Too Many Greens

2005 is shaping up to be the third consecutive year of decline for P.E.I.'s golf tourism industry.

In recent years, Prince Edward Island has been offering tourists not just lobster and Anne of Green Gables, but also great golfing. Indeed, Island links are gaining fame: one list of the Top 100 golf courses in Canada features 10 from P.E.I. That's especially good considering the province has only about 30 courses.

Unfortunately for P.E.I.'s golf community, 2005 is shaping up to be the third consecutive year of decline for the island's golf tourism industry. According to Golf PEI, the marketing association for 25 courses, the number of rounds played by non-members through July 31 is down 1.6% on full-length 18-hole courses. “It's a bit disappointing,” says Gary Ready, executive director of Golf PEI. “We've spent a lot more this year in advertising.”

In fact, Golf PEI teed up a new three-year marketing strategy this year, targeting Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern U.S. Its budget, now in excess of $1 million a year, is up more than 150% this year, thanks to almost $600,000 from the P.E.I. tourism department and the federal government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The rate of decline in golf tourists hasn't been as severe as the broader downturn in the number of visitors to P.E.I., which has steadily slumped since 1998, the year after the Confederation Bridge opened; last year it dipped below a million, down 15% from 2002. But a couple of other hazards are now in play. One is the rising price of gas–Ready estimates 90% of P.E.I.'s golf tourists arrive by car. Another is that Americans are travelling less. And within Canada, more golf travel packages are emerging. P.E.I.'s problem is compounded by its rapid growth. Ten full-length courses opened in the past six years. Each needs about 20,000 rounds annually to be viable. “That puts a lot of pressure on the industry,” Ready says.

It's not all bad news, though. The number of rounds by locals is up 10.8% as of the end of July, and August and September are traditionally the strongest months for golf tourism. Nevertheless, maybe a special “Anne on the Greens” package for Japanese golfers ought to be in the works.