Seven groups have indicated interest in taking over P.E.I.'s four provincially-run golf courses, says the province's tourism minister.
The deadline for expressions of interest from the private sector closed last week, and the seven separate groups want to either buy, manage, or lease the courses from government, said Rob Henderson.
"The bulk of them tend to focus more on management or a lease arrangement," he said.
The province operates Mill River Golf Course, Rodd Brudenell River Resort, Dundarave River Golf Course and the Links at Crowbush Cove — all four of which are tied to Rodd Resorts.
The most recent budget shows taxpayers took a $1-million loss on the courses last year.
Henderson said he's hopeful a deal can be worked out.
"You know, I'd love to say this will be finalized before the golf season next year, so that whoever the successful organizations or entrepreneurs would be, that they would have every opportunity to promote their particular golf course in the proper fashion so that they can be successful right at the start of the season," Henderson said.
But at the same time, Henderson said he's not going to rush the process.
He won't name the seven interested parties, but he did say they are all Canadian, and a couple have Island connections.
James Alyward, the Opposition's tourism critic, is openly skeptical. He says he's worried about the future of the courses.
"They were on the comeback. They are world-class golf courses. They're known internationally," Alyward said.
Henderson says most interested buyers would want government to continue to cover operating losses, at least for the time being.
"That would be something that's on the table, but as the minister of tourism that's responsible for the golf courses, this is the whole concept, to try and minimize those losses," Henderson said.
Those who were golfing at Mill River Monday said they didn't want the government to hand over the golf courses to the private sector.
"I think it's important to keep tourists coming to P.E.I., and if you have proper courses like this that are top notch up against any other course in Canada, I think it's important," said Desmond Arsenault.
"The reason they're losing money because they're running at a high expense. They have employees that they don't need, which is probably the government's doing," said David McInnis.
"To try to pay down the mortgage on this and try to run this golf course, I don't think they can do it," said David Moore.
The next step for government will be to assess the financial viability of the groups, and their knowledge of running golf courses.
"We want to make sure that the standards of the courses and integrity of the courses are maintained," Henderson said.
Henderson says it's possible that some or all could be in the hands of private business by this time next year .