The days of walking down the hallowed fairways of John Blumberg Golf Course may be numbered, despite the support of hundreds of Winnipeg and Headingley golfers and residents who would like to see the green space spared.
"I think if they sell this, there’s going to be a lot of people not golfing," said Tracy Huston, manager of John Blumberg.
"There’ll be all these fathers and grandparents now that are bringing these young little tykes and I don’t think they’ll go to Tuxedo or Bel Acres. They’ve been brought up here, they want to stay here."
The golf course and its 200 acres of land have been on the City of Winnipeg’s surplus lists for years. Over the past year, the city has been accepting requests for proposals for the land, a process which has now concluded.
"Following evaluations of all submitted proposals, the city will be making a recommendation to the standing policy committee on property and development, heritage, and downtown development in the coming months," a city spokesman said in a statement.
The city would not provide details of the submitted proposals, however John Blumberg’s current lessor, Brian Campbell, feels he made the city a generous offer.
"My RFP for the city was, I’ll build eight pickle ball courts, I’ll build a big miniature golf course, I’ll pay the city a minimum of $50,000 a year for the next 10 years and based on that, in 10 years they get the course back with all those amenities added to it," Campbell said.
"I think if they sell this, there’s going to be a lot of people not golfing."
Campbell signed on to a six-year lease in 2017 and says the course had hit rock bottom at the time, averaging only 7,000 rounds of golf played over the past few years. He said he had a vested interest in bringing the course back to its glory days, such as in 2003 when John Blumberg logged 87,000 rounds of golf.
"When I moved to Winnipeg in ’83, I came to this golf course and I couldn’t believe it was a public golf course," Campbell said.
"After about ’97 it started getting worse every year, and then I had an opportunity to help it out in 2017. I just want to restore it back to the way it was and try to save the golf course."
Campbell said that he invested $300,000 of his own money in the first three years of his lease to fix greens and fairways and correct irrigation problems. According to Campbell, the city initially matched the dollar amount.
Since Campbell took over, John Blumberg has seen a 428 per cent increase in rounds played, up to 25,000 rounds in 2020 and the course is on pace for 30,000 rounds in 2021. Huston, who has served as manager for four years, said she has seen a definite increase in an appetite for golf during the pandemic.
"We notice a lot of young children, we have fathers coming out now with their three-year-olds, female and male, teaching them how to play golf," Huston said.
Jared Ladobruk, executive director of Golf Manitoba, said he does not want to see John Blumberg repurposed or shut down based on how the base of golfers in Manitoba has grown tremendously over the past two seasons.
"We want to see our facilities remain open," Ladobruk said.
"Golf, as we’ve seen in the last two years, has been an opportunity to get active and have fun with friends and family in a time where we’ve needed it the most."
"The thing that boggles both of us is that right now the city wants to purchase a 1,000 acres to have green space and this is 200 acres that they want to sell, it doesn’t make sense," Huston said.
Campbell is left wondering why his proposal has not been seriously taken and said the city, which has owned the land since 1965, is looking for fast money.
"You’re going to give that up, and let’s say you get $20 million for it, that’s two snow clearings," said Campbell.
"It’s going to hurt golf."
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) said Campbell’s offer should have got the city on the phone with the R.M. of Headingley to start having serious discussions on the land.
"I think you have to look at the fact that Winnipeg has had some difficulties through the years with managing their city finances well," Klein said.
Klein was author of a successful council motion to ensure the city adds 1,000 acres of green space over the next 20 years. "It would’ve been more collaborative of the City of Winnipeg to not just think about how much money we could’ve put in our pockets but to work with our neighbours, which Headingley is," Klein said.
"I think that would’ve been more appropriate than we’re just going to sell it to the highest bidder."
The R.M. of Headingley put together a proposal for the land in March 2021, with the intent of retaining as much green space as possible for the community, Headingley mayor John Mauseth siad.
"There was some dialogue in the beginning between the two councils, and then we found out, boom, an email saying you can bid on the land," Mauseth said.
"We were disappointed that we were discarded so quickly, and we would’ve liked to have seen more of a partnership with the city. They were after money and we were after green space."
Mauseth, much like Campbell, is concerned the land will be put to waste if the focus of discussions doesn’t change.
"I don’t know what the dollar figure this land will go for, but with a budget size for the City of Winnipeg, it’ll get eaten up rather quickly and then the land is gone," Mauseth said.
Ronald Mazur, co-chair of OURS-Winnipeg, a community-based organization which focuses on the preservation of Manitoba green space, has started an online petition to garner support to save John Blumberg and is pressuring city council to reconsider the course and remove it from its surplus list.
"We know that Winnipeg has a deficit compared to other cities in terms of the amount of parkland," Mazur said.
"We have approximately six per cent, the average of major Canadian cities is nine per cent. It is not logical for us to sell Blumberg and allow it to be turned into residential and commercial development."
Klein said he is looking to address his fellow councilors on the matter this fall.
"I can move a motion to take it off the surplus list, but if they’ve already accepted the bid, than we’re almost legally bound unless all of council says no," Klein said.
"At which time we have to get everyone on council to support that motion and I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I’m working on a motion that I hope will address it. I think the only way to fix it is for the city to take proceeds of the sale and develop another big park."
Huston and Campbell have also been collecting hundreds of signatures in support of saving John Blumberg at the course. The manager hopes people will continue to sign to keep the 27 hole golf course alive for next season.
"We have a lot of young guys that come out where their grandpas taught them how to play golf and they’re really upset now that they have something from them, that there not going to be able to enjoy anymore if the city gets rid of it," said Huston.
For more information, visit ours-winnipeg.com/save-john-blumberg-gc
Joseph Bernacki is the reporter/photographer for The Headliner. Joseph was the 2021 Vince Leah Sports Intern with the Winnipeg Free Press before joining Canstar Community News. A 2020 graduate of the University of Regina’s school of journalism, Joseph enjoys playing golf, listening to his country music collection and following his favourite Chicago sports teams. In his spare time, he is the host of a variety talk show podcast including Better Call Saul as a weekly topic.