Government seeks lease deal for Highlands Links and Keltic Lodge

The 15th green, with its bunkers recently restored.

Interesting that just as the restoration of Highlands Links nears completion, the Federal government and the Nova Scotia provincial government have announced they are seeking an operator willing to lease both facilities. The Chronicle-Herald has a news story on the announcement:

The fact Parks Canada wants to bring in a private operator for the highly regarded Highlands Links Golf Course is likely the more intriguing part of Thursday’s announcement regarding the Ingonish properties.

“Parks Canada will incorporate terms and conditions in the lease agreement to ensure natural and cultural resources are protected, and that the integrity of the course’s Stanley Thompson design is maintained,” said a Parks Canada news release.

It said Parks Canada will advertise this fall for “a private-sector opportunity for management of both of its properties located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.”

The province primped up the three Signature Resorts before the 2012 tourist season at a cost of about $3.1 million after a failed 2011 call for private-sector proposals.

Private management is something that is a natural fit for Highlands now that tree removal and bunker restoration is nearing completion. Parks Canada finally followed through and let Highlands GM Graham Hudson (the best thing to happen to the course in 20 years) work wonders with tree removal and returning bunkers to the shape designer Stanley Thompson expected. The course is in far better shape than its been in recent years. However, the continued costs of running a unionized maintenance staff makes it tough for the course to make a profit. And frankly the federal government doesn’t run any other courses in national parks. Jasper and Banff are leased, as are courses like Waskiseu in Saskatchewan.

However, it is interesting to see the government suggest Highlands must maintain its Thompson characteristics. That’s a must for the property, which is one of only two courses in Golf Magazine’s world Top 100.

The biggest shame of a change of management would be the departure of Hudson, who has orchestrated the restoration when it seemingly appeared to be stalled. He’s been a huge supporter of the course and without his vision it wouldn’t be where it is. He deserves to be rewarded for fighting tenaciously for the course, which remains Canada’s best public golf course.

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Jeff Lancaster

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Nice opportunity for a little more union-bashing. It was tough for Scrooge to make a profit while giving Bob Cratchit time off for Christmas.

  • Well done RT!
    Pay no attention to Mr. Nicholson’s comments. You were not ‘union bashing’ but simply stating the facts. The green fee is low but any standard and, the wages at The Highlands are higher than ANY course I am aware of. Tough model to make ends meet.
    You are quite right in your assessment of Mr. Hudson and his efforts to return The Highlands to its original splendour. Right now he is the glue holding the place together. Whoever takes over the management of the facility should ensure Mr. Hudson remain in his current role. His passion for the course, his knowledge of the history and his skills to rally support of the locals will be essential going forward. The restoration to the original ST design is really solid thanks to Mr. Hudson and the work of Ian Andrew. The research they have compiled to complete the project is impressive. (The over growth that has been permitted over the years is a crime and the efforts to ‘cut it back’ needs to be accelerated).
    The larger problem for the new management will be the Keltic. It is overpriced and poor value (particularly the Keltic Inn). The Inn is probably the poorest design you could build for an ocean front resort.
    The other change required is a name change. They MUST remove Links from the name (as there isn’t a hint of a links hole on the course).
    Cape Breton Highlands GC would be perfect.

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