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Golf course on solid financial ground

Improvements to membership structure and restaurant management paying dividends

The weather is warming, and the golf clubs are coming out of the closets to make room for those winter clothes.

We can see golf, the sport, with it’s million-dollar prizes on TV, but that’s not what most of us are looking forward to. Those nice days going around the course trying to put that sometimes too-big ball into that usually too-small hole to keep that ever-growing score from getting too high. There’s the talk about everything from whose grandkid is the cutest to whose date for the upcoming prom is the most deserving.

And for some of us, it’s all about that walk around the most beautiful course. Anywhere.

Financial progress

The Smithers Golf and Country Club, like most sporting organizations, has had to deal with financial difficulties that have taken far too much energy from its volunteers and staff.

According to club president Dan MacMillan, that trend seems to have been conquered and the club is ready to move on to make itself known as one of the premier courses in northern B.C.

MacMillan says the work that has been done over the last few years has eased the perpetual annual strain and has taken the financial statements from the red and coloured them black.

MacMillan explained there have been a number of programs and plans that have enabled the club to go in such a positive direction.

As far as membership goes, the outgoing club pro has had many excellent ideas for improving those figures. For example, there have been a number of programs designed to encourage members to renew their association with the club earlier than in the past. In exchange, they have received discounts and extensions.

“This is several years in the making,” MacMillan said. “We have been trying to turn it around from being a little in the red every year, to being a sustainable club.”

The process began about five years ago when the club lost it’s long-term pro, who had been in Smithers about 16 years. The club hired a pro who did not work out and again the next year, the person who was hired did not work out. Even so, Macmillan felt that every year there was progress.

Last year’s pro, Anouk Guelidi, is leaving the position and she will be replaced by John Pierce, a long-term pro, for at least one year.

“The last year with Anouk, we made some very big steps ahead,” MacMillan said. “She brought some very good business ideas, so last year we saw some of the fruits of our plans and we were able to go into the black.”

There have been many positive points for moving ahead. For example, the course is in good shape. Maintaining the course at such a high level of quality and keeping it well maintained at all times has meant that events tend to be bigger and better than others in the north. It is not unusual for Smithers events to have twice the entries as other northern B.C. clubs, MacMillan said.

Additionally, some of the specials the pro put on brought new people into the club and the daily fees were up dramatically. This led to a big change in the membership, mostly local. This year, there have been a number of early bird packages that have allowed the club to go through the winter without having to secure any short-term loans.

Some changes were made to fee structure for juniors for example, and a variety of other categories were created.

MacMillan feels the attempt to be creative has made membership as affordable as possible to the largest range of individuals.

He hopes that between those early birds and returning members, the club should see more than 400 members, a number that has not been seen in over 20 years.

Restaurant management

Perhaps most significantly, the club is outsourcing management of its restaurant. The club is currently in negotiations and have an agreement in principal with a Sascha Hidlebrandt, who owns and runs a variety of popular and successful restaurants including the one on the ski hill.

MacMillan said perhaps the biggest issue they encountered running the restaurant themselves was with staffing, which there always seems to be a shortage of in Smithers.

One of the strategies is to try to get the seasonal staff from the ski hill to work in the golf course restaurant. Outsourcing food service will take a huge amount of pressure off of the board of directors, particularly with the staffing issues that were previously such a conundrum.

At this time, the plan is to name the restaurant Mulligan’s and there is a possibility of opening it year-round. MacMillan pointed out many people are unaware the restaurant, which is an excellent venue, is not just open to golfers but to the general public as well.

2019 Season

Not only has the committee been able to work out the financial difficulties, they have been able to encourage members to donate their time, effort and skills to help the club.

This has enabled it to replace kitchen equipment, bridges on the course and encourage outside groups to help with their efforts. For example, Wezin’kwa Community Forest takes timber off every year and uses the proceeds to fund various local projects.

Grants have been presented to the club by a number of different local organizations for general and specific projects.

MacMillan anticipates the season should open on April 18, which is 10 days earlier than last year.

“The snow is going fast,” he said.

The first major event for the season will be the Spring Classic on the May long weekend.

As usual, the club is always looking for new members. With the new membership structures designed to make it as affordable as possible, perhaps this is a perfect time to check out the most beautiful links in northern B.C. and make golf an activity you can continue to enjoy for a long period of your life.