P.E.I. golf missing the cut

Jim Day
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A golfer walks towards a green at the Clyde River Golf Course. An AIMS research report says government efforts at developing a golf industry have not produced the desired results.

Study concludes province has failed in golf development efforts

Roughly 25 years ago, the province took a real shine to golf as a tool to draw tourists to P.E.I.

With the sport booming across North America in the 1990s, the government decided to make golf development a centerpiece of its tourism and economic development strategies.

A new research report from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) concludes the efforts were largely a flop — and quite a costly one at that.

The paper, called Short of the Green: Golf as an Economic Development tool on Prince Edward Island, states that the Crown corporation created specifically to operate provincially owned courses has lost money in 10 of the last 14 years.

In 2008, the province finally wrote off more than $10 million in bad debt on Golf Links’ books.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE EXAMPLES OF GOLF'S STRUGGLES AND FAILURES

“The strategy may have seemed compelling,’’ says Ian Munro, the report’s author, “but a combination of bad luck and strategic missteps resulted in a policy failure.’’

The report also finds that a number of basic but critical strategic questions were overshadowed by enthusiasm, hype and optimism at the beginning of the golf boom in the 1990s.

The report questions why the government took on the roles — and risks — of golf course owner and operator, rather than focus on providing a sound basis environment in which entrepreneurs could do what they do best.

“Additionally, tactical errors were made in relying on simplistic projections, failing to consider risks and alternative scenarios, and justifying investment decisions on the basis of unsound or inappropriate analyses,’’ the report states.

The report highlights the major development of the golf product in P.E.I., noting the province may well have been the “epicentre’’ of the 1990s golf boom in Canada.

Prior to 1990, there were 11 golf courses on the Island.

From 1990 to 2003, 20 new courses were opened across the province.

“Many recreational players might try such courses once or twice, but the allure of spending a lot of money to endure several hours of disappointing results and intense frustration quickly wears off." AIMS report

No new courses have opened since 2003.

AIMS believes some developers may have made a strategic error in that many new courses featured high degrees of difficulty, high maintenance costs and high fees.

“Many recreational players might try such courses once or twice, but the allure of spending a lot of money to endure several hours of disappointing results and intense frustration quickly wears off,’’ AIMS speculates in its 29-page report.

Also, the report determined that the economics of supply and demand has hurt the golf industry in the province.

The market became oversaturated with golf courses in P.E.I., resulting in competition driving down prices, profits plummeting, and courses failing.

Golf Links P.E.I., which owns and operates the Crowbush, Brudenell, Mill River and Dundarave courses, has consistently “bled red ink.’’

The Liberal Ghiz government in 2007 decided to sell its courses, but after seven years of on-again, off-again efforts, they remain unsold.

The report also highlights that tourism statistics released in November 2014 show strong numbers for the year for overnight stays and airport traffic, yet, despite this seemingly successful year for the tourism industry, golf, as measured by total non-member rounds, was down 3.3 per cent in 2014.

“Given the trends since the turn of the millennium — financial losses, course closures, weak tourism figures, and declining numbers for the amount of golf being played — one might wonder whether the original concept of using golf to lure tourists has been turned on its head so that other means of attracting tourists now are needed to save the golf industry,’’ the report concludes.

jday@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/PEIGuardian

Organizations: Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Beaver Valley Golf Club, Belvedere Golf Club

Geographic location: P.E.I., Prince Edward Island, North America Canada.Prior Mill River

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Recent comments

  • Jimmy Buffet
    February 10, 2015 - 17:41

    Ahhhh , to be back in the days of Pat Binns regime ...Tiger Woods , free passes for golf for Tory card holders , trips for the better connected to Scotland to see how the game is played , wine tasting trips to California so locals could enjoy a better vino , Dundarave , a Golf Academy !!! What heady days , what could possibly go wrong !!! The executives outnumbered the grass cutters ( and probably still do !) what a dream world we had ... and have !

    • Golf Course Worker
      February 11, 2015 - 08:05

      Yes these Provincial golf courses were played all summer by Robert Ghiz, Brooke Macmillan, Tim Banks and Tim. Casey, probably on our dime. I guess they got free passes! Did you?

