SACKVILLE, N.B. – In just two years the Sackville Golf Course has rebounded and now has in place a sustainable model that should mean the century-plus-old institution should still offer up some great entertainment for another 90 to 100 years.
Much like golf courses around the world the local nine-hole layout found the going increasingly tough and so some serious measures were immediately taken to rein in problems brought on by dwindling membership and exorbitant overhead.
Perhaps the first thrust to find balance was shifting from a professional to volunteer model, thus eliminating full-time salaries and replacing them with part-time employees and volunteers. This allowed officials to rebalance the books and ensure future viability.
At the same time the governing board recognized the equipment needed to maintain the course in top condition was obsolete and so a couple of new mowers were added to the fleet and this has allowed the part time staff to become one of the finest small courses in the Maritimes.
Much of this renewal has occurred under the leadership of president Jack Drover, who will soon be stepping away from the presidency but no doubt will remain as a member of the board of directors, hoping to see his dreams completed.
Needless to say, the former Mount Allison athletic director has had a guiding hand in all things that have taken place, including development of two playing options and acquisition of several golf carts, which are available for rent – and are usually in use.
Most tees have been provided with two distinct coloured markers, which allows golfers the two options. Previously there had been specific markers for men and women.
Drover agrees that membership has shrunk over the years with fewer men in the 25-60 year range joining. There are more seniors and juniors than usual, which might indicate that those with growing families cannot spare the time.
But the president quickly points out that since there is no need to reserve tee times in Sackville golfers may merely arrive at the clubhouse, sign in and leave within a couple of hours after having completed nine holes.
While membership has taken a sharp dip over the past six years, many of those in the 25-60 range choose to play occasionally and pay the green fee charge.
With improvements and cost cutting, the local club offers a bargain and has become a big contributor to tourism for the community. Hundreds of golfers used this method during the past summer and helped make up for any shortfall caused by fewer memberships.
The club has an annual operating budget in the $160,000 range, only 40 percent of which comes in the form of membership fees. The remainder is raised with green fees, car rentals, grants and income from club sales.
Drover says it has been possible to maintain a “reserve” fund of $25,000 at the end of each season that can be utilized for unforeseen expenses.
Terming the layout a “hidden gem”, Drover is especially proud of how the board has come together to accomplish a host of successful moves. The professional manager was replaced by Sue Stokes, a part time employee, who serves as clubhouse manager, the grounds crew is now supervised by Kevin Read in a consulting capacity, while a vast number of responsibilities have been shouldered by some enthusiastic volunteers. The finances are handled on a part time basis by Jason Strathearn.
Currently work is being carried out on improving two areas of the course. The number 3 fairway, which has had a drainage problem, is being improved and smoothing out of one other hole is underway. Meanwhile, Carl Ward, who owns property adjacent to the course, had work completed on number 2, which has improved playing conditions. Grants from ACOA and the town plus club funds are being used for this purpose.
It’s interesting that the club never expanded to 18 holes. Roughly 15 years ago a review committee recommended purchase of a farm south of number 3 fairway for this purpose but the membership soundly defeated the motion and so the local club continues as the oldest one of its kind in the region and is now stabilized and prepared for well into the future.
Over the winter, more long term planning will continue in order to maintain a recreational venue that serves a number of purposes, perhaps not the least being as a tourist attraction and economic boost for the community.