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Golf business reflects shift to regional market

Deep recession in U.S. felt by Whistler courses

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The shift from destination visitors to a regional market has taken its toll on another side of Whistler business: golf.

Roger Soane, general manager of the Chateau Whistler and chair of Tourism Whistler, says that appealing to the regional market has reduced the rates for golf courses in Whistler. Like most of the hotels, the golf courses have been offering deals to woo customers.

"It's very similar to hotels," Soane said. "As the destination traveler has reduced because of the economics and the times we're in, we've gone to a regional model, so we're attracting more people from the region - which is great but chances are they're not going to pay the same type of rates as the international guests."

Soane says there hasn't been a drop in the number of golfers but the number of people willing to pay resort course fees has fallen.

For the Chateau Whistler, the drop in group business has had a negative impact on the golf course, which was built as an amenity to the hotel. The course is facing what the entire resort is facing: short end bookings and a failing American economy.

"When everyone is going through reduced business, as we have for the last two years, everyone is going to suffer, whether it be golf, restaurants (or) bike rentals. Anything that needs people has seen a downfall. Golf is no different to any other business," Soane said.

A recession that is particularly deep in the United States and a rising Canadian dollar slowed American visitors considerably, a market the resort had depended on. Destination travelers are sticking closer to home.

Earlier this year, Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort shut down after only six years of operation.

"Tourism was so high. The rates that were built around the resort area especially were created to reflect the popularity of Whistler. People came and they didn't really hesitate to pay a premium green fee for a premium product," says Paul Nijjer, general manager of Furry Creek Golf Club.

"While the product is still premium up there, people have tightened up the wallets since then.

He says his course is flat in rounds played to last year, and that "good news" is due largely to the completed Sea to Sky Highway expansion. Golf courses across B.C. haven't fared as well, and many of the courses he knows about are down compared to last year.

"That's not just golf, it's resort visitation in general," said Alan Kristmanson, general manager and director of golf at the Whistler Golf Club. "Corporations are more careful with their dollars and golf as an activity in a resort has definitely suffered from that, for sure."

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