Greens in the red as fewer golfers hitting Greater Victoria fairways

Poor weather, strict liquor laws and tough economy add up to a double bogey for the sport

 

To look at it, Cedar Hill Golf Course is awfully green to be so much in the red.

There are many golfers who don’t mind the mud this time of year but to truly help taxpayers’ pain the municipality’s golf course could really use a good run of hot weather in 2012.

Unless the number of golfers increases dramatically, the course is due for yet another money-losing season. But bad weather is only one factor keeping golfers away.

Cedar Hill is one of only 15 municipally-owned full-size courses among 300 in operation in B.C.

A closer look suggests it’s not entirely Saanich’s fault its course has become a losing venture.

Cedar Hill flourished as a fiscally sound entity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the course averaged 71,000 rounds played per year. In 2011, the course saw 42,000 rounds played – a 40 per cent drop from its heyday. Now the operation is saddled with debt from a number of lean years, and questions are being asked whether the course’s 15-year-old clubhouse has become a financial albatross. Perhaps the bigger question should be where have the golfers gone?

“Golf courses are a highly competitive business, some markets are a bit overbuilt, and other things (such as) the HST and drinking and driving laws have all had an impact,” said Kris Jonasson, executive director of the B.C. Golf Association.

Jonasson would not state on the record if Greater Victoria has too many courses. But there’s no shortage of tee times in the region, with a dozen courses within a short commute of each other.

(Saanich) has tried over the last couple of years to attract more golfers, spending an additional $20,000 since 2010 on marketing the course over the radio and in print ads, said Doug Henderson, director of Saanich parks and recreation.

“The current marketing budget is $25,000 annually, and we’re looking to add $20,000 at the (Feb. 7) financial planning meeting. (Saanich) has done a lot of work to try and get the message out that it’s a public course, a nice playable course, with good food and beverages.”

In Cedar Hill’s favour is the fact it’s an easy and relatively cheap course for golfers to get their fix these days. Along with getting the word out, some good weather could help the numbers to rebound.

It’s the same scenario for a number of small golf courses in the region.

The nine-hole Prospect Lake Golf Course in West Saanich is on stable ground, but competition is as tight as ever.

“Similar to ski businesses that make money in snow-season, we need to make the money for our year in the period of May to September,” said Shawn Steele, general manager at Prospect Lake. “(The warm) season has been six-to-eight weeks later the past two years. Every golf course has felt that pinch, public courses in particular.”

Dating back to 2001, Prospect averaged 32,000 rounds per year.

Since 2009, Prospect has averaged 15 to 20 per cent fewer rounds, with Steele citing familiar reasons: lack of sun, HST and tougher drinking and driving laws.

“This year is make or break for a lot of golf courses. The risk of some public golf courses closing over the next little while is higher than some might think,” he said.

sports@vicnews.com

 

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