The trinidad Guardian / Despite a forecast of tough times as it justified new tax measures for citizens and the business community in Monday’s Budget, a $3 million upgrade to the Chaguaramas Golf Course is one of the new projects Government has decided to undertake in this fiscal year.

But Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, under whose purview the project falls, has defended the decision to upgrade the nine-hole public golf course, saying the facility has been “languishing” for some time. She said Government’s plan is to refurbish the course and bring it back up to standard, begin a programme there to train youth to play golf and hopefully in the long run utilise the facility for sport tourism. A consultant is also currently looking at the possibility of expanding the course to a 18 holes, she said.

While the golf course is a members’ club facility it is open to the public and currently costs as much as $290 to play a full round of golf, including rental of clubs, balls and a pull cart.

The Chaguaramas Golf Course is the only public golf course in the country, Robinson-Regis said.

“I wish to indicate that the golf course is not free but there is a minimal charge and it is open to the general public,” she said.

Also defending the move was Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) chairman Gupte Lutchmedial, who said the golf course is one of the main assets in the region and can be a foreign exchange earner for the country. He said in its peak the CDA earned close to a million dollars a year from the golf course, but in 2015 that figure dropped to $292,000. For the fiscal year which ended on Saturday, the CDA earned $598,000 from the course after sprucing it up a bit, Lutchmedial said. He said ant upgrade of the course can help tackle the CDA’s financial woes.

“What we did over the last two years was we hired a golf course consultant because the golf course is one of the main assets of Chaguaramas apart from being historical, because of the length of time it is there it is a revenue earner for us,” Lutchmedial said.

He said the CDA saw a 105 per cent increase in revenue from the golf course between 2015 and 2017 after pumping some funds into improving it.

“There has been a stark increase, people are coming back to the golf course, it is a public golf course and we figure that it if is properly managed, and we spruce it up and make it available it can be a foreign exchange earner too,” Lutchmedial said.

“It is a beautiful golf course situated between the valley and people are coming back to it so we asked for some money to invest in it and we know we are going to make it back with the golf course. It is one of the big revenue earners for the CDA.” It currently costs the public $190 to play a full round of golf at the course which is nine holes, $45 to rent clubs, $30 to rent balls and $25 to rent pull carts.

According to the CDA’s website, “future plans are to create an 18-hole golf course on the peninsula guided by international standards, a renovated lounge area, bar and changing rooms”. Lutchmedial said the CDA is hoping that from the revenue earned from the golf course it can be expanded. In 2016, $52,325 was spent toward the expansion of the golf course, according to budget documents.

SLAP IN JOHN PUBLIC’S FACE-UNC

However, United National Congress chairman Dr David Lee has slammed Government for wasting money while at the same time calling on citizens to make cutbacks.

Lee said on Monday Finance Minister Colm Imbert made an impassioned plea saying “we must all adjust,” “curb wasteful expenditure” and “make the required sacrifices,” adding this planned expenditure on a gold course was a slap in the face of all of that.

“This is a classic example of not properly prioritising the scarce resources of the country,” Lee said.

“I want to ask why is it necessary to upgrade the Chaguaramas Golf Course in this scarce time and is there a phase 2 and a phase 3 planned, and why that money could not be spent even in the Chaguaramas area in maintaining the Boardwalk and continuing the development of the Boardwalk, where hundreds of normal citizens would benefit as opposed to the the Chaguaramas Golf Course which is considered an elitist sport.”

According to page 156 of the Draft Estimates of Development Programme Expenditure 2018, there are two new projects valued at $7 million to be undertaken by the Planning and Development Ministry for development of the Chaguaramas area this fiscal year.

Project 36 is listed as an “Upgrade of Chaguaramas Golf Course – Phase 1” and project 35 is listed as “Development of five car parks in Chaguaramas.” The two projects have been allocated $3 million and $4 million respectively.

During a Parliament Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting in June CDA officials complained of being unable to properly maintain tourist attractions on the peninsula due to financial challenges.

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