Tuesday 28 February 2012

We miss you Johnny!

We do! Did you see how the Jets played last night without you?

Man ... I can't believe Winnipeg Jets management did this to me. A guy pours his heart and soul into a comic strip, orders 1,000 ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY ODUYA t-shirts, and banks his whole future on the success of this new enterprise ... and the next thing you know the lead character is traded to the Black Hawks.

Reaction to the trade has been mostly positive, with a 2nd and 3rd round draft pick coming in return, while at the same time picking up another D-man off waivers to fill a spot on the roster. Yet, getting draft picks for a proven performer (feel free to debate how good the performance was) always seems like a step back when it happens.

We here at the Peanut would like to wish Johnny well in his new adventures in the Windy City, and we shall pick ourselves up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and figure out what our next time-wasting enterprise will be.

"Tim Stapleton vs. The World" has a ring to it.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Winnipeg's golf courses: Wrap up

Previous posts:
action items: part I
action items: part II

In the current state of affairs, the City of Winnipeg owns 12 golf course complexes, under 5 different management systems, with losses of $1 million per year and increasing.

My goals are:
1) stop the downward spiral of massive losses, and hopefully make golf a break-even proposition for the City
2) improve the quality of public golf in and around Winnipeg
3) increase public green space
4) increase urban density

Some of these goals may seem contradictory. It may sound like I'm asking for too much, but hey ... shoot for the stars.

So of the city's 12 golf courses:

My grand plan scraps 5 of them:

Three of those are definitely obsolete money losers. Both Kildonan and Windsor Park require $1.5 million in upgrades just to get back to the condition they should be in, according to the study done for the city. Even then, their layouts and amenities are substandard. Ditto for Canoe Club, which has deferred capital requirements of $775,000. This alone will go a long way towards stemming the losses of Winnipeg Golf Services.

I feel kind of bad about blowing up St.Boniface, but it was sacrificed because of it's potential for excellent river-side green space and infill development, in conjunction with neighboring Windsor Park.

My arm could be twisted enough to spare Wildewood as well, since reports are that it's a nice little track. But if so, then the nearby Canoe Club should be scrapped and Wildewood should be sold to a private golf course operator. In fact, that's probably the better option. Maybe the nordic spa can purchase land next to Wildewood instead of Canoe Club.

So either Canoe Club or Wildewood -- whichever one we're keeping -- should be privatized. Also, Blumberg:

Which leaves 5 public courses, one for each quadrant of the city, plus Harbour View, which is a beginner par 3 course:

For more on the logic, or lack thereof, behind these decisions, please review the previous two posts. There are some very good comments in those posts as well.

5 courses is a reasonable number for a city to own. Much more reasonable than 12. Some might say that 0 is the only reasonable number, but that's a big leap from where we are. Now, if the city is going to own courses, it should not run the courses. The city has done a lousy job with the courses that it currently operates and maintains. Farm out the responsibility to a third party, complete with service level objectives and penalties for letting service or course condition slide.

How does this accomplish my objectives?
1) big money-losing courses are gone, replaced partly with development that will generate greater property tax revenue. The remaining courses should have decent attendance.
3) yes, green space does increase. A golf course is not "green space", depending on your definition. Green space to me is free public space that anybody can access any time. That is not the case for a golf course. I'm convinced that many people who are fighting to 'keep the golf courses as green space' are more concerned about losing their view than having actual space to picnic and frolic in the grass. My plan increases actual green space along the Seine River, up by Kildonan Park, and little bit in Wildewood.
4) new houses will be built somewhere. You can either build out and decrease density, or you can use space available within the city and increase density. Perhaps some of this golf course space can fill our need for new units until that Kapyong Barracks fiasco gets sorted out.

See, there you go! Oh right .. I forgot number 2.

2) As a golfer, I have a direct stake in the golf environment here in Winnipeg. There are indeed some sacrifices here, but in the end, of the 5 courses that were scrapped only two were public, and those were inevitable. Meanwhile, my plan calls for two previously semi-private courses to be made public, both of which are far better quality than the two that were scrapped. Public golf will actually improve.

The big losers are the patrons of the semi-private courses. However there are several very good private courses around that people could become members at if they have the dough. I have heard that some of these aren't doing great and could use new members. As well, I am hopeful that the loss of some of these marginal courses in the city will be mitigated by new courses springing up just outside the city. It is possible that golf course developers are spooked by the large quantity of city-owned courses.

So there you go. Whew. That was a long fours posts. Time for me to sit back, relax, and sip on a fine single malt as I watch the smart people at city hall spring into action implementing everything I wrote.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Winnipeg's Golf Courses: Action Items Part II

To recap Part I:

  • sell Crescent Drive golf course
  • destroy Windsor Park, Kildonan Park, and St.Boniface golf courses
  • preserve river banks as park space, develop the rest as residential
Onward ...

