Winnipeg golf courses: As usual, we’re arguing about everything except the issues

Winnipeg could be a much better city if we concentrated on constructive action, instead of beating each other up over ideological agendas. The golf course issue is a case in point. A discussion that could have been about the best use — and best opportunities for enhancement — of public facilities has instead become a war of ideological agendas.

One of the agendas is that of Mayor Sam Katz, who advocates for an American governance practice that starts from the proposition that anything that could conceivably be done by private businesses should never be done by public officials. Katz’s argument is that Winnipeg’s 12 public golf courses are losing $850,000 a year, and that they could be managed by golf course companies, which would be able to turn the loss into a profit. (See Free Press and Sun articles.)

The other agenda is that of OURS, which stands for Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces (Full disclosure: I’m a member.), whose position is that City Council should “protect public golf courses from commercial or residential development.” That’s it. A perusal of its web site offers a wealth of names, contacts, news stories, and other relevant material, but I was unable to find further exploration of the issue.

What we’re not discussing

Katz’s position makes much of an $850,000 annual expense for maintaining the courses (not, on the face of it, an intolerably burdensome proportion of a $111 million community services budget), but offers no enlightenment regarding entrance fees. Those of us who love Winnipeg know at least two things about our city:

• Winnipeggers like to take full advantage of our short but salubrious summers by engaging in outdoor activities, including golf.

• We wouldn’t be lying if we renamed Winnipeg Frugality City.

I take the position that golf is a good walk spoiled, but if I loved golf, my first question to Mayor Katz would be: How will the cost of a golf game be affected? I could find nothing in the material released in support of the sale and private management of city golf courses that addressed the question of entrance fees.

Unfortunately, my friends at OURS are vulnerable to a comparable line of criticism. If it’s really true, as Mayor Katz’s audit claims, that the golf courses are suffering from a “declining user base” (Winnipeg Sun), is it outrageous to suggest that there might be a better use for open space than golf courses? If we open that question to discussion, at least two other considerations come into play.

▪ Golf courses are not really open spaces in the usual meaning of that term.

On a golf course, we can’t take our dog for a walk, play touch football, or lie down in the shade. So, suppose, for the sake of an argument that may get me expelled from OURS, we decide that one of our 12 golf courses would be suitable for residential development. Suppose further that we decided collectively, at long last, that we’re a real city, and not just an awkwardly oversized, gawky prairie town, and took the almost unprecedented step of using the former golf course for a real urban development, with multi-family dwellings and stores within walking distance. We could then think about a second consideration:

▪ Public transportation:

A Google search of Winnipeg golf courses suggests that at least a few of them are strategically located near such major transportation arteries as Main Street, Pembina Highway, Fermor Avenue, Archibald Street, and Inkster Boulevard. If so, a small part of a golf course could be used for multi-family housing or apartments, and stores, within walking distance of a transit stop, and the rest could become real open space, not just space for golfers.

But we can’t consider that. That would be addressing real urban issues, and beating up our ideological enemies is so much more fun.

12 responses to “Winnipeg golf courses: As usual, we’re arguing about everything except the issues

  1. Jean Paterson

    Very good suggestions about strategic development next to main traffic routes, with rest of green space becoming public park.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. just an awkwardly oversized, gawky prairie town

    Interestingly enough, that is what made Winnipeg a great place to live. Beware what you want to become.

    • Perhaps if you live in the suburbs, but if you’ve ever lived in a real city and not the suburban donut called Winnipeg you’d have to admit that that is what makes Winnipeg bad. Blind boosterism is not a constructive answer to the lack of urban (rather than suburban) planning. The fact that 90% of the population is afraid to go downtown is neither great nor healthy. What we need is a city council that sets the goal of getting 70,000 Winnipeggers to live downtown. That’s 10% of the city’s population and was proposed by city planners as a healthy proportion several years ago when Katz organized a city summit that included Guiliani, former mayor of NYC. Instead we have unimaginative councilors that are only interested in giving huge gifts to private companies (ikea, Cmhr, jets, bombers, arena and stadium owners) and then have the tenacity to rant against the public funding of basic services for the poor, the sick, the old, and the young.

  3. Squidley & Cala-Mari (the dogs protecting the name of their owner)

    Another part of the equation comes from the agendas of the political conservatives (I choose to use the lower-case “c” because this refers to municipal politics)–the conservative way wants to maximise profit and efficiency. Golf courses (can) make money, that’s good–but as Chris Leo points out, it’s also publicly run, and that’s bad. The idea of turning some of these golf courses into true and accessible green spaces means that the land remains publicly maintained, and non-revenue generating–both bad on the conservative agenda. After all, these golf courses house a lot of riverfront property that can become prime, upper-end residential or condominium properties–and I’m sure there’s a certain developer named Shindlesomething that would love to start digging up the grass right away (but that’s another issue).

    I love the golf courses, but I hate to golf. I can’t wait until autumn when the courses close and I can trespass with my dogs. Yes, Winnipeg has a number of Fields for Fido where my dogs can run free and mingle at leisure; however, for most of us, that means putting our dogs into the car before being able to use these facilities. We have to drive somewhere to go for a walk.

