Government needs more time to negotiate a good deal for the sale of the four provincially owned golf courses, so the province will continue to operate them for the golfing season of 2013.
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson says his department is currently in negotiations with a few different interested parties, but due to the impending opening of the golf season, timing has become an issue.
“We feel it’s a bit of a contingent on getting a decent deal, at the moment,” Henderson said.
“If someone was to take them over now, they don’t really have the time to put together a marketing strategy that might be different than what we would do or implement any of the changes that they might want to do.”
The province issued a request for proposals on the management or ownership of Brudenell River, Mill River, the Links at Crowbush Cove and Dundarave in the summer of 2012.
Last year saw an overall improvement in the performance of the four courses compared to the previous year. Total rounds played increased by close to 1,500 compared to 2011.
But the courses continue to operate at a financial loss. Total losses in 2012 totaled just over $800,000, which was almost $100,000 less than budgeted, but still a burden to the Tourism P.E.I. budget.
Last year the province also had to issue a special warrant for $1.4 million to cover a shortfall in expected revenues from the year before.
That’s why Tourism P.E.I. identified the sale of the four courses as one of it priorities in its 2013 strategy, unveiled at the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.’s annual meeting in December.
Henderson said Thursday this remains a priority for his department, but he needs more time to work out a deal that is fair to P.E.I. taxpayers.
“The taxpayers of P.E.I. over the last number of years have invested large amounts of dollars in these properties,” he said.
“If someone was to take them over now, they don’t really have the time to put together a marketing strategy that might be different than what we would do or implement any of the changes that they might want to do.” - Tourism Minister Robert Henderson
“If we have to deal with this a little bit longer to get a reasonable deal, or at least come to a conclusion whether we can get a reasonable deal, that’s the way I want to do it.”
Opposition tourism critic James Aylward said he is pleased to hear government is not rushing to purge the courses at fire sale prices.
“There’s a lot of money invested in them, and we need to make sure whoever takes them over, whoever purchases them is a reputable organization and that they’re packaged properly.”
But since the province will be operating the course this year, Aylward suggested government try offering a ‘resident discount’ in green fees as a way to boost tee times at the courses.
“Alberta residents have a preferred rate at the Alberta provincial courses, and I think that’s something that the provincial courses could look at here,” Aylward said.
“There’s a lot of Islanders who would like to golf those courses more, myself included… There’s got to be some kind of incentive.”
The province expects the process of transferring ownership or management of the courses will continue to move forward over the coming months.
But Henderson would not say when an announcement on the future of the courses would be made.
P.E.I.’s golf industry generates upwards of $16 million per year in tax revenue for the provincial government and local municipalities, and contributes about $61 million to the Island’s GDP.