Winnipeggers flocked to the fairways in an effort to escape COVID-19 blues last year, and in the process, are helping the city’s greens out of the red.
Continuing provincial health gathering-size restrictions throughout the spring, summer and fall in 2021 prompted a huge upswing in paid rounds at Kildonan, Windsor Park, Crescent Drive and Harbour View public golf courses.
Nearly 115,000 rounds of golf were played at the four facilities (the city maintains all four; a private contractor operates Harbour View), a 10 per cent increase over the 2020 season, also a record year. Winnipeg Golf Services now expects to pay off a $7.5 million line of credit to the city in 2023, instead of a previous deadline of 2024.
Nearly 115,000 rounds of golf were played at the four city–operated facilities, a 10 per cent increase over the 2020 season, also a record year.
"Golf continued to position itself as a safe form of outdoor recreation during the pandemic.… Golf is one of the few sports that lends itself well to social distancing and public-health orders," Ben Fey, the city’s general manager of golf services, told council’s innovation and economic development committee Monday.
For comparison, the committee was told about 70,000 rounds were played at the same courses during 2018.
An unusually long season of good weather allowed the courses to be open from April 1 to Oct. 25. That 207-day stretch built on the momentum from 2020, making the two years the busiest of the last 18, said Fey.
The service also expects it will no longer need a $750,000 annual transfer from the city’s general revenues either this year or next. A city report also links that progress to a $1 per-round increase in green fees in the coming season.
The city is already getting calls from golfers wanting to sign up to participate in leagues this year, Fey said.
"Regular avid golfers are playing more, golfers who stopped several years ago have returned to the sport," he said. "We’ve seen a big influx of new people to the game… we expect golf popularity to continue as the pandemic has helped people realize the importance and benefits (of) outdoor recreation."
“We’ve seen a big influx of new people to the game… we expect golf popularity to continue as the pandemic has helped people realize the importance and benefits (of) outdoor recreation.” – Ben Fey
Coun. Jeff Browaty, who leads the economic development committee, welcomed the rare bit of positive financial news as the city budget continues to suffer from COVID-19.
"We got a long (golf) season last year and continued interest," said Browaty (North Kildonan).
It’s too soon to predict whether the surge in the number of rounds played will continue once the threat of COVID-19 finally subsides, he said.
"It’s too early at this point to say whether this is an ongoing golf renaissance or whether it’s a short-term blip, but we’ll appreciate this while it’s there," he said.
In 2020, council ordered a proposal to repurpose up to 30 per cent of all city-owned golf land to offer housing, active transportation, reforestation, community gardens, public green space and/or other recreation.
While that effort is still underway, options that reduce green space are no longer being considered, since council has set a long-term target to add 1,000 acres of green space.
"It’s (about) adaptive reuse while (the courses) would remain green," John Kiernan, the city’s director of planning, property and development, told the economic development committee.
“It’s (about) adaptive reuse while (the courses) would remain green.” – John Kiernan
A separate proposal to sell off the John Blumberg Golf Course, which is located in Headingley, still awaits a final council vote. City committees have rejected the sale so far.
Despite the increased popularity of city-owned golf courses, it’s still reasonable for council to reassess use of the land, Browaty said, noting fewer rounds were being played at the courses prior to the pandemic.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.