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REPORTING · 27th November 2012
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council was going through their budget process on Monday, November 23rd. One of their presentations came from the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club. Art Emmerson stepped up to represent them.

He thanked the Council for the support they have given the club in the past and for making sure there was a recreation activity for everyone in the community.

“Curling has been an integral part of the recreation scene in Kitimat since the 1950s and golfing has been around since the mid-1970s,” said Emmerson. “During these early years, both of these sports were run and maintained by their own separate clubs. In the 1990s, the memberships of both of these sports voted to amalgamate, and the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club was born and continues to exist to this day.”

He explained the club maintains 18 holes and 4 sheets of ice for a curling rink. They host a lounge and kitchen facilities. They employ 22-25 full time and part time employees in the winter time, and 40-45 full time and part time employees in the summer.

In addition, they have a number of volunteers who have saved them a lot of money in maintenance and snow removal costs. He thanked the volunteers because without them, they would not be able to run the facility.

“The Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club provides golfing, curling, the most well used toboggan hill in Kitimat and miles of open fairways for snow shoeing, cross country skiing and hiking in the winter and paths to walk on in the summer,” said Emmerson. “The Facilities are well used and enjoyed by the public year round.”

Emmerson told Council they are having problems making ends meet. He attributed this to the declining population of Kitimat and rising costs in the community.

“Our sporting offerings are competing for families limited sports dollars with activates in facilities that are heavily subsidized,” said Emmerson.

He told Council the Golf Club is valuable to the community and is used to advertise Kitimat. They have suffered from cash flow problems twice this year which have put a strain on their operations.

“Combined with the declining population, dwindling membership, aging equipment, increasing membership and labour costs, we are rapidly approaching the position of not having a viable operation. The loss of the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club would have a very negative impact on our community tourism and our retirees as many of our retirees remain here because of the affordable golf and curling activities. A community run Golf and Winter Club in all likelihood would result in a large financial cost to the community itself,” said Emmerson.

He expressed Kitimat City Council has provided the Golf and Winter Club $10,000 to keep the operation viable. However, now they need to up the grant which the course is receiving. He told Council he is asking for $100,000 a year starting in 2013. The amount will not solve all of the financial issues, but it will give them some breathing room.

He told Council they will spend the next several months doing a thorough review of the past fiscal year to determine where they can cut costs and determine their spending for the future. Once again, he blamed the loss of two major industries and the declining population for the loss of membership.

“Until the fortunes of Kitimat change and the population increases, we may be forced to rely on the District of Kitimat for some form of monetary support in the future. Should you chose to support the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club in the manner we are suggesting, we are prepared to keep the Recreation Director informed on a regular basis as to our financial situation and if necessary, also brief Council,” concluded Emmerson.

Councillor Phil Germuth clarified the situation. They lost $30,000 in the pro-shop. The bar, which is an industry which has a 200% - 300% mark up, they are making less than 5%. He was told the golf course was run by volunteers who have little knowledge of the liquor industry.

They had hired a General Manager and things were improving until the General Manager had to move back to Quebec. They lost their accountant at the same time as her family moved back to Quebec as well. The Facility manager retired. Her replacement quit after four months and the replacement replacement Facility Manager quit after 6 weeks. They hired a local gentleman with 18 years in the food and beverage industry in early November.

Germuth reminded him the question was about the bar. Emmerson attributed this to the change in the liquor laws. This led to a decrease in liquor sales and there are increases in labour costs with the change to the labour laws. He told Council they are going to examine their costs. The problem is cash flow and they have exceeded their credit by $10,000. They have $52,000 in accounts payable. They have short term financing but it will not cover everything and there is 6 months to go before the golf season starts.

He added the golf equipment is aging. The Green Superintendent is able to do maintenance and repairs so they do not need a professional mechanic on the site. The shop he has worked in for two winters has no heater because they cannot afford to replace it.

Councillor Mary Murphy stated the Income Statement was very generic. She stated someone really needed to look into their finances.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff looked back to the bailout they gave the golf course in 2009. During the budget process of 2009, the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club needed a $300,000 bail out to cover their Commercial Loan. They received half of the money.

Emmerson expressed eliminating the loan was not what they should have done. They should have eliminated the hump, where they are operating at a loss first. They should have looked at their accounts payable and their bills. Their commercial loan sits at $1,500 a month. The rest of their debt has hit them hard.

Because they did not do as well as they were expecting with the summer we had this year, the Golf Course was not able to pay off as much of their accounts payable as they expected.

Germuth wanted to know when the full financial statement would be out. He also asked if they had approached any of the major industries for help.

Emmerson replied the major industries which are in Kitimat or coming to Kitimat do not give anything if they do not get anything out of it. There is no opportunity to ask for help anymore. They tried several of the big companies in town to create programs which would result in cash in exchange for something but the companies wanted more than the golf course could give.

The financial statement has three people working on it and they hope it will be ready for January. The copy for the accountant should be ready for March.

