Val Mieras

Saanich’s municipal golf course facing $818,000 deficit

Nearly 300 people who turned out to an open house Monday night at the Cedar Hill clubhouse, which will close its restaurant on Feb. 18.

Financial issues plaguing the Cedar Hill Golf Course – namely a projected deficit of more than $818,000 this year – are not a new matter. It’s operated in the red since 2007.

So why Saanich failed to seek community input on how to reverse its misfortunes until the last possible moment leaves neighbours and at least one councillor dumbfounded.

“I really wish there had been more attempts to deal with this over time, because it doesn’t appear to have been a problem that crept up all of a sudden,” said Coun. Vic Derman.

He was one of nearly 300 people who turned out to an open house Monday night at the Cedar Hill clubhouse, which will close its restaurant on Feb. 18 as one measure to get back some money.

That closure should shear $100,000 off the deficit this year.

And while the chaired meeting was supposed to focus on reversing the golf course deficit (both the clubhouse and golf course are in the red), the attendees wanted their views on the impending restaurant closure to be heard.

“It used to be really, really busy. What happened?” asked Val Mieras, president of the Cedar Hill Golf Club. “How can a restaurant that has safe, free parking, that has a fabulous view, a great deck and really good food lose a half a million dollars?”

Mieras points to a number of issues outside of the excuses Saanich is giving (the HST, stricter drinking and driving laws, the economy) for the failing clubhouse. The public shared Mieras’ views that poor advertising, inconsistent hours and a manager “who is not doing a good job” were all contributing to the deficit.

“You can’t separate the restaurant and the golf,” Mieras said. “If you don’t have a restaurant, you’re going to lose a lot of weddings, tournaments and other big events.”

Doug Henderson, Saanich’s director of parks and recreation, acknowledges that may be a reality, but says they’ll “just have to change the look of the package we have to offer.”

He says the last-minute public meetings on the future of the golf course are only happening on short notice because Saanich is in the middle of budget talks. “There’s been a knowledge that the golf course was starting to struggle, and minor changes were made through the years,” he said.

“These kinds of scenarios are starting to present themselves (at budget time), and so some decisions need to be made in a very timely fashion.”

Henderson is hastily working on getting a report to council, which will be presented Tuesday, that lays out recommendations to improve the golf course’s operation. That report is expected to be made available online Friday.

Henderson says the recommendations will likely cover such things as pricing, bookings, advertising and making a nine-hole option available. “There’s going to be a combination of things, probably over a couple years, to make it happen, as opposed to one single thing to turn the whole ship around,” he said.

The golf course currently averages $23 per person per round. To make money, Henderson says that average needs to be at least $30, so long as the number of rounds played annually also picks up.

Last year 42,000 people teed off on the course. That’s down from highs of 71,000 rounds 10 years ago.

“It’s been a big drop, and we could’ve perhaps done some things better, but a number of issues have played against the golf industry in general,” Henderson said.

There have been changes made over the last couple years to the golf side of things, he said. The municipality spent $30,000 commissioning a report in late 2009 to look at why the golf course was losing money.

Mieras says the closure of the restaurant will likely turn the clubhouse into a men’s club. “The restaurant’s a community place. You see little old ladies come by and have their cup of tea – they’re the ones who use the restaurant,” she said. “The grab-and-run downstairs is not a little old lady place. And it has a liquor licence, so it’s no place for juniors. … They’ve now made a decision to make it harder for juniors and women to be attracted to the place.”

The golf club president isn’t yet concerned about the future of the golf course, but would like Saanich to create a comprehensive short-term plan that will plot out a course of action.

“There’s been so much instability in the last few years. We’ve lost a lot number of members,” she said. “I know they want to find a way to make it pay, but I hope that way isn’t to jack up the price so nobody can afford to play.”

Tuesday’s meeting, at 7:30 p.m., is expected to draw a larger crowd than what council chambers allows. Legislative staff is still looking for another venue to hold the meeting.

Henderson’s report as well as details about where the meeting will be held will be posted at  Saanich.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

By the numbers

• Closing the restaurant at Cedar Hill golf course will have a $98,000 impact on this year’s operating budget. But when the entire course – including golf and food services – is operating at an $818,000 deficit, it begs the question: where is all the money going?

• The course projects to earn $1.37 million this year, while it runs at a cost of $2.09 million.

“There’s a lot of costs already built in for the year. You’ve got a variety of costs that are going to be there, regardless of closing (the restaurant) on Feb. 18,” said Paul Murray, Saanich’s director of finance.

• Despite the closure, the food service side of the operation will still face a $420,000 deficit, while the golf course itself will be $300,000 in the red.

• Most of the restaurant deficit is attributed to projected maintenance and repairs to the clubhouse, itself. Additionally, there are obligations under the restaurant employees’ collective agreement that must be honoured, Murray said.

• The golf course’s greatest expenditures come from course maintenance and the operation of the snack shop downstairs. As well, there is an ongoing $187,000 annual cost to pay back the municipality for a $2-million irrigation system, installed in 2006.

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