Let’s try thinking outside the box about golf courses

By David A. McGregor

Published on April 2, 2014

Well, it seems the province has failed again in its efforts to sell a golf course. As Mr. Henderson said in the Journal Pioneer and Guardian, he doesn’t want to sell them for the sake of selling, and I agree.

But he must also realize that the province will never get near what it put into them. And all the potential buyers out there simply want to buy it for a song. 

However, there may be a real solution to the problem. The province may be let off the hook and the communities would keep the jobs and income they provide.

In 1919, two men from a small mid-western town in the United States decided to establish a professional sports team. The team was granted a franchise into a new league in 1921. However, the team before and after joining the new league was always in financial trouble, to the point where it lost the franchise the following year only to regain it the next. 

In 1923, the management of the team decided to try something a little revolutionary to solve their money troubles. They turned the team into a non-profit corporation and sold shares to the public.

The idea worked so well that shares were sold again in 1935, 1950, 1997 and 2011. The shares don't include equity, dividends, cannot be traded, have no securities-law protection, and stock ownership brings no season-ticket privileges, though.

While newly purchased shares can be given as gifts, once ownership is established, transfers are technically allowed only between immediate family members.

There are presently 364,122 owners of this iconic franchise, which, of course, exists to this day. The franchise is governed by a seven-member executive committee, elected from a board of directors. The committee consists of a president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary and three members-at-large. The president is the only officer to draw compensation; the rest of the committee is sitting “gratis”, or free.

The committee directs corporate management, approves major capital expenditures, establishes broad policy and monitors management's performance in conducting the business and affairs of the corporation.

As of the 2010 census only about 104,000 people reside in the small town in which the team plays.

Even in this financially challenging environment, the team has thrived for almost 100 years. The team has won 13 league titles and has had some of the greatest coaches and players in the league’s history. Players such as Hornung, Taylor, Starr, Lofton, White and Favre have put on the uniform. And of course, the league’s greatest prize is named after the most iconic coach in the sport’s history, Vince Lombardi.

The Green Bay Packers are the only professional football team without an individual owner. In fact, its current ownership structure is in defiance of the NFL’s rules, but in the 1980s, the team was grandfathered in. It is still the only American sports franchise to release its financial balance sheet every year.

Why could the government not try something similar to the Packers?

Brudenell River and Dundarave courses are positioned directly next to each other. Incorporate them into a non-profit business, sell shares to the public, which could include people from across Canada and the eastern United States. As with the Packers, the share and rights structure could be established in a similar manner. Furthermore, shareholders would receive no benefit as far as fees and membership costs (it would be the same as owning Sobeys stock. Although you may acquire equity and dividends from the stock, the fact remains you still have to pay for your groceries like everyone else.)

To supplement the operations, for example, perhaps every hole could be sponsored by a company, individual or charity. For a fee, entities could advertise on the ball washers, the tee blocks, the flags on the pins, the benches and maybe a well-placed sign at the tee.

I realize this is a very different idea. Perhaps it is not really practical. But with the vultures hovering over the carcass, what does the government have to lose? If it fails, the government will be back to square one. However, if it succeeds, it would be a boon for an area where jobs are needed and appreciated.

As potential shareholders it would also give Islanders the direct ability to have a say in how the course is managed. It could also be a solution to other problems the Island and many other places are sharing. 

When you have your back against the wall, following the same train of thought that put you there, is no plan at all.



David A. McGregor of Stratford, P.E.I., has a B.A. in history from UPEI. He lived in South Korea for 11 years including during the Asian financial crisis. He traded with Daishin and Hana Securities. He is also a graduate of IFSE Institute Mutual Fund Dealers Program.