4) Destroy the Canoe Club

Much like Windsor Park and Kildonan Park, the Canoe Club is an obsolete golf course. It is only 9 holes, and it is split clean in half by a major road, leaving two small but separate parcels of land.

Parcel 1: This is easily accessible by road. In fact Glenlawn Avenue comes to a dead end right at the golf course, almost as though they intended to develop it and had a last second change of mind. Meanwhile, with Dunkirk on one side and Fermor on another, this is hardly prime park space. That makes this an easy decision: extend the adjacent residential development into this space. Bonus: close to a school!

Parcel 2: This area is on the Red River, so in accordance with my policy of reclaiming riverbanks I toyed with the idea of turning this into greenspace. However there are three factors working against that. 1) The only access is from the north, past existing condominiums. 2) There is no trail access except via a large culvert under Dunkirk Dr, but the river banks both to the north and south are clogged with private properties, making this a somewhat useless and isolated greenspace. 3) One of Winnipeg's largest unbroken stretches of river-side greenspace -- Churchill Drive Park -- is a mere 5-iron away just across the Osborne bridge. It is remarkably greedy of people in this area to demand more greenspace when they have so much just a short walk away.

What I therefore envision for this spot is a condo-park of sorts. More condos, since the ball is already rolling on that, but spaced out enough that it's a pleasant sort of place to walk around. Maybe a retirement home, or maybe row-house type units. Something like that.

5) Destroy Wildewood

Oooo, the residents of Wildewood aren't gonna be happy about this one. Wildewood, directly across the river from the Canoe Club, is a quiet park-like enclave, and the residents want to keep it that way. This is a neighbourhood were the residents even fought to kill a cell phone tower.

Wildewood golf course, much like Canoe Club, is a short 9-hole semi-private course, but given it's tucked-away location many people may not even know about it, rather is seems more like a plaything for the residents of this litte Shangri-La. I wonder if it would be profitable if they had to pay more than $1 in annual lease fees. Maybe it's time we let other people into this elite enclave by developing this course. It appears taylor-made for it when you look on Google Maps. You could build a series of bays with single family homes that would integrate seamlessly into the surrounding neighbourhood.


By now you're probably thinking: "what the hell dude, you're blowing up all our golf courses!" Don't worry, the destruction is over ... but the changes are not ...


6) Sell off John Blumberg

There are two courses in this complex: a 9 holer and an 18. The 9 hole track is fine for what it is. The 18 is easy, and mostly wide open. It is a decent length, yet it's not up to the standards of a modern golf course. I would like to see what a private owner could do with it, perhaps improving drainage and irrigation, maybe adding another set of tee boxes, planting some trees or moving some dirt to make the holes more interesting ...

Blumberg is way out in Headingley, barely even part of the City. Turning it into a park would be useless, and developing it would add to sprawl, but it's potential as a golf course is being wasted in the current arrangement in my opinion.

7) Keep Tuxedo

Like Kildonan Park and Windsor Park, Tuxedo is an undersized 18 hole course, but it is margially longer, has a better layout, and has a driving range. It is also the only course in the SW quadrant of the city.

8) Convert Assiniboine, Rossmere and Transcona to public courses

I'm sure it's not as easy as that. You probably have to wait for the lease agreements to expire, and then what do you do with existing memberships? Grandfather them out? Buy them out? Hang 'em out to dry? I don't know, but I can tell you this: the city should not own semi-private courses, much less subsidize them with $1 lease agreements.

I was waffling on this one. Although it sits right beside the airport, it certainly could be developed as residential housing. In fact there are houses on either side of it. People who are hearing impaired need someplace to live too. In the end, I decided to let it live to represent the NW quadrant of the City.

If the city trashes Windsor Park as recommended earlier, that will leave a public golf void in SW Winnipeg. That's where Transcona fits it. This would be a poor place to develop as residential because:
1) It is out on the edge of the city. Developing it would reduce density, not increase it.
2) It is across the street from an industrial park. The small number of people who already live there created a minor uproar when a hog processing plant tried moving to town; if we create a whole new subdivision it may be even harder to draw industry to the industrial park.
3) It is in Transcona. Who wants to live in Transcona?

Meanwhile it is a decent golf course. A little on the short side, but it would make a good public golf alternative if it were opened up to everybody. I am convinced that some of these courses don't get the number of green fees that they should because of their semi-private status.

It is a sea of green in the residential grid that is North Kildonan (or is it East K? I don't know where the line is.) You could do anything with this space. It could easily be converted to infill residential, or into a park for the low-to-mid income masses that live around it. However, there is not much public golf in this area, especially if we kill Kildonan Park Golf Course. But if we keep it as a golf course, it should be as accessible as possible. It should be public.

