Saanich looks to raise fees, scrap club privileges at Cedar Hill Golf Course

A report prepared for Saanich council tonight is recommending increasing fees and scrapping privileges for the club that has preferential tee times and free use of the clubhouse at Cedar Golf Course.

Tiana Solares, senior manager of recreation services for Saanich, said a consultant’s report commissioned by her department also proposes an operating model where a ­private contractor would run both golf services and concessions in the clubhouse, and changes to its annual pass ­system.

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The report notes that club contracts are “highly unusual” at municipal courses, and says giving the Cedar Hill Golf Club high-value benefits is “no longer sustainable.” Those benefits include free boardroom rentals valued at $10,000 per year, preferred tee-time bookings 29 times a year and events that cost the facility more than $8,000 per day in lost public green fees.

“It’s about levelling the play field, and being fair and ­equitable to all,” said Solares.

Cedar Hill is one of the busiest golf courses in Canada, booking about 300 tee times daily throughout the year. Solares said the goal is to ensure the viability of the golf course in the future and to build on the gains of increased use during the pandemic.

The report to council is for information and there won’t be a vote. However, council will hear from some speakers opposed to the changes.

Wendy Swonnell, vice-captain of the club’s women’s team, said severing the contract with members of Cedar Hill Golf Club, which has been in operation for more than 70 years, would be “like a slap in the face.”

Swonnell, who golfs every Tuesday morning in the club’s Ladies Day, said they have about 100 members — about the same as the men — but only a handful golf every week, usually taking about two hours of tee times.

“We pay fees and for passes just like everybody else,” said Swonnell. “It’s not like they’re losing money on us. We like the fresh air and playing with other ladies of our own calibre. What’s wrong with that?”

Saanich Parks and the club have a contract that expires in December, and the parks department has agreed to a ­temporary extension for another year.

Mick Goodger, part of the men’s team, said in its peak years, the Cedar Hill Golf Club had 600 members and “contributed money to Saanich.” He said the club gave $50,000 for clubhouse renovations in 1978 and $33,540 to complete the new clubhouse in 1997.

The club, which produced PGA players Jim Rutledge and Jim Gibson, also existed long before Saanich took the golf course over about 50 years ago from its previous owner.

“So, I say to Saanich: What price loyalty? The golf course receives no tax subsidy and makes money with the fee structures exactly as they are today,” said Goodger in an email. “If I was a swimmer, tennis player or weight lifter you would subsidize my activity and put out ads to encourage me to buy a monthly pass.”

The consultant’s report was prepared by Global Golf Advisors, an international firm with headquarters in Phoenix and an office in Ontario. Only highlights of the report are being released to the public to ensure the integrity of a request for proposals for a private contractor to oversee operations, said Saanich Parks.

The report recommends increasing the peak rate for fees from $51 for 18 holes to $54, aligning discounted rates to a percentage of the peak rate, phasing out the annual pass and introducing a continuous or “flex” pass.

Cedar Hill’s fees are low compared with those for other courses in the area. At Cordova Bay and Gorge Vale golf courses, for example, playing 18 holes costs $89 and $95.

After an initial increase of 3% to 10% next year to most green fees — none amounting to more than $3 per round — a minimum 1.5% annual increase is proposed through 2026-2027.

Saanich Parks will introduce a Flex Pass starting in 2023 requiring a $350 up-front payment in conjunction with discounted green fees.

The report says the changes will allow Cedar Hill to keep rates “competitively attractive” in the local market, yield a higher rate per round, and modernize the pass system to be in line with industry standards. Staff will bring an updated fees and charges bylaw to a council meeting later this fall.

The consultants propose bringing management of golf operations and the food and beverage concession under one contract, with course maintenance and use of clubhouse event spaces to remain under the control of Saanich.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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