Selling provincial golf courses 'takes time': Henderson

Tourism minister says government wants to avoid fire sale

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 10, 2015

Tourism Minister Robert Henderson.

©Guardian photo

Tourism Minister Robert Henderson agrees with a new report that says the province made a big mistake in getting into the golf game as owner and operator.

The Atlantic Institute for Marketing Studies questions why the government of the day took on the roles — and risks — of four premier golf courses rather than focus on providing a sound basis environment in which entrepreneurs could do what they do best.

Henderson notes that part of the Liberal platform during the 2004 election campaign was to sell the Dundarave, Crowbush, Mill River and Brudenell courses.

Premier Robert Ghiz reiterated in the summer of 2007, during a Legends of Golf event at Crowbush aimed at raising P.E.I.’s profile as a golf destination, that his government was looking to sell all four provincial golf courses.

“I don’t believe that the private sector should have to compete with the public sector and we should be concentrating on health and education and social programs,’’ Ghiz said at the time.

Yet more than seven years later, all four courses remain under the ownership and the operation of the Ghiz government.

“I guess things take time,’’ says Henderson.

A request for proposals did not go out until 2012. There have been some bites since, but the government currently has no real irons in the fire, just four courses to continue to run.

Henderson says the government will not engage in a “fire sale’’ to sell the courses at a bargain price, noting that would not be fiscally prudent. However, he concedes that the province is projecting $800,000 in operational losses to run the four courses this year.

The tourism department estimates the economic impact of golf in P.E.I. is $105 million, including $40 million in direct revenue.

“We’re not under a timeline or a deadline (to sell),’’ the minister stresses.

“We will operate the provincial golf courses until a decision is reached (to sell them). We’re methodical. We’re going through the process.’’

Henderson said a decline in non-member rounds last year in P.E.I., coming during such a strong tourism season for the province, is simply a reflection of a golf industry in decline in North America.

“We are no different,’’ he says.

Henderson still considers P.E.I. a “premier golf destination’’ and adds the government would be open to further golf promotions like Big Break P.E.I.

The Department of Tourism has a marketing budget of about $4 million this year to spend trying to attract tourists to the province.