Interview with Golf PEI’s Mark McLane – Part 2 – Success and the Competition of Cabot Links

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

A Quick 9 With Executive Director of Golf PEI, Mark McLane

4. @36aday – Mark, you’ve been with Golf PEI since 2012. What is the greatest success story you can share during your tenure?

MM – I think the online booking. And I didn’t mention this before, in February 2014 we launched an online booking engine where you can book your accommodation and your golf and pay for it online. So you can, in Prince Edward Island, you can book a 7 night package, 3 nights at one hotel, 4 nights at another, 7 or 8 rounds and you can book that from your home, at 8 o’clock at night and pay for it. We call it self-serve bookings. We were pleasantly surprised how many people use that service last year. It has real time inventories for both tee times and hotels. So again, if the standard room is not available at that hotel it will show that and if you can’t play a course it won’t show access. It has made our reservation centre so efficient. For those people who know the product they don’t need to make 10 phone calls. It’s similar to how you would price your Sunwing vacation; what if I want an oceanview room and what if I go in March? What if I go in April? And the customer can do that now and do it in less than two minutes. We have groups; we had a guy from Kingston, Ontario, 8 guys, gave us the dates, and while I’m talking to him on the phone I can actually give in a taxes in price before we get off the phone. And he said ‘that’s all I wanted to know, I didn’t know if it was $600 or $1200’ so we’re getting really efficient in that to make that golf vacation planning easy.

@36aday – It sounds to me like a real commitment to strengthening service.

MM – Definitely. And again for us as a marketing organization it helps us with origin of golfer data; we know where people are booking from. And that online booking engine again is another great source because you book the time yourself, so you put your address and credit card information and all that so we would know more accurate percentages of who’s on the first tee and where they’re from. Know your customer (laughs).

The challenging 8th hole at Dundarave - Photo Credit - Golf PEI
The challenging 8th hole at Dundarave – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

5. @36aday – Golfing in maritime Canada has enjoyed considerable growth and prominence over recent years, led recently by the development of Cabot Links and soon to be accompanied by Cabot Cliffs. How does Golf PEI view this competition and what steps, if any, are planned to address what is an increasingly competitive environment?

MM – Is Cabot Links a competitor? I would say yes it is but it’s on a different scale. From a pricing perspective, a weekend at those particular courses is probably 2 to 3 times more expensive than ours. I view it as a positive for the region, especially for the US market as people will figure out it’s not that hard to get there, the weather is better than they think it is and the quality of the courses. So what I always say, I think Cabot will get the first trip or two from the US visitor. I think we’ll get the second or third or we’ll get the family trip from that perspective so I think it’s a win-win. It’s like the car dealership model, that’s why they are all together; there are some synergies there so we’re only two hours away. We do cooperate sometimes on some media and fan opportunities in the US. It’s a positive. You have Bandon Dunes marketing machine there too. When Crowbush was built 25 years ago we had our honeymoon period so again it’s nice to have a close neighbor 2 hours away so it’s positive.

Mill River which has hosted Big Break PEI - Photo Credit - Golf PEI
Mill River which has hosted Big Break PEI – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

6. @36aday – There has been much written about Crowbush Cove Golf Links – ranging from a possible sale from the government to desired reinvestment to improve the course? What are your views on this and what role do you see for Golf PEI raising the profile of Crowbush Cove and – as critics say – bringing it back to a truly world class golf course?

MM – I would disagree with the statement that it has fallen behind. Its world class conditioning and it’s a world class layout. I think the big issue; again, the provincial government is in the golf business. They entered into the business with no real exit strategy and I guess looking back they should have thought of how to get out of the business but there would be no golf industry without that initial support from the government. The courses are for sale because our provincial government has taken the position they don’t want to compete with the public on that. It’s hard to sell those investments. I would really say they are a true partner in the golf industry. They are not ultra-competitive which the industry really is right now so I think it is win-win. Crowbush has a beautiful Rodd resort built on the course. Last year it might have been 12th in Canada, I would take that any day from a ranking perspective.

@36aday – I am looking forward to playing it next fall and be able to provide an informed opinion, I mean it is in a very unique and nice location.

MM – We host journalists from time to time and this year we hosted a television commentator from China who played the course. He would be the guy who provides commentary for Chinese majors in that market. He played Crowbush and was floored by the place; he could not believe the price, the location, the beauty and the overall experience of PEI. That’s one I think as a destination, I mean I know we’re a golf destination but we’re not typically seven rounds in seven days. We’re three rounds, with lots of beaches, culinary activity, festivals, and events. And that’s our competitive advantage is that we have a really strong golf product but we have a really strong destination overall, we really do. We had 1.3 million visitors last year.

@36aday – that’s amazing, for a province of…

MM – 145,000 people. So ten times our population. So again, tourism is important. The economic impact of golf is high.

@36aday – So to follow up on that, how many rounds would be played on your member courses over a year?

MM – We do track it, we track increases and decreases, but it is about 300,000 rounds a year. From a tourism perspective, about 50% of the rounds are non-resident. Talk about all the courses we have, without the tourism driver there wouldn’t be that many. 2015 is setting up well with the US exchange rate and it will keep many Canadians in Canada this year and the US market will start to come again from that perspective.

Brudenell River Golf Course - Photo Credit - Golf PEI
Brudenell River Golf Course – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

Tomorrow – Part 3 – Challenges, Opportunities and Bucket List Options