Sunday, February 11, 2007

Absentee Blogger

Yeah, yeah...

With the frigid Canadian winter finally upon us, there has been little to write about these days. Well, I'll throw you a bone...

I guess I can talk a bit about the big shareholders meeting at the St. Catharines Golf & CC a couple weeks back. There were almost 220 people in attendance as the Board presented a bunch of information to the members about the proposal to move to Queenston Quarries in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

First off, the club ISN'T FOR SALE, so all of those reports have been erroneous...like that's a surprise. So everyone calmed down...a bit, anyway.

After going over the particulars of how talks started between the club and the owners of the land, a presentation was made on the financial outlook going forward both at our current facility and the proposed new site. Most of the numbers regarding a potential move are speculative, since the club has no idea how much our current piece of land is worth. Needless to say, the projections are quite favourable...

Ian Andrew was then introduced to the podium in order to make a presentation on his vision for the site.

His design was absolutely phenomenal. A quarry wall surrounds much of the property and it provides breathtaking elevated views of the entire course from most of the back tee decks. Ian went through the entire course hole-by-hole, showing us photos of the site in its current state along with computer enhanced photos of what the finished product would look like. He's got a couple photos of the site up at his blog
right here.

It was a great presentation from both Ian and the Board.

Then it was question and answer time.

If you can believe it, the first question was to Ian, criticizing the elevation changes.

"There's no way we can walk that course!", he shouted.

The same snickers came during the presentation when Ian talked about 320 yard driveable par fours.

Of course, Ian was talking about everything from THE BACK TEE DECKS but the older members of the club probably don't even know those tees exist.

So Ian explained that the elevated tees weren't severe at all from the middle deck and that only the young whippersnappers (like me...ha!) would have to do battle with the large hills in order to get to the back deck.

Those words didn't satisfy anyone. Geez...maybe the long winter is making them forget cardiac hill, the walk from the third tee up to the elevated fairway. That's not to say anything about the walk up number eight or number 16 from the lower valley.

But chronic complainers will always find something, I suppose.

Then, most of the rest of the talk surrounded our current site and its history. There were a lot of passionate speeches about the club but emotion got the best of most who hit the podium. Everyone is blinded by what's happened in the past but no one is looking at the future...

Well, I am.

I'm 33 years old and I'm afraid that there won't be a club for me in 25 years. No one else seems to care at our club, where the average age of the shareholders is close to 55.

I'm on the membership and marketing committee at the club and I know first-hand how difficult it is for clubs like ours to attract younger members - people that will lead the club into the next generation.

This isn't 1970, where people coming out of school had little to no debt. 25 year olds now have to deal with debt nearing $30,000 if they went to university for three years. You're looking at close to $75,000, or more, if you went to graduate or other specialty schools.

These people don't have the money to invest in an initiation fee or a golf membership and it makes it almost impossible to get 'younger money' in the club. This money is ESSENTIAL if the club wants to be relevant in twenty years.

But our membership doesn't seem to care about the future, only about the past and it's a true shame. The majority in attendance were committed to shooting down the idea even before hearing an ounce of information.

This will eventually come to a vote and I'm guessing it will be shot down swiftly.

Here is what we will have to look forward to...

We still need a new drainage system and that will go in sometime in the fall of this year and finish up next year. Then, we need to undergo a bunker restoration...another two season project.

After that, the clubhouse will need a lot of work - 19th hole updates, kitchen updates, pro shop relocation.

All of that will be done and we'll STILL likely need a new clubhouse in about 12 years.

All of that will cost money. A lot of it. That means dues go up and that means initiation fees will rise, making it even tougher to get new members.

The club will continue to see its membership slowly dwindle, as some of the older members pass away at a rate faster than new members come in.

There's also the possibility that Ian's course WILL get built, even if it's by another developer. That means that we would lose potential members to the new facility, especially if it becomes private.

All of that said, can the club continue to thrive in the future at the current location? Sure it can. But it will take a lot of work, a lot of money and a great deal of creativity in order to attract enough new members to keep the club financially viable long-term.

On a more pleasant note, I had the pleasure of chatting with golf course architect Ian Andrew for about an hour after the meeting with a few other members. We talked a lot about some of the great courses in Ireland and I was especially intrigued with his thoughts on Royal County Down, easily one of the top courses in the world. Hope the hockey tourney went well!