8th & 15th holes, The Links at Crowbush Cove

In conversation with Sam MacPhail from Golf PEI

Golf PEI Executive Director Sam MacPhail

My guest this week is Sam MacPhail, Executive Director of Golf PEI. As most readers are aware, Prince Edward Island is a very popular destination for Ontario golfers so we wanted to get an update from Sam on what’s new, what’s happening this summer and why golf in PEI should be on your must-play list.

Good morning, Sam. Can you tell us a little bit about Golf PEI and what it has to offer.

Sam MacPhail: Sure. Golf PEI was started about 40 years ago with the idea of marketing all of the golf courses in Prince Edward Island to the rest of the world. We have 18 member courses under our banner. Some are pretty well known for a variety of reasons like Crowbush, Dundarave and Brudenell and they’re almost always part of any golf itinerary, but some of the others are also gaining a reputation, not only for their golf but also their location. Our courses are primarily located in three areas of the province: the Central area close to Charlottetown, on the North Shore and in the East. Then there’s one course in the West but we’re a pretty small province so none of them are very far apart.

One of the strengths of our courses is the variety. And what I mean by variety is that some are more tourist focused, some are more member focused, some are more local focused. One of the things I’ve learned in this job is that every course is extremely different in how they structure their business and what it’s like to golf there. There’s a lot of golf courses that are kind of in the nooks and crannies of Prince Edward Island – off the beaten path even but in reality, they’re only 20 minutes the opposite way from where you might look. Nothing is very far away in PEI.

Dundarave Golf Course

And just because a course is off the beaten path, doesn’t mean it’s any less of a golf course. There’s a certain level of pride amongst the GolfPEI members in the upkeep of their courses. Because we’re so small, if your golf course isn’t up to the standards of the other golf courses, then people will talk, and nobody likes that. So, there’s this definite level of pride and passion in what they do here.

Let’s talk a little bit about PEI as a golf destination. When I think about golf destinations, I think of two main types. There are pure golf destinations like Bandon Dunes, Streamsong or Cabot Cape Breton – very upscale. And then there are destinations that have more to offer than just golf and are generally more affordable. Myrtle Beach is a good example and I’d kind of put PEI in that same category. The other thing is that people might go to Bandon once, but they’ll go back to PEI again and again. Is that fair to say?

Yeah. Definitely. I would never compare PEI to Cabot because it’s just different markets, different structures and everything. When you go to Cabot, it’s a golf trip. All you’re doing is golf, you’re on their resort, you can’t really go anywhere else. When you come to Prince Island, you can book a five-night stay, play three or four rounds, and also throw in a chartered boat tour, or you can go deep sea fishing, right? You can go to the show at the Confederation Center. We’re known as Canada’s Food Island. We probably have too many restaurants, but they all do really well. And so many other things to do too. Those things add a lot to a golf trip.

I expect that with such a variety of courses and lots of other things to do, your target demographic would include a wide range of potential visitors.

Couples nearing retirement age would be at or near the top of the list. A lot from Ontario. I think 35 to 40% of our market is Ontario golfers. That’s not to say we don’t do the other things. Like we’ll have a group of 16 guys staying in Cavendish and playing four rounds over four days. It kind of depends on what you’re into too. Some will come and want to golf 36 holes a day, some will want to come for five days and play twice – they just want to come for a bit of golf but experience the Island too. Since Covid, we’re seeing more and more of the younger demographic too. They want a boy’s trip to PEI where you can escape for a week, play a bunch of golf and have some fun downtown as well.

Green Gables Golf Course

Is there a typical itinerary that you find is pretty common?

During the pandemic we kind of got out of packaged things like $299 per person based on double occupancy. play three rounds, stay two nights or whatever. We got really into custom quotes. If you look on our website, you can request a vacation quote and put in whatever you want and if you don’t know, you can ask for advice. But if you know you want to play Green Gables and Brudenell, okay. Include that and we can advise other courses. And if you know you want to stay downtown or in Cavendish or any particular resort, you can put that, or if you want to stay at a B&B cottage, you could put that in too. So, it’s really about customizing to what the customer wants rather than a packaged product.

You can also put in price points if you have a budget, and we’ll tailor it as best as we can. Basically, you can be as specific or as vague as you want. We’ll figure it out and get a quote back within 72 hours that you can take to your group, make changes if necessary and book it all in one pass. Our mandate is to bring in non-resident golfers, but it’s also to make it the most efficient and simple process ever. So, instead of you wanting to come here and call six courses yourself, you can book it in one single click of a button with us, and your accommodations are looped in there too. So, it’s just making it easier on the consumer so they’re not going through hurdles in order to book a golf trip.

Can you talk a little bit about the variety of accommodations?

Sure. We partner with 34 or 35 accommodation partners. And they range from resorts to downtown hotels to cottage companies and even mom and pop locations where they might own one or two cottages and rent them out for extra income. It’s a lot of variety and certainly not like a line of hotels, where each facility has the same room, the same pillows, the same everything. But I also see that as a positive because we’re able to say, “Well you stayed at the Rodd Crowbush Resort last time, why don’t you stay at the Wheelhouse this time down in Georgetown?” It’s right on the water, a beautiful facility with a restaurant underneath.

Because we’re bringing more and more people to the Island, availability is our biggest struggle right now. It’s not just a golf specific issue either, it’s on all tourism sectors. But because of lack of availability, people are more willing to try locations they haven’t heard of before like a B&B, where they’ll get way more of a personalized experience.

My perception is that PEI can market itself as a value destination. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Our highest green fee this year is $140. Most would be in the $100 range. And then there’s a few that are between $60 and $80, maybe off the beaten path but exceptional value for what you’re paying. If you compare us to other Atlantic counterparts that are trying to offer a high-end product, we’re relatively affordable. And in terms of what you’re getting for your golf experience, it’s great value.

What are the most likely non-golf things that people want to do?

Number one would be food. As I said before, we’re known as Canada’s Food Island. We have the Culinary Institute of Canada here and that certainly helps with finding talent since they’re already here studying. So, all these restaurants can pull upon Red Seal Chefs and go from there. Entertainment would be a big one too. The Confederation Center of the Arts does their festival every summer, plus there are shows at Green Gables and other places that are very popular.

Boat tours, deep-sea fishing and the beaches are also popular. On your days off from golfing, Broccoli Beach for the day is tough to beat. Or go to Cove Head where Richard’s Seafood has arguably one of the best lobster rolls on PEI. So, you go to the beach and have a big, big feast of lobster rolls right on the beach. Tough to beat that.

We have a racetrack and a casino too. Definitely shouldn’t forget that. Just so many things to do on top of golf.

What’s the biggest thing people would be surprised about PEI or PEI golf?

Maybe it’s not surprising but Prince Edward Island has long been known for its charm and also its laid- backness. That’s not exactly the right word, but nobody is in a rush to go anywhere here. Like if you’re five minutes late for your tee time, yeah, we want you to get on the tee, but we’re not going to slap your fingers because of it. We’re fairly forgiving that way. We just want your experience to be the best possible.

A lot of people are surprised to know we have 18 golf courses under our banner too.

Thanks Sam. Is there anything you want to add?

Well, just to remind people that at Golf PEI we try to make it the easiest golf vacation you’ll ever book. And I think anyone who has booked through us in the past will understand that it’s headache free, even if you have last minute changes. Our staff work exceptionally hard to make sure it’ll be the best time you can have and the easiest way to book.

For more information about Golf PEI, click HERE.



Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

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