Feldhoff stated there were a lot of construction workers in the camps and community and wanted to know if they were into golfing. Emmerson stated the workers were working Monday to Saturday. There was an increase in golfing on the weekends and a few companies booked 9 hole scrambles and banquets at the Golf Course. This brought up the money from food sales. However, dues for members went down as they lost 15 members. He added they had a bad year in 2011.

Feldhoff said the $100,000 request to stop the bleeding might work now, but they did not know if it would work in the future until they went through their analysis. Emmerson knew they would get revenue through early bird golf fees in 2013 which does help them get through the winter. However, they were spending the next season’s money now to maintain.

Councillor Rob Goffinet wanted to know if it was in order for him to refer this to Budget, if he could put a request for Administration to meet with the Directors of the Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club to advise Council as to what the best course of proceeding on the file was.

Councillor Mary Murphy did not think it was in order because it did not fix their problem. Goffinet stated the Council needed technical advice about how to solve the problem or how they could help in their budget deliberations.

Municipal Manager Ron Poole stated there was a lot of discussion with the Golf Course which will be taken into account. The motion to refer the request to the budget process and ask Administration to meet with the Directors to learn how Council could help was called and carried. Murphy was opposed. She expressed she wanted to go back to the original motion, to refer the request to the budget process.

Poole expressed there has been preliminary discussion. The budget is not due until May 15th and they will take everything into account. Murphy’s vote was still recorded as opposed.
Be Honest
Comment by steve connolly on 11th December 2012
$100,000 per year works out to be equal to a need for 200 more members to pay $500 per year. Impossible. Even the amount requested wont be
enough. The fundamental problem is that the Council refuses to develop a strategic and tactical plan to save the city by increasing the population.
Comment by A Friend on 6th December 2012
I touched on this topic in a previous KD article, however i thought i would add that I think personally attacking the staff or volunteers who oversee the operations at the HCG&WC is very short sighted. Golf courses, curling clubs, and many other recreation facilities all over the world are struggling in the current world economy. This is not a problem specific to the community of Kitimat who have taken their share of the hit with the closures of Eurocan and Methanex. Let alone the Northwest, with both Terrace and Prince Rupert also struggling, from what i understand. I understand the club does recieve an annual audit, as they are a society. I would assume it tells them their expenses exceed their revenues...again i touched on this prveiously...I agree with many , and hope, there are some creative solutions to the problem. However, as I said in my previous post , there is more at stake than just curling and golf. I'm not sure, but I would think, conservatively, based on $10,000-$15,000. per person, the payroll may be some where around the half to three quater of a million mark annually..That is a lot of money being spent in the community by these tax paying employees. That does not include the money the organization brings to the local, regional, and provincial economies through purchasing...this supporting further jobs...The board is, by their own admittance not experienced in the food industry, and likely struggling with some issues such as cost, staffing,etc.. The current wholesale cost of food is off the charts, offering a minimum opportunity for mark up, or offending some some of their customers off...As many restaurants know...It can be fixed, of course, but likely requires some very strong kitchen management, who would likely expect a fair compensation , which they cannot afford to pay... (Let's cheer on the new manager ,who is likely working long hours as he attempts to make a change!) Listen, just like everybody else, i have my opinion and ideas about what could be improved, but attacking a management staff who are indeed skilled and experienced , and whom are taxed with how they allocate their time is unfair. Especially not knowing all the information. Growing the game of golf and curling , along with many other recreation activities cannot be solely placed in the hands of those who lead these activities. As a society we are more and more tuned in to media (tv, video games, internet) that we are sepnding less time introducing our children to recreational opportunties. Parents are busy working in fears of reports and trends indicating rising costs in their child's future edcuation, and their retirement...This is conrtibuting a downward spiral in all lesiure activities. We are experiencing obestity at a growing rate. ...The challenges the HCG&WC is experiencing are not solved by slinging mud or assuming things. If you were able to look closely at outcomes of other leisure and recreational activities, i would assume they have a very high over head, with less revenue than expenses. Should we close the doors of the library, Tamitik, Riverlodge, hiking trails, etc.. and all of those employees who make a living and contribute to our community because this businesses also operate in a deficit without subsidy?
split the three
Comment by Paul Millar on 30th November 2012
Golf course can survive on its own. Split club into 3 parts. Golf club, Curling club and the Resturant I can bet if the Kitchen was run independent from curling club and golf course it would be clear where the money pit is...Curling ring needs lots of repairs and Kitchen is hit and miss at best. maybe running it as a business and not a club is the answer.
Start Fresh
Comment by MS on 29th November 2012
Before giving any money to them I would insist on firing the majority of the staff....everytime myself and friends/family have gone there the service was horrendous and the food was disgusting. We used to hold xmas parties there but have changes venues because of the poor food/service
stay open later
Comment by kat on 29th November 2012
I have heard that the course closes to early for workers who want to go after work.
reply to Lynda
Comment by djb on 29th November 2012
Terrace has their own golf course, with financnial issues of their own.Comparing the ski hill issue to a local golf course is a bit of a stretch. We have the marina here ( also a RDKS item) and I dont hear a lot of whining from Terrace resisdents .Both are important to the quality of life in the NW, as are local golf courses.I dont mind paying taxes to support a decent quality of life here. We already do it for the rink(s) , pool , library etc. .If we hope to keep retirees here in Kitimat, reasonable golf facilities would be a part of that. Perhaps we need the oil soaked money to help support this facility?
Management in dire need of reassessment.
Comment by Michael on 28th November 2012
The Hirsch Creek Golf Course has the potential to generate enough money to sustain itself and modernize the facility and grounds for its future.
I had a family member that worked there in hopes to bring out the best of the facility and help to create revenue. There was mention of problems with food costing and the lack of direction being followed as the restaurant was presenting a new menu but dedicated members of the Kitimat community would order their meal desired from menus that were dated with prices that didn't compete with current food cost.
At one point I had to comfort my family member after she was seriously concerned that a fellow employee had quit and refused to return after another employee continually harassed the woman. My family member herself had experienced similar harassment from this employee but her concerns were heard on deaf ears.
Maybe before the council generously gives the golf course bail money, they should do a full investigation on where they are losing money and if it is just the impact of the current economy or hiring unqualified staff.
Great Course and a Great Summer
Comment by David on 28th November 2012
Lynda, we actually had a very nice summer. I suspect this is why the executive is surprised they didn't do as well as hoped.

