Late start, loss of banquet revenues threaten to leave local golf courses in financial hole

Golf

Although summer is just around the corner, Mike Copeland sounded like a kid on Christmas morning Friday.

The general manager and co-owner of Ottawa’s Pine View Golf Course was preparing to welcome golfers back to the 36-hole facility on Blair Road this weekend after the province gave courses the green light to open Saturday as part of the first stage of easing restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Copeland, who took over Pine View from the city with a group of investors in 2014, said 500 golfers had already booked tee times at the property’s two courses on opening day, and only a few spots were left for the entire Victoria Day long weekend.

“We’re jammed,” he told OBJ on Friday. “It’s crazy. There’s a couple spots on Monday, but I don’t expect those to last long.”

Copeland says the delayed start to the season has already cut into revenues, and even if the two courses are booked solid the rest of the way, it won’t make up for lost rental income from weddings and other gatherings as the clubhouse sits empty.

“We’ve been wiped out on banquets and events,” he said. “We tend to be very busy with that sort of thing. We’ve lost that whole side of our business for the foreseeable future.”  

Copeland said he expects revenues to fall about 40 per cent this year compared with 2019, which equates to losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

Still, he’s hoping for good weather and is banking on casual golfers breaking out the clubs a bit more often than usual as long as other options for spending their disposable income remain limited.

“Golf ultimately is entertainment,” he said. “Right now to some extent, we're the only show in town.”

The facility has cut its headcount from about 40 down to 25 to save on salary costs. The National Capital Commission, which owns the land, calculates rent as a percentage of gross revenues, which should also help keep expenditures in check, Copeland added.

Physical distancing

Pine View’s owners recently launched a series of improvements such as a new driving range and practice facility, work that continues, Copeland said.

“We’re really happy about that and what it’s going to mean for the club, but I’d love to have that money in my pocket right now,” he said. “We’ll do what we can.”

Although golfers will soon be back in the swing of things, it won’t be business as usual on the course ​– or in the clubhouse ​– any time soon.

In order to maintain physical distancing, golfers at Pine View will be ushered on to the property in stages. An employee will meet players in the parking lot to confirm their bookings, and only one group at a time will be allowed into the pro shop. The club is also encouraging players to reserve their spots online in advance and pay by debit or credit card whenever possible.

Tee times at the two courses will be staggered to limit the number of players clustering around the clubhouse before their rounds. And groups will be spaced 10 minutes apart rather than the usual eight minutes.

In addition, players will be told to wait at least 50 feet behind the tees and keep flagsticks in the holes at all times. To prevent players from reaching into the cups to retrieve their balls, a device similar to a pool noodle will be placed over the holes. All ball-washers and rakes have been removed from the courses.

Meanwhile, the restaurant is closed, and the clubhouse bar has been converted into a grab-and-go canteen with a takeout window at the 10th tee.