One of the problems with this recession is its bad timing for the Canadian golf industry as it struck with a vengeance just as the 2008 season was winding down, leaving owners and operators wondering in the cold and snow whether the golf economy might be just as chilly in 2009.
Those long winter months, made that much longer by the uncertainty ahead, will soon be coming to an end and Dalt Hicks, who founded the Cardinal Golf Club near Newmarket, Ont., is showing little fear of the economy, despite making a major commitment for this season that was 10 years in the making.
This year, Cardinal is introducing its new RedCrest Course, a par-71 Kevin Holmes design that stretches from 5,400 to 6,800 yards at the sprawling 72-hole golf complex on Hwy 9, between Jane and Keele Streets.
The more conservative among us may feel that this is hardly the time to open a new 18, but Cardinal is renowned in the community for its reasonable green fees and the feeling among many operators is that golfers will migrate to more affordable facilities in uncertain times.
So, Hicks has that going for him as Cardinal goes into the 2009 season with a new 18 that he was already committed to last year when the tough times began to take hold.
“I was too far into it,” said Hicks, when asked if he ever thought of delaying the finishing touches on the new course.
“We were at that stage last summer when we were sodding and seeding. It was too late to say, `Well, let’s put a hold on it.’ I was too far advanced and had too much money invested at that point,” he said.
“I bought about $500,000 worth of sod,” he added. “I had a lesson from my first opening on my West Course. I opened a little quick and it wasn’t all grown in properly and people remembered that. When they phoned up for tee times, they didn’t want to play the West Course because of that situation.”
Cardinal has been renowned for it affordability for years. I know first-hand. I started my daughter Vanessa in the game at Cardinal’s Northern Adventure mini-putt course, which we could play a couple of times on a Sunday afternoon due to the price.
As Vanessa progressed in the game, I would take her to the Cardinal driving range and later, to the Kettle Creek executive layout, where we would play nine for under $30 before heading home for dinner.
Hicks says he understands the need for value pricing, especially in this economic climate, which he says disturbs him with all of the job losses and the challenges facing people these days.
“I wasn’t brought up with a golden spoon in my mouth. I struggled like everybody else getting off the ground. I’ve been through that,” he said. “When you have to earn your way, you have to realize what other people go through.”
Hicks, 81, grew up in the Willowdale area of Toronto, where he first began learning the game after his dad bought him kids’ clubs. He went on to sell golf balls and caddie at the long-gone Forest Hills golf course, but went into the gravel business before founding Cardinal in 1988.
With the mini-putt already in place, Cardinal opened with 27 holes and soon added the executive course, before opening another nine holes in 1995. It stayed as 54 holes until this year, with the opening of RedCrest on the horizon this summer.
The walkable course will feature wetlands, creeks and ponds, with water coming into play on 14 holes. It also has a new clubhouse.
Green fees at RedCrest will be $75 Monday to Friday and $85 on weekends. The other courses will be $50 weekdays and $60 on weekends, with the executive layout costing $23 and $28, respectively. At those prices, Cardinal will maintain its reputation for affordability, a good thing to have in this economy.
“All our staff is really pumped up about it,” said Hicks. “We’ve got to think outside the envelope. Now, we’ve got a challenge in front of us. There’s a down economy. We’ve got a new course. We’ve got to fill it, so we’ve got to come up with new ideas.”
That mindset will eliminate any possible second-guessing about opening the new course this year.
“I don’t have any regrets about it. Maybe, ask me next fall and I’ll tell you a different story,” said Hicks with a smile.