  • Observation
    February 10, 2015 - 15:58

    As others have stated before; and one which seems to make sense, the courses should lower the prices, especially to local residents. I think that it would be much better to have their courses full of golfers; rather than empty like Dundrave or Avondale in the peak season, like July and August.The extra people would spend money on food and drinks that they are not getting now! I have visited many Island courses in the peak of the tourist season; July and August, which have their restraurnts empty, or practically empty. It is financially impractical for most Islanders to spend over $100-120.00 or more to play Island courses like Crowbush, Brudenell, Dundrave, Cavendish, Glascow Hills, Anderson's Creek, and Eagles Glenn with their present green fees structure. Tourists; during July and August, may be able to appreciate these fees; but these courses need the support of local residents during the shoulder season, in order to survive!

  • Senior Islander
    February 10, 2015 - 15:40

    I have a question for Garth. Where was he with his advice when the party he backs built Dundarave. Did he not say anthing because he wanted some of his friends to make a killing while we the tax payer paid for it each and every year ever since..

  • Part Time Resident
    February 10, 2015 - 14:58

    This isn't rocket science. Drop the prices! Make it affordable for residents and tourists and keep the tourists coming back. Better to have all of your tee times booked at $50/person than a quarter booked at $100/person. The golf fees are too high. Packaged deals work but there aren't enough tourists taking advantage of them. Attractive green fees will work. It works everywhere else.

  • jerry connolly
    February 10, 2015 - 12:10

    One has to be very naive to believe that the Government can operate any business with responsibility.

  • Indigo
    February 10, 2015 - 11:03

    Great report. Add to that PEI politics and culture. - Let's not forget, that anybody that was anybody needed to golf. It was the IN thing to do. Let's not forget that Binns gave millions to his friends and cornies to buy out golf ventures at Brudenell. A scandal at the time, - but the money was invested and success needed to be proven, - more money pumped into it. Then Ghiz came in, and a golf mentality took root on the 5th floor. His boys and girls in the higher echelons of government were invited and encouraged to part- take in Friday afternoon games at the various government owned courses. Guests of the government were invited to play golf on those courses. Anyone in executive positions in our agencies and educational institutions were on the government owned golf courses. The government owned golf courses became playing fields for 'who is who', cronies and hangers on. Therefore this whole idea of government owned golf courses smacks of political opportunism, mismanagement and elitism.

  • who cares
    February 10, 2015 - 10:49

    5.2 million dollars!!Yes 5.2 million dollars!! PEI.Government underspend that's was earmarked for,social assistance clients, children in care and other Islanders in need! Why isn't this front page news???????

  • Stew
    February 10, 2015 - 10:43

    Take the provincially owned ones and turn them into public parks, with trails and picnic areas. Let them revert back to nature and plant an Acadian forest. With the preexisting golf course infrastructure buildings, lease them to private sector people to run some kind of business (restaurant, gallery/shop, driving range, retreat center). Stop bleeding the tax payers by propping up these failed courses. Turn this mess into something everyone can enjoy.

  • HOME FROM AWAY
    February 10, 2015 - 09:53

    When I first started golfing on PEI in 1963, there were only three (3) golf courses on PEI-----Belvedere in Charlottetown (18 holes), Cavendish (18 holes), and Summerside (9 holes). It was a number of years before courses came along-----Brudenell and Mill River. My father says the best view from a golf course is from the third tee (was the fifth tee) at Cavendish overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence.

  • BUDDY
    February 10, 2015 - 09:49

    If you want People to Play then Drop Your Price. There is not one Golf course on Island worth anymore then $50.00 Cart Included Per Round !!!. Stop Trying to Soak the Few Tourist That do Play. Word of Mouth is Bad especially when you Try to screw someone... If the price per round is cheap enough Golfers will Return, Stay longer and Tell their Friends. It ain't Rocket Science !!!

  • part time golfer
    February 10, 2015 - 09:42

    Perhaps if they were to offer more affordable resident fees (both membership and daily) to Islanders, they would have better numbers from locals. Playing one of these high end courses is more of a 'once a summer' treat than a regular option for most Islanders. In my opinion it would be better to have your course full of happy golfers than empty and waiting for the big bucks.