9) Keep Harbour View

Lastly, we have modest little Harbour View. At 1124 yards, it is the shortest course in the city, yet it is a far more interesting par-3 course than Crescent Drive. It has elevation changes and water holes, and it also has a driving range. It is a great little course for beginners, and resides in a nice park-like setting. Although it has been many years since I've golfed there, it would be a shame to lose it.

Next post: the wrap-up!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Winnipeg's Golf Courses: Action Items Part I

In the last golf post we established that Winnipeg Golf Services was, financially speaking, in a death spiral to hell, and that drastic action needs to be taken. Here are the actions:

1) sell Crescent Drive

I would have said "plow it over" except that a ballyhooed Nordik spa has already planned to move in this year, leveraging the golf course to complete it's spa/nature concept. It would be unfair to plow it over without offering them the opportunity to purchase the course. It is also unfair to city taxpayers to subsidize an unprofitable golf course for the benefit of another party. Therefore, the City should attempt to sell the course to the spa promoters or franchise owners.

2) blow up the obsolete public courses

I'm talking to you, Kildonan Park and Windsor Park. Even if you were to pump millions of dollars into restoring these courses to a reasonable condition, they will never be profitable because they are poorly designed and lacking amenities like a driving range, decent putting/chipping area and a proper club house.

Yes, there was a time when they could get away with it, but that time is gone. There is more competition now. The Meadows, Southside Golf Centre, and even Fantasy Lakes have all been built in the last 5 years or so, and provide golf experiences that are superior in their own way to the two city courses mentioned here. That leaves us with no choice but to blow up the courses.

Kildonan Park
Kildonan Park Golf Course, as you might have guessed, is right beside Kildonan Park. An organization like OURS Winnipeg might therefore suggest merging the whole space into the park, which would more than double the size of the current park. Would it double the enjoyment of the park? Probably not. Would it double the cost of the park? I suspect so, but that's not the big cost .. the big cost is the opportunity cost of forgoing other land uses, like infill development.

At the same time, we here at the Peanut are tree-huggers and like our greenspace. I personally am a fan of reclaiming our riverbanks, and am a little bit jealous of those cities that kept them as public spaces. Therefore I present the following compromise:

Extend Kildonan park along the river, up to the natural escarpment that runs through the golf course. Above the escarpment, develop it into residential housing, maybe with a few condos in the mix. I would prefer no commercial development, although I will allow the A&W on the 7th tee box to stay.

Windsor Park
There is no Windsor Park next door to this golf course, so I guess in this case the "park" refers to the course itself. But I'm not here to nitpick on the name, I'm here to tell the City what to do after we blow up the golf course.

But before I do that, I need to talk about St.Boniface golf course which is attached to Windsor Park. The two should not be looked at in isolation because the value of the two together is potentially greater than the sum of the two apart.

3) blow up St.Boniface

The golf course, not the area of Winnipeg. It's actually not a bad golf course and could be sold off, but developing Windsor Park on it's own is a little awkward because of how it's positioned. You can't make use of the lights at Cottonwood because that would bump you right in to an existing bay in Niakawa Park. Autumnwood dies at the railway track. The best way to get into that area is by extending Elizabeth Rd. across Archibald at the existing traffic lights, through the St.Boniface golf course. You just have to plow through the cemetery keeper's house first, but we'll be sure to replace it with a better one.

Again, keep the land adjacent to the river banks as park space. Windsor Park is a popular skiing area in the winter, including Winnipeg's only lighted x-country ski trail. That could be re-routed all the way north past the cemetery, right through the St.B golf course territory, making for a longer trail with more tree shelter. Skiers rejoice! The end result would be something that looks like this:

Residential development would be in high demand, and would generate some pretty good property tax revenue. Ten minutes from downtown, on bus routes, and right next to a park. Sounds pretty good to me.

There are different sorts of residential development. There are low-rise condos à la south St.Annes or just about any area on the periphery of the city. There are clusters of look-alike stucco McMansions on curvy streets with small back yards and double garages sticking out front. Infill development, I think, should be more reflective of the surrounding area. If you've ever walked around in that little neighborhood just south of Marion and west of Archibald, you'll know that it's a pleasant area with generally well-kept, but small houses. That's what I have in mind for this area -- especially the north segment. Smaller scale builds of single family homes on straight streets to maximize density. Straight streets! Imagine that!

Okay, enough about that .. what else can we blow up? I'll tell you. Later. I'm going to have to divide this sucker up into more than one post, so hold tight and check back in a few days or so.

