London Prepares to Close Muni River Road

River Road Golf Club

London's River Road -- and yes it looks pretty, but it isn't much fun to play.

Never good to hear of an affordable golf course potentially closing, but London, Ont.’s River Road is a pretty ghastly course to start with, so it came as no surprise to see a London Free Press report detailing the city’s plans to potentially sell the course:

City hall officials are recommending closing one of London’s three taxpayer-owned golf courses, teeing off on a site that since 2007 has lost $620,000.

The money-losing River Road should be shut down to ease what London officials call an overbuilt marketplace, with dozens of courses, city-owned and otherwise, vying for players.

While $620,000 isn’t much — it is hard to fathom how the city agreed to allow a relatively large clubhouse to be built on the site.

I was surprised to hear that only one of London’s munis — the terrific Thames Valley — makes money, and that even Fanshawe, which added another nine holes over a decade ago (when people thought Tiger Woods’ emergence would lead to an explosion in golfers), loses cash:

The Free Press first reported this month that Joe van Koeverden, who until December had run the city courses, had completed a review of them. He said the market was “overbuilt” and suggested getting rid of one of the three would be a reasonable option.

In a report going to council’s community and neighbourhoods committee Tuesday, staff state revenue is declining in the city-owned golf system.

The recent losses at River Road and the smaller losses at Fanshawe are “eating away” at the Thames Valley surpluses, they say.

Closing River Road would save taxpayers $180,000 this year, the report states.

The property is owned by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. City staff recommend city hall should work with UTRCA officials to turn River Road into a public park.

Staff would like a public meeting on River Road’s proposed closing on March 2. They also want politicians to approve the creation of a new, long-term golf business plan.

Some have suggested River Road could be sold — but it is hard to fathom who would buy the course. With some ultra-tight holes, it probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place — and turning it into a public park seems like a sensible solution for a relatively attractive location.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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