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Saanich residents back Cedar Hill Golf Course at packed public meeting

Jan 31 2012
Saanich director of finance Paul Murray addresses the standing-room-only crowd at Cedar Hill Golf Course Monday evening.  

Saanich director of finance Paul Murray addresses the standing-room-only crowd at Cedar Hill Golf Course Monday evening.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, timescolonist.com

"We need your help," said Saanich administrator Tim Wood at the start of what turned out to be a heated public meeting Monday evening at Cedar Hill Golf Course's clubhouse.

More than 300 people, most of them 50 and older, showed up to let their feelings be known — through cheers, jeers and eloquent speeches — on the future of the municipally owned golf course and restaurant on Derby Road.

The golf course, a fixture for 80 years, and accompanying restaurant have hit hard times, with a projected deficit for 2012 of $820,000. About $500,000 of that stems from restaurant operations and the rest from the golf business.

The Saanich administration attributes the deficit to the poor economy, poor weather, high overhead and liquor-law requirements. But many who showed up Monday put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the municipal managers.

Saanich announced this month that the restaurant would close on Feb. 18 in order to stem the flow of cash. But many who turned out want the restaurant to stay open and increase its hours of operation.

And while Wood insisted the decision to close the restaurant was off-limits on Monday, and the topic would be all about golf, many of those in the audience wanted to talk about the restaurant, too.

Dave Frampton said he visits the restaurant 50 to 60 times a year and calls it "the best-kept secret in Victoria."

Margaret Bachmann said: "You can't separate the restaurant from the golf course."

The district subsidizes area recreation centres yet expects the golf course to be self-sustaining, which Bachmann said was "a little extreme."

The golf course is popular for seniors on fixed incomes and people who don't make a lot of money but can afford the low fees, Dave Mackenzie said. "These people are not just out for golf — they're out for exercise and comradeship.

"It's not a pro course. It should be here for all the people."

A man who suggested that pay parking be introduced was booed by the audience.

Mike Cook joined the golf club at age 10, and that was 45 years ago. He said it's understandable that everyone needs to help the district with costs, but said "shutting the golf course restaurant is the worst possible thing."

Cedar Hill is the most affordable 18-hole golf course in the region. In 2011, an average round of golf cost just $24 while the actual average cost was $30. Compare that with the $125 rate a visitor pays for a round of golf at Uplands in Oak Bay.

Saanich began to subsidize the golf course operations in 2008 and, over the years, the subsidies have grown.

A survey of Saanich residents showed that 22 per cent of them had used the course while 82 per cent had made use of recreation centres. The survey ranked the golf course as the least important of 58 municipal services.

Saanich is grappling with complex issues as it ponders the future of the golf course and restaurant.

Among them is the labour agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees who work there, tax control, keeping the current customer base and figuring out how to keep the facility sustainable in the long term.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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