Thursday 9 February 2012

This TEDx thing

For a review of TEDx that has a little more thought put into it, please see Karenia's blog. I really should fire my correspondent and hire Karenia.


Who is this TEDx guy and what is he trying to prove? Does he have any relation to Bushx? Anybody Want A Peanut sent a correspondent to find out more...

TEDxManitoba is an offshoot of the famous-in-some-circles TED Talks: a series of inspirational and insightful presentations by leaders in all walks of life with the common goal of sharing ideas. The "x" version was not a nude version of TED as I had hoped, but more of a small independent (and free) version. The quality of speakers, however, was still high. Almost all spoke with a passion and clarity that engaged the audience.

Grant Barkman, president of Decision Works, kicked things off with a presentation about utilizing visualization to help build consensus and lead to action. That works for this correspondent, because I'm big on visualization.

Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA (yes that NASA), spoke of finding the inner hero behind the mask. Perhaps we all can't be a Johnny Oduya, but we can all find strength that we didn't know we have, and make it work for us in some way. Perhaps this cherenkov character should come out from behind his mask, but then again I've seen him without his mask on and ... well ... let's move on ...

Getty Stewart started an organization called Fruit Share, and shared that story with us. I heard many positive comments about her story throughout the day. The little fruit idea that could really struck a chord with a lot of people. My thoughts will probably drift back to this presentation when I'm raking up 4 bushels of rotting crab apples in the fall.

David Zinger was a talented speaker, who on this day talked about bees. There were some analogies to human organization and behaviour, but at the end of it I wasn't quite sure what to take away from the talk, except that bees are remarkable little creatures.

Aisha Alfa
, whom you might know from WFPtv, also happens to be a comedian and motivational speaker. Here she spoke about not being afraid of failure, because without it you can't succeed. I tried to draw a picture of her in my notebook but I failed. But that's okay because failures, much like bees, are necessary.

Robert L. Peters used his time to tell us about a remarkable energy-efficient house that he built in the 70s. It's called Solace House. Looks like a nice place.

Wilma Derksen, mother of murdered teenager Candace Derksen, gave an inspirational talk about the challenges of going through what she went through. While her notion of polarity -- that you can't hold two things of equal value at the same time (in her case love or need for justice.) -- was true for her, I'm not sure it applies to everybody. A great talk though.

Robert J. Sawyer, award-winning science fiction writer, gave one of my favourite speeches "To live forever -- or die trying". We know what causes aging and death, and once we know the problem it is only a matter of time until we solve it. It's been happening all along ... the growth in the limit to a human life span has been accelerating and there's no reason why it shouldn't continue to do so. But is this good? He argues yes: longer lives will lead to better perspectives and greater focus on solving the great problems of the world, and will result in better stewardship of our resources.

Gem Newman, founder of Winnipeg Skeptics, gave a very colourful and theatrical presentation. I thought for moments that I was watching a Fringe festival play, but it was an engaging presentation about how science is unjustly beaten down and vilified. Bottom line: be curious about everything.

Matt Henderson is a creative teacher who told us about helping kids create their own knowledge. The general sentiment afterwards was "I wish Matt was my teacher back in high school."

Kale Bonham and Michael Champagne gave separate speeches but are both young Aboriginal Winnipeggers from the North End. Kale led an effort to create new banners for Selkirk Avenue and instill pride in the neighbourhood among the youth. Michael was an remarkable young man who started Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, and talked about turning oppression into opportunity. That's awesome, because I think it's the perceived total lack of opportunity that causes many kids to end up in gangs and crime. I wish him well.

TJ Dawe, in his black shoes, black jeans, and black t-shirt, moved very little during his talk about collective intelligence, but he did speak very well. It was about how dualistic thinking (right/wrong, etc) is programmed into us, but gets in the way of true intellectual progress which requires compromise and seeing things from another's perspective.

Hazel Borys spoke about walkable neighbourhoods, giving specific examples from her own area in Crescentwood. Her presentation should be required viewing for everybody at city hall. An interesting stat that she brought up was that mixed use development generates something like $225,000 in property tax revenue per acre, whereas big box stores generate something more in the range of $5000 per acre.

Lastly, Brad Tyler-West is a dynamic and amusing speaker who talked about "changing your story". I have to be honest ... I was kind of burning out by this point, but it seemed to touch on some of the same things that TJ Dawe talked about in terms of expanding your range of thinking. It's a bit of a blur to me now. Sounded good at the time though.

Overall it was a pretty good way to spend the day. The emcees and entertainers were excellent, as were the snacks during the break. This was year 2 for TEDxManitoba, and it will almost certainly be back again next year. Certainly worth looking into doing if you can get the day off. I will be lobbying for a nude version: TEDxxx

See also: Melissa Martin

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.

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