Sunday 5 February 2012

Winnipeg's golf courses: an overview

A recent commissioned report by Golf Convergence Inc ("The Report") on Winnipeg Golf Services shows that the agency is $8 million in debt and losing over $1 million a year. In the words of The Report -- and this is a quote -- "The City’s Special Operating Agency model for golf is broken." Also, "without immediate action, massive losses will continue" and "the City’s golf courses are in an accelerating downward spiral". You get the idea ...

I will not discuss why we had to wait until our golf courses were $8 million bucks in the hole and in a death spiral to hell before we decided to consider doing anything about it. That would be futile (and also par for the course for this city). Best to look forward at this point, and discuss how to get out of this mess and make things better.

In a follow-up post I will make some specific recommendations about what to do with our golf courses keeping the best interests of the city in mind. But first, let's look at our golf operations from a golfer's point of view and take stock of our courses. It is critical to look at this from a golfer's viewpoint because, firstly, I'm a golfer and I say so and this is my blog so there. But also because it will help explain why WGS is losing so much money, and how that trend can be reversed.

Here is an overview of the public and semi-private courses in and around Winnipeg, including some key stats and a rating based on the acclaimed Cherenkov Golf Scale:

Bel Acres18726947***p
Canoe Club9342652*s
Crescent Drive9271376*p
Fantasy Lake18542281*p
Harbour View9271124**p
John Blumberg9342739**p

Kildonan Park18695494*p
River Oaks18725909**s

The Meadows18726801***p
The Player's Course9363015**p
Windsor Park18695176*p

blue = owned by the City of Winnipeg
p = public
s = semi-private

The first thing you probably noticed is that the City of Winnipeg owns over half the golf courses around here. If you have a keen eye, you may have also noticed that most of the courses suck, particularly the city-owned public courses. The only public courses that rated 3 stars are the privately-owned Meadows and Bel Acres.

A common small-talk conversation starter on a golf course is "So, where do you normally golf?" Honestly, I seldom golf on City-owned courses, nor do any of my friends. This is because the public courses provide a poor golf experience. They are too short, poorly constructed, typically have poor amenities, and are poorly maintained. The Report puts is this way: "the price exceeds the experience"... and the price is not very high by most standards.

The semi-private courses owned by the city are better quality courses, but they are hard to get on because they have restricted tee times. The best times are reserved for members. Twice last year I tried to get on St.Boniface but was denied. I am used to rejection, but that doesn't make it any funner. I guess when you only pay $1 a year for your lease, you can afford to be a snob and turn away paying fares. I have been able to golf the Transcona course a few times in recent years, but knowing the Golf Pro may have helped. Otherwise, I don't even consider them an option. So basically, the City is driving golfers away by giving them only two choices: a crappy golf course, or a crappy tee time at an OK golf course.

Where do I golf? I might golf at Blumberg or Tuxedo once a summer, but that's it for City courses. I'll usually look to The Meadows at East St.Paul and Bel Acres for a round or two, but otherwise I get in my car and drive ... 40 minutes or an hour away, to any of the nicer public courses around southern Manitoba.

The solution to me is obvious: scrap some of the crappier golf courses, and convert some of the semi-private courses into public courses just as soon as their leases expire. This will improve the overall quality of public golf available within city limits, and will keep more golfers like me from hitting the highway.

Any remaining courses should be sold off to private operators. The city has no business owning semi-private courses. Some, including The Report, will argue that the City has no business being in the golf business at all. This is a valid argument, but it's also very common for a city to own a few courses (municipal courses, or "munies") to ensure there are some affordable golf options out there. You can look at it as a service, much like hockey rinks or swimming pools, but if we do decide to stay in the golf biz it should be drastically downsized to a small base of decent quality courses.

Next post, or the one after that, I will get into the nitty-gritty of exactly which courses should stay, which should go, and what we should do with any freed-up land. Stay tuned!

**** tales from the golf course ****

Kildonan Park: I returned to this course for the first time in many years this past summer. They don't water the fairways at Kildonan, only the greens, so the clay-based fairways were bone-dry; yet I managed to lose a ball in a mud puddle. This phenomenal achievement was made possible by a broken sprinkler in front of one of the greens. I had hit the ball directly at the green (yay!) expecting the ball to bounce up onto the green, but stood in amazement as my ball disappeared into a large mud pit that had formed because of a faulty green-side sprinkler that nobody thought to fix. The poor conditions made it all the more unbelievable when the bitter course marshal came by to tell me to move my cart onto the cart path. No, not a motorized cart -- a pull cart! I had it stationed on the fairway about 6 feet off the green, and the marshal wouldn't leave until I moved it. Are you kidding me? I could detonate a bomb on this fairway and you would barely notice.

Windsor Park: Like Kildonan, this is a short and cramped layout for an 18 hole course. It is so cramped in fact that one hole doesn't even have a real tee box. The teeing area for the par 3 6th hole is on the edge of the 5th hole's fairway, and as there is no room for a tee box, they provide you with a ratty old driving range mat to hit off of. Note: I have not golfed here in about 6 years, so perhaps they have replaced the mat since then.

Crescent Drive: If you golf here, avoid putting anything sharp in your golf bag, as you will most likely slit your wrists half way through the round. Although this is only a par-27 nine hole layout, the pace of play is so slow ... and I'm not exaggerating here ... you can fly to Scotland and golf Loch Lomond and fly back to Winnipeg in the time it takes to golf one round at Crescent Drive.


Anonymous said...

Sell the land to developers. We need the income more than you need a place to golf within City limits.

cherenkov said...

Yes and no. I'll get into that next post.

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