Kitchener golf courses latest munis to struggle

First it was London, then Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. And now the City of Kitchener is the latest to indicate its city-run golf courses are under performing:

The city-owned golf courses are up for review and big changes could be coming to both Rockway and Doon Valley.

“The major options that are under consideration are retain ownership and operation of the courses, lease them out in their entirety or to engage a private-sector partner to manage the operation of the courses,” Dan Chapman, the city’s treasurer, said.

However, one point in the story makes no sense to me. Recently the city decided, unwisely it would appear, to expand its Doon Valley course to 27 holes, running holes across the highway. The story references the expansion:

At the same time costs increased significantly because the Doon Valley Golf Course was increased in size to 27 holes from 18. The expansion loan requires an annual payment of about $340,000 though to 2034. Without that loan payment the golf operations would be in the black.

“The decline in revenue could have been associated with a number of things including economic conditions, declining interest or time to play golf, participant fees being too high, periods of inconsistent weather, perceived value relative to course quality and competitive reasons,” says a staff report prepared by Kim Kugler, the city’s director of enterprise.

 Let’s consider that for a moment. If the expansion loan has to be repaid at $340,000 over 22 years, that would suggest the city spent a remarkable $7.4 million on a nine-hole expansion. Assuming there’s interest in that amount, even $6 million is a lot of money on a golf expansion in a market that was contracting. I suspect Doon Valley actually made money before the expansion. In London, River Road, the course that loses the city a bundle each year, was built nearly 20 years ago when golf was on the upswing. Someone has some explaining to do in regards to Don Valley, especially given the number of affordable golfing options in the Kitchener area.

Coun. Scott Fielding, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said he does not expect any final decisions to be made for months, since public consultations must be held first.

However, Fielding said Winnipeg cannot afford to keep all seven of its public golf courses, which he said have been losing about $1 million a year recently.

“It’s tough putting more police officers on the street and putting more money toward community centres and infrastructure when you’re losing a million dollars a year on golf courses — which, in my opinion, isn’t a priority for the City of Winnipeg,” he told CBC News.

Fielding said while it’s time to sell some of the city’s golf courses to private developers, he stopped short of suggesting the city should get out of the golf course business altogether.

“I don’t think we’d have the support of council to get rid of all of the courses, but I think we do need to make some changes,” he said. “Bleeding a million dollars a year for golf isn’t sustainable.”

What’s my take? I think the addition at Doon Valley wasn’t well considered, however, I still feel muni golf, traditionally an affordable option to help grow the game, has a place. After all, we subsidize other sports venues — arenas, soccer pitches, baseball diamonds — and no one seems to see an issue with that. However golf — even lowly muni golf — is still viewed as part of the “elite,” a ridiculous, outdated notion. Munis are where seniors on a fixed income and kids looking to be dropped off by their parents and play 36 holes go to enjoy themselves. There’s certainly value in that, but with cities struggling to right their finances, expect to see munis come under fire more regularly.

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Jeff Lancaster

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I suspect that one of the reasons that Doon is struggling is that the new 9 holes are horrible! They now have holes 9 holes of open parkland intermixed with 9 holes of target golf with no margin for error. You are either on the fairway or you have a lost ball in the fescue. They completely ruined the course! I used to go there for a casual round with my kids – not anymore.

  • I second Paul’s comment. I grew up in K-W and played Doon again last year for the first time since the expansion. The new 9 is horrendous… Beautiful yes, but not playable for many and certainly not by the average muni player. I struggled on it and I’m a single digit handicap!

  • I drive by Doon everyday, and I have never seen a course more empty on a daily basis. After the new 9 opened, it took several months before I saw anyone playing those holes at all on my daily commutes, Having sat in on presentations of what was entailed in the construction (special bridge, and underpasses that are heated for wildlife-Doon had a snake reserve on the new 9), I can see the bill being quite high but why they would spend 7 million and not just blow the place up and start from scratch is crazy.

    It was a good golf course with an affordable twilight rate before, now it lays empty.

  • RT I could not agree more. The expansion was a complete waste of money and ruined the bones of this C.E. (Robbie) Robbinson course. The routing of the original layout was changed to add a pitch and putt course. The feel of the course has been altered and the new nine is a complete deviation from the existing layout. If they had wanted to increase revenue, the money should have been spent on adding interest and width to the existing holes (which had grow tired with age).

  • This is just typical K/W at their finest. But I’m sure the mindless drones of the area will not mind paying for it, if they even notice.

  • Just played doon with my friend. I brought my kids ( 4 and 5 ). Paid 2 green fees and 2 full carts. They kids just ride along and hit the odd ball or two. The end of the round the course was holding my son clubs ( a set of 3 clubs ) for ransom. They wanted $60.00 for 2 junior green fees to get the set back. After arguing with them and threathning to go to media they gave the set back. They must be desperate to get money back from expansion. even from 4 and 5 yr old children. No shame in holding a kids club for ransom. I will NEVER be back nor will I ever enrolled my kids in their junior program!!

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