Membership has dropped 42% in five years at Gabriola Golf and Country Club

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, July 19 2016

“We’re struggling.”

That according to Dixon Kenny, who along with Miranda Barnes was speaking to the Sounder on behalf of the Gabriola Golf and Country Club board.

Barnes said they wanted to talk, “about having a venue here, that’s been here for 35 years, and we are seeing a drop off in membership that is causing us to have trouble making this place viable. To make ends meet, to afford this facility.”

For a number of reasons, membership is dropping for the club.

Barnes said part of it is the current members are aging.

“People are not leaving because they don’t like golf - they’re leaving because of medical problems or moving elsewhere.”

In 2010, there were 186 playing members.

In 2016, there are 107 playing members.

As Kenny said, “our challenge is how do we revitalize ourselves to cater to the community.”

The passion Kenny has for the club is clear when he describes it as being literally carved out of the woods and wrapped around Hoggan Lake.

“Yet we don’t seem to be able to attract the people.”

Barnes said the club has done a lot to improve the course, with the greens looking the best they have in many years.

The clubhouse has also gone through a lot of work in the past year, including making more space available to increase liquor capacity from 50 persons to 83. (the license is based on square footage).

A heat pump was installed, with a member covering the costs.

Barnes said the club is run on volunteer work.

“There are 4,000 to 5,000 hours our volunteers put in.”

Barnes and Kenny went through a number of the promotions being run by the club to bring in on-and-off island people to play the course and utilize the clubhouse.

Barns said there is a juniors program for youth to learn to golf - taught by two of the two top golfers at the club. The free clinics are offered on Wednesdays.

As Kenny said, what they are looking for is feedback from the community on, “how are we meeting expectations - is there something that we could do that people would like to see?

“Is there something this beautiful course could be used for that we haven’t thought of? Are there things we should be offering here? Different food and beer?

“Reportedly we have the best burgers on the island, we have a great sunday brunch, and we have this great spot where you can sit in the sun on the balcony and have a lovely time. 

“But we’re not attracting those people. Why not?

“There’s a spot on the web site where people can send us comments. We’d love to know what we could do to make it interesting, particularly for the under-50 crowd.”

Barnes added, “we’re not sure if the interest is decreased in having golf course here, if people just aren’t interested, if the price is too high, if there’s something we’re doing that they don’t like.”

Barnes said she moved to Gabriola in 1990/91.

“I drove up the hill, I found out there’s a golf course here, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. 

“I will be very disappointed if I have to go off island to play golf. It would be a sad day to lose the course.”

Kenny aded, “it is important to the fabric of the community - people move here and make use of the facilities.”

Asked if this could be the last season for the Gabriola Golf Club, Kenny said, “we’re waiting to see how the summer turns out, but things are looking tight.

“The club does not have the membership to sustain the expenses it has previously been able to cover.”

Adding to the costs are that a lot of the equipment used for the 35-year-old course is also 35 years old.

Kenny pointed to two of the major Gabriola fundraisers which are held on at the course.

The annual Concert on the Green, scheduled for August 4, will be looking to raise $36,000. The Lions Foundation World Cup of Golf tournament, scheduled for August 12, typically raises $6,000.

Kenny said, “every penny raised goes to those in need on the island or different organizations on Gabriola.”

The Golf Club is not eligible to be one of those organizations or societies helped through those fundraisers.

The base yearly membership rate for a single Gabriola resident is $983 plus GST plus BC Golf Association cards ($40). 

There are a number of membership specials for couples, juniors, family, corporate, students, out-of-town, and social members.

Juniors  pay $121 for unlimited rounds, all year-long.

Kids 12 and Under play free with an adult, something Keny said would be a perfect opportunity for a grandparent to do when grandchildren visit the island.

For those wishing to give feedback to the Club, log on to the Gabriola Golf Club web site at gabriolagolf.com