Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2011 (3730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The City of Winnipeg is considering a report that could reduce the number of golf courses in Winnipeg, a possibility that might cause some lovers of the sport to lose their grip. The central facts, however, are that city-owned courses are poorly managed and there are too many courses in Winnipeg for the number of golfers.
According to the report by consultant Golf Convergence, the golf industry has suffered from decreased participation and increased competition, putting the squeeze on most of the 36 public, private and semi-private courses built in and around the city since the game arrived in Manitoba in 1889. (See report this page.) The city's 12 public courses are $8 million in debt and there's no evidence the downward spiral will turn around.
As a short-term solution, the consultant recommends that the city contract out the management and operation of three courses -- Crescent Drive, Kildonan Park and Windsor Park -- but in the long term it should get out of the business and consider making some of the land available for residential or commercial development.
These suggestions may be anathema to those who believe golf, like other recreational pursuits, is a core civic service. As well, the three city-owned and managed golf courses are enjoyed by less-skilled or price-conscious players who may not be as comfortable on a more competitive course. Fewer places to play could also result in an increase in fees.
The provision of golf courses may have been regarded as a civic responsibility at one time, much the way playing fields and community clubs still are today, but the private sector is adequately serving the public now, the report noted. In fact, there is too much capacity. Under these conditions, it's hard to defend the view that golf is an essential government service.
It's possible that fees might rise with fewer courses, but the trend in North America has seen more courses closed than opened in recent years, showing that even the private sector is struggling in a competitive market.
The consultant offers a variety of options, but the hard fact is that city-managed courses are unsustainable without major capital and operational investments, which would be an irresponsible and needless risk of tax dollars. The city's contracts with companies that operate nine courses, moreover, are a model of government incompetence and inefficiency.
The suggestion that the semi-private St. Boniface course be merged with Windsor to make one championship course, while selling or developing the surplus land, is also a valid -- even exciting -- proposition. Three clubs -- Assiniboine, Canoe Club and Wildewood -- should be sold when their leases with private managers expire, the report also says.
The city can easily move on some of the short-term recommendations to stop the "bleeding," but it will want to proceed more cautiously and with substantial public engagement on the idea of selling courses and making some land available for development. The city has more open spaces than similar municipalities in Western Canada, but it will be hard to convince everyone that a lush golf course should be levelled for housing, as opposed to public green space.
The facts, however, cry out for a rationalization of the government-owned golf industry in Winnipeg. The challenge will be to develop a set of options that are fair and retain significant open spaces for the well-being of all.