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Toronto Star: Private golf clubs cost taxpayers millions

Toronto private clubs are trying to negotiate a deal with the city on property taxes -- but the city has ignored the situation according to a Toronto Star story.

Headline writing is an interesting art. Many think the writer also suggests the headline — but in newspaper writing the headline is created by a layout editor working through the story. Which explains, I hope, the ridiculous incendiary Toronto Star headline on an otherwise balanced story about the situation of property taxes and the city’s private clubs.

The story basically gets it right — in the 1950s, a time when golf clubs were disappearing under houses in the city at a regular rate, a deal was struck to keep them as green spaces amidst urban sprawl. They were cut a break on property taxes, but would have to pay those taxes back if the land was ever sold, which is one of the reasons we haven’t seen more private clubs become houses.

Anyway, the story in the Star has come up because the clubs were negotiating with the city on a new tax deal in 2010 and then …. nothing:

“I haven’t heard anything from the city in more than a year,” said Herb Pirk, general manager of Oakdale Golf and Country Club. Oakdale is one of the few clubs that has partially opened its doors to the community.

Pirk, like others, is eager to move forward.

Perk, btw, has a lot of municipal experience prior to running private clubs, and is smart and reasonable in my dealings with him. Perk says later in the story that Oakdale would like to develop a good relationship with the city.

There is a suggestion that courses could start repaying some of the money owed — which is pegged as high as $37-million, btw. But that isn’t just Toronto courses — that includes courses across the province and some say that figure is too high. Either way, hard to see how fees wouldn’t increase at clubs if they have to pay millions in back taxes. The only issue — golf courses aren’t worth what they once were:

 

One option floated in the past is that the courses begin paying off the debt as a loan. And according to Joe Regina, an account manager with MPAC, the amount in question will in fact be lower for most of the owners.

“The reductions in value are the result of changes in the market conditions. In the past decade, the value of golf courses have declined significantly, largely due to increased competition and maintenance costs. Each course was reviewed and valued on their own factual circumstances, and so the resulting reductions varied from 1 per cent to 53 per cent,” he said.

Regardless, the Toronto Star’s comments on the story are crazy with people saying all private clubs — apparently played exclusively by rich old white guys — should be turned into parks. Right — the city is going to try to go to court to take over private land owned by some of the best connected, most affluent people in Toronto. Now that makes sense.

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Jeff Lancaster

Jeff Lancaster is the Publisher of CanadianGolfer.com.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Rob, we know the 9 Toronto Clubs that were given the exemptions and stayed operational as golf courses, maybe you could begin to author the list of those that were closed and are now housing. St. Andrews in the old North York being one.

    That might help the case when the acreages bulldozed are added up.

  • Jack: There are lots that disappeared, though most were after WWII. Rouge Hills is another that is housing, as is Cliffside. St. Andrews, which you mention, and the old York Downs, which was supposed to become housing but became a park. There are plenty in the north end of the city. Of course, as a developer recently told me, the area north by the 401 was pretty sparse at one point. That’s where the courses were.

    I did an article on NLE courses a few years back — let me see if I can find it and I’ll post it.

  • “They” (the city) made the deal (with the private clubs) to stop courses from moving outside of the city because Toronto had made the golf courses part of the greenspace planning. The only way they could stop clubs from selling and moving outside the boundary was to cut the tax “deferal” deal at that time.

    The clubs will pay tax “voluntarily” if a reasonable deal is struck. You can’t ask for the taxes from the past and you can’t tax the land as potential housing.

    Everyone needs to be realistic and understand there is no obligation for the clubs to change the current arrangement.

  • Steve — the munis, owned by the city, wouldn’t pay tax, or do they? Either way, I’m certain they are not part of this. Remember this is back in the day when most golf was private….

  • Off the top of my head I cannot think of a public course inside the Toronto City limits since Brookside closed so the is a moot point.

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