant closure taking away an integral part of their community.

“The community has come together in the past. The energy is in the community. All we’re asking for is a chance to help,” Bachmann said.

Henderson says the future of the restaurant space at the clubhouse is still unknown, but a process will begin to determine how to best use it.

“We’ll be trying to look at what those opportunities might be up there. It’s everything from us continuing to use it solely for golf course bookings, which means it would likely be under-utilized, to a combination of golf course bookings, outside rentals for meetings or events. Who knows?”

Council is expected to discuss the golf course changes at a budget meeting tonight (Feb 7). Because of such a huge public interest in the issue, the meeting venue was moved to Colquitz middle school, as council chambers only holds 146 people.

kslavin@saanichnews.com