  • Karl Proude
    February 10, 2015 - 07:59

    I have heard this time after time that Government should stop competing with private enterprise. We have 27 MA members for a population of 138000 people which they fail to manage successfully . How can they expect to run something as complicated as a golf course. This is way out of control, and sad to say, I don, t see any light at the end of the tunel. I love our Island and it makes me sad to see comments on here and reasons why people choose to leave. Been there done that, but came home. I know over my career as a Policeman I am convinced that I have locked more honest people up then we have had handling our tax monies and our operations of Prince Edward Island over the years. Good job I turned all my issue back into the Police Department. All joking aside I am seeing red but not the kind you think. I said I would never vote again, but as not to loose my vote ,I want our Island to be more Green and any change can be no worst then what we have been dealing with . Sink or swim Islanders.

  • how it is...
    February 10, 2015 - 07:54

    The problem with Belvedere is that the place is nothing more than an old boys club. I've never golfed at a colder, less welcoming course in my life. Hot shots walking around like their $h!t don't stink and thinking they're better than you or me because of their financed BMW suv in the parking lot and $5000 set of clubs. I hope the place closes.

    • Simone
      February 10, 2015 - 11:22

      how it is...You need to get over yourself.Stop painting people with the same brush.This article was discussing government owned courses and Belvedere is privately owned.I am sorry you felt as if you didn't measure up.There are some wonderful people at Belvedere and some even drive older pick ups!!

  • Sandi Lowther
    February 10, 2015 - 07:11

    The following is an excerpt from Golf’s 2020 Vision. The HSBC Report. I would encourage both the Guardian newspaper readers & reporters to read the report. http://thefuturescompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The_Future_of_Golf.pdf Excerpt: “The data, the interviews, and the other research for this report tell the same story about how golf is evolving towards 2020. The game is continuing to grow in popularity, broadening its international base, building new audiences and recruiting new players, in new markets, but needs to keep modernising to stay in touch with the times. For some in the game, this will be a challenge. But the only thing worse than change is irrelevance......The following is an excerpt from Golf’s 2020 Vision. The HSBC Report. I would encourage both the Guardian newspaper readers & reporters to read the report. http://thefuturescompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The_Future_of_Golf.pdf Excerpt: “The data, the interviews, and the other research for this report tell the same story about how golf is evolving towards 2020. The game is continuing to grow in popularity, broadening its international base, building new audiences and recruiting new players, in new markets, but needs to keep modernising to stay in touch with the times. For some in the game, this will be a challenge. But the only thing worse than change is irrelevance.” While the provincial golf courses may be failing to attract tourists, the Cavendish Beach private sector golf courses continue to draw large numbers of tourists during the much needed shoulder seasons of May, June, September & October. As an avid golf packaging partner with these courses this translates to significant revenues for our company & others in the region during a time when it is needed most. Having a diverse portfolio of product in any destination is what will continue to sustain our industry in the long term. Regards, Sandi Lowther Fairways Cottages Inc.

    • Garth Staples
      February 10, 2015 - 12:58

      Sandi we've heard it all before. Who funded the survey/study?

  • one putt
    February 10, 2015 - 06:58

    The auther mentioned high maintenance costs having seen some of our provincial courses it is safe to say that the golf courses are a dumbing ground for 14 week employees. This causes the rates to be high and Islanders might play a course in late fall when they lower the price. The provincial courses are marketed to tourists and as a result their play is down as the golf tourist has to many options Cape Breton ,Ont, and Que. Sell the courses at a loss as losing money each year is like throwing good money after bad.

  • jill macdonald
    February 10, 2015 - 06:57

    Belvedere's president has denied to his membership that the sale of the land was NOT necessary for the survival of the club. Of course, he wants people to think he is doing such a good job that the need to sell land as someone else's lie. Which is it, I wonder?

  • Garth Staples
    February 10, 2015 - 06:04

    I advised( I was not then in Govt) the Minister that building golf courses was a mistake and not to do so. Alas I was right.

    • Too Bad
      February 10, 2015 - 13:23

      Too bad it didn't come from someone with credibility and that isn't considered a joke among all government officials.

    • Kelly
      February 10, 2015 - 14:36

      That's nice Garth. But not sure what a rear view mirror does.

    • Kelly
      February 10, 2015 - 14:38

      The author points to errors which are quite obvious - that isn't the question - the question is what to do now? So ignoring golf tourism is a good move? Seems foolish when you already have all the infrastructure and investment. So close up shop and go home?