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Golf clubs hoping to save par on year

Missing spring is showing up in missing revenue

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A golfer heads out for a round Monday at Kildonan Park Golf Course. The weather has resulted in later opening rounds than usual, causing some golf course operators to worry about the year's revenue.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A golfer heads out for a round Monday at Kildonan Park Golf Course. The weather has resulted in later opening rounds than usual, causing some golf course operators to worry about the year's revenue. Photo Store

After seeing Mother Nature's worst for a second straight year, Winnipeg-area golf course operators are happily declaring themselves survivors and are ready to turn the page to a busy season.

The majority of courses in and around the city opened for play late last week or on the weekend, an unprecedented second straight year that occurred in May.

"Most golfers won't come out until it gets to 15 degrees and there's some sun," said Larry Robinson, director of golf at Bridges Golf Course. "Last year with a similar late start, we were anxious about the numbers for much of the year. We're not as anxious as last year because our experience was we can rebound. There's more hope that the glass is half full."

Robinson voiced a common theme about the late-starting season: There's more than an ample supply of frustration.

"It's always the third week in April; that's just what we always get," he said. "You never go past that as a rule in my 35 years of opening courses, so a lot of people are wondering what's going on two years in a row.

"Generally, I think a lot of people are sick and tired about the poor weather, never mind golf. And I think that can explain why on Sunday, our parking lot was almost full. It was a so-so Sunday in early May (city high of 8 C with little or no wind) but it was a whole lot better than Saturday and people are just eager to get at it."

There's no point pushing the panic button, Lakeland Golf Management president Harry Brotchie told the Free Press.

"There are always fluctuations," said Brotchie, who said most operators in this area plan on the basis of a near 200-day season. "Anybody that's successful in the business is working on a three-to-five year average so you don't get too excited on the highs or lows.

"I guess on the positive side, if the average opening (around Winnipeg) is April 21, we're only two weeks late. But two weeks is two weeks. It's nearly impossible to make it back."

Brotchie said Tuxedo Golf Course opened Friday for the season. His company also operates Harbour View in Winnipeg, Links at the Lake, Hecla and Grand Pines north of the city and four courses in Saskatchewan.

"Starting late impacts us with multiple courses," he said. "The bottom line is based on green-fee play and at a certain point, if you don't have some good weather and some excitement about playing, well, after a couple of weeks if that's not there, that's lost revenue.

"It carries over to carts, to food, to shop sales, the incidentals that go with golf. There's a certain dollar value per round that's gone if the start is poor. You could get some of it back if the weather were to turn quickly. You always worry that if May continues to be bad, the diehards will play less and they will lose some interest."

That's one of the worries for Steve Wood, general manager and executive professional at Bel Acres Golf and Country Club, a semi-private facility.

"I don't know how much (the late start) is hurting the business as a whole but in Winnipeg, I think it makes people re-evaluate taking out memberships," Wood said. "They see a shorter season and wonder if it's worth it.

"My personal observation is that golf members are in it more for the experience as opposed to just rounds played but a late start will cause them to think about it."

Bel Acres also opened for the season last Friday and Wood says he sees some pent-up demand.

"The way our winter was again, people do want to get out," he said. "For us, I'd say a lot of our members have been south somewhere and have played some, so they're less desperate but everyone just wants some warmer weather."

Wood agreed with his fellow operators lost revenue in April and May is hard to make back.

"Even if the season goes longer, it sure doesn't benefit clubs with members," he said. "You're really focused on early. You don't budget for much action in April and if you get it, it's a bonus. In May, numbers are usually consistent but if you have a good May, it can make your year."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2014 D6

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