Saturday, July 22, 2006

U.S. golfers not up fore Niagara

U.S. golfers not up fore Niagara

The Hamilton Spectator
(Jul 22, 2006)

The robust Canadian dollar is just one more kick in the teeth that Niagara golf courses didn't need.

From SARS to Mad Cow, to terrorism and border delays, Americans are coming up with more and more reasons not to come to Niagara to golf.

"They're so patriotic over there," says Tom Vanderlip, the director of operations at the Peninsula Lakes Golf and Country Club in Fonthill.

"I've even had people tell me they're not coming here because Canada didn't support the war effort in Iraq.

"At one time our play here was probably 50 per cent American. In 2003 when I started here, it was still between 30 and 40 per cent. Now it's between 15-18 per cent and it's flat."

And Peninsula Lakes isn't alone.

"In 2002 when we opened Legends on the Niagara, 42 per cent of our play was American, now it's 20 per cent," says Brian Moore, who is in charge of golf for Niagara Parks Commission.

The NPC was counting on the growth of American golf tourism when it built the course.

"When we opened (Legends), the Canadian dollar was 62 cents, now it's 90."

But Canadian golfers may find a silver lining in that dark cloud. Some peninsula courses have reduced green fees.

Others are offering specials to entice golfers from Hamilton and Toronto.

But operators are still trying to lure the American duffer.

Vanderlip said he has advertised in a Buffalo newspaper offering golf at 1982 prices.

"You have creative ideas to get them here," says Vanderlip. "We've done some things with the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills, things like, if the Bills win, you win with two-for-ones. You have to do all kinds of different things to entice them to come here."

Legends has dropped its regular greens fees from $140 to $125 this year, and even brought in one of the top teaching academies in North America, to provide high calibre instruction in the game.

Still, the Americans haven't come rushing back.

And Vanderlip isn't sure that he'll ever see the day again when half the cars in his parking lot have New York State plates.

"Most of the new courses built in Niagara are high-end, and both Buffalo and Rochester are depressed areas," he says, adding that there have been five or six courses built on the American side of the border in the past few years as well.

With 48 golf courses in Niagara, most operators agree that the area is at the saturation point.

And so where are all the golfers going to come from to fill all those tee times?

For starters, seven Niagara courses have banded together to form the Niagara Golf Trail, which offers stay-and-play packages.

And they're concentrating their efforts in Canada.

"We feel that a group effort is what will bring destination golf to the area," says Brian Antonsen, owner of Beechwood Golf Club and chair of the Niagara Golf Trail.

"I don't have any exact figures, but we're hoping it's making a dent," says Antonsen, of the bid to replace missing Americans with Canadians.

"For every few rounds we sell of destination golf, it helps fill the inventory we've lost to the U.S."



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