    I know the City of Winnipeg owns more than just the five golf courses in question from recent news, but for the moment, let’s just focus on these five. Crescent Drive Golf Course abuts Crescent Drive Park, which is one of the smallest and least known parks outside of Fort Garry. This park with its smattering of picnic tables and river view, desperately needs more land and amenities to draw users. I can’t think of a better use for this land than letting Fido tear up the greens and kids slide off the tee boxes.

    Kildonan Park is one of Winnipeg’s major recreation areas, but it’s also one of the most congested. Rainbow Stage alone draws enough traffic to saturate the park’s accesses. Assimilating the adjacent golf lands into the park doubles the usable area and de-densifies the park for the cyclists, joggers, skaters and walkers (including the four-legged kind).

    The opposite is true for Harbour View Golf Course, which is part of the larger Kilcona Park. Winnipeg had grand schemes for this park, which includes many family-oriented facilities. Again, since parks aren’t revenue-drawing, the development never manifest. Kilcona Park, with its meandering streams and reedy ponds, has in essence, become of one Winnipeg’s favourite dog parks. We drive over 12 km to use Kilcona, mainly because it’s such an expansive, multi-terrained territory. I would love to see Kilcona developed to its original design, as a welcoming green space that rivals Assiniboine Park in amenities.

    Windsor Golf Course sits in the middle of St Boniface and helps create the dead zone on Archibald St, north of Fermor Ave. This area can be developed into a beautiful park that spans both sides of the Seine River, and joins up with King George Park, its wading pool, and the indoor Bonivital Pool at the east end. The land adjacent to Archibald should become a residential-commercial mix that brings another Corydon-like strip to the southeast part of the city.

    Finally, about John Blumberg–the majority wants to sell this land because it falls outside Winnipeg’s boundaries, thanks to the secession of Headingly. Selling this land does not mean that Winnipeg relinquishes deed on all lands in the area; Winnipeg continues to own the adjacent John Blumberg Softball Complex, one of the premier baseball facilities in the city. I’m sure the city could find other recreational uses for this land that helps maintain the area as a sporting hub. Presently, Blumburg is a 27-hole golf course. Is there anything wrong with shrinking the operation to a family-friendly 9-hole course and using the remaining land as recreational land? Maybe another ultimate field? Wait, we’d still need maintenance cost for a 9-hole course–and we’d need it to make money. Better just sell the land the Shindlesomebody.

  4. Pingback: Chris Leo goes for the centre of the fairway | RPARC

  5. I once got a fine free dinner for simply listening to Joe Bova and his golf partners pitch their ideas for the Windsor Park Golf Course. They did not insult my intelligence one tenth as much as the Mayor and his friends did this week. The junior intelligence officer recently arrested in Moscow has much more spycraft than the gang that tried to pass themselves off as the true citizen resistance this week. Were it not for the fact that they actually control City Hall this ongoing farce would be quite hilarious.
    The day when Sam and Phil finally call it quits and go back home to Scottsdale cannot come soon enough, I say. But if you can find someone to pay for a nice meal, I am sure you can get the two sides to meet together. We Winnipeggers all love a free lunch, after all.

  6. Yeah, I wasn’t too impressed with the OURS-Winnipeg website. There really wasn’t a lot of details or a coherent, simple rundown of “what the issues are”.

    The best analysis from the anti-privatization side I could find was Dave Hall’s “Fast Facts” article for CCPA, where he suggests the alternative of turning some of them into mixed-use greenspace facilities (for instance, having skiing in the wintertimes).

    http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba%20Office/2011/12/Golf%20course%20Dec%202011.pdf

  7. shanednblog.net

    Chris:

    Why would you think RATIONAL and INTELLIGENT discussion would help here in Winnipeg? I just returned from Montreal. I grew up there BEFORE the subway, before the bike revolution etc. Thus i know what is possible with LEADERSHIP and VISION… of which Winnipeg as ZERO! Returning to Winnipeg, the potential of this city is unbelievably great… but the public naivety and the political incompetence and cynicism is overpowering.

    So much potential, So little leadership!

    You, sir, are a voice in the wilderness! Shout louder! Winnipeg deserves FAR FAR better than we presently have.

    Shane Nestruck

  8. Johanna Denesiuk

    I live near Crescent Park Golf Course and Park. I bought in this area because of the green space. New developments being approved all have water features and green space. Now we want to remove the green space from older established areas and limit access to the water???? How does that make sense? Quality of life and mental health are deeply affected when people are surrounded by nature. The river is a wildlife corridor.

    • Since I wrote that blog entry, in response to Mayor Katz’s ill-advised proposal to sell Winnipeg golf courses off for development, the mayor’s plan has been defeated. In my post I was seeking a middle ground between those who seem to think public facilities have no value other than the cash value that could be gained by selling them, and those who seem to think Winnipeg suffers from a shortage of green space. I continue to argue that Winnipeg is too spread out, and to support a variety of proposals for making the city more dense and more urban.

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  10. Let me take a wild guess: You didn’t read the post, right?

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