As I understand the revision to the motion is for greater oversight on what has been spent operating the club.

By looking at current operations and finances it should be possible to determine if the club can become financially viable; and if not what would the annual subsidy look like. With this information our town can make an informed decision. This will prevent throwing good money after bad and result in the money provided having a real effect. Sounds like these questions should have been asked and answered in 2009.

Better late then never. Hopefully this facility can be put on a financially sound basis even if it takes a reasonable subsidy to do so. Curling and golfing add to the community but a sound plan is needed.
Something Different
Comment by Campion on 28th November 2012
Instead of money, why not in cooperation with local industry look at providing other support such as professional guidance on how to successfully run a Bar, Pro Shop and Curling Rink for profit?

Nothing against the current volunteers and staff, but no one has the required knowledge and understanding to run this type of business successfully, teach them to fish!

18 hole debt generator
Comment by non golfer on 28th November 2012
They have had their chance to clean up their act, but passed on it. I see nothing but excuses and that is not worthy of another $100,000 of taxmoney thrown into that sink hole.
If they cannot run the place properly they should sell it to someone who can.
And let us not get blackmailed by the suggestions that it is a job/tourism generator, sofar all they generated is debt.
Both good comments......
Comment by Larry Walker on 28th November 2012
I must agree with both writers that changes are needed if the golf course is to survive (and I hope it does). If council decides to throw more good money after bad ...then northing will change. Remember every dollar council gives away ....are your tax dollars.
ASK Terrace for MONEY
Comment by Linda Halyk on 27th November 2012
The golf course has been a losing proposition for years, just as was the ski hill. Why not ask Terrace to support? If Kitimat can support the ski hill then turn around should be fair play.

$100,000 per year and this will not solve their problems, just give breathing room. Time to pull the plug on a dead issue. This is like giving life support to a skeleton.

Even with a change of management it still lost money. Something is fundamentally wrong with this whole picture.
A full and complete audit should be requested and reviewed before any decision is made to fund a business that has been in the red for years, and which the Kitimat taxpayer is being asked to fund.

Was there a choice in 2009, as to whether they could or could not pay off the commercial loan?????
How was the operating at a loss hump to be eliminated? The assumption would be that the funds used to put the loan to rest would be used up with the daily running at a loss of the current business.
Because of a poor summer (yet again). Has council not heard that excuse before oh and also the long, hard winter?
Maybe time to cut losses and put it to rest, with climate change, and possibly an oil soaked course, Kitimat may never be a great place to play golf.
Fiscally Interesting
Comment by Michael Avery on 27th November 2012
Interesting how it is only Mary Murphy who wanted to go about the fiscally prudent route. Perhaps council is too used to shovelling money at things? I believe a clearer picture is needed. $30,000 lost at golf pro shop? A breakdown of that loss might be interesting. $52,000 in accounts payable sounds "interesting" as well. I believe a closer look at theirbooks might be in order before more shovelling occurs.
My thoughts
Comment by Lynda on 27th November 2012
Just my personal feeling: maybe the Golf & Curling Club can do a bit more to promote the golf course to the gernal public in Kitimat. I have golfed before but have not been out on the court in about three years. There could of been some incentive to have me back but I did not feel that they really needed my money every two weeks which was all the time I had back then. It was more about those golfers that were daily players. I feel they need to work harder at keeping ALL players - and it does take work and commitment from the executive and maybe a really good marketing team.
Another suggestion is to be more involved in the schools which I know they are to some degree now, but offer the students some free rounds for the summer - if you get the kids out the parents usually are not too far behind.