Calgary won't admit why it is closing muni

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while — but it is interesting to see Calgary talk about closing its 27-hole muni, McCall Lake. From the Calgary Herald:

Officials are saying interest in the sport is waning and the airport-area golf course is losing more than $200,000 a year, imposing “significant operating and capital costs.”

Golfers say the sudden news is hitting them hard.

“I’m in shock. It’s out of the blue,” said Clayton Albrecht, president of the 90-member McCall Lake men’s league. Tuesday’s announcement took residents by surprise, he said.

“It’s one of the best booking clubs in the city. We’re surprised and disappointed.”

Golfers will have use of the northeast course until the end of the 2014 golf season.

Concept plans for potential development of an industrial area and recreational campus with sports fields were approved by city council last November.

With necessary upgrades and revenue lost from a short season due to poor weather, the course needed $8 million, the city says. Consultation with stakeholders revealed the course wasn’t meeting the needs of the community, said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

This is also interesting:

The city said McCall Lake has experienced a steady decline in the number of rounds played on the course since 2004. That year, 68,713 golfers used the course.

Over the past eight years, an uptick in use was seen only twice, said city spokeswoman Shannon Carignan. “Those increases can be attributed to favourable weather conditions equating to a prolonged season,” she said.

Last season, there were 58,505 golfers.

I call BS on all of this. The real reason the city is closing the course has nothing to do with costs — it has everything to do with an estimated $30-million it will receive in development costs. Why can’t politicians be honest about this? Instead they talk about $8-million in “upgrades.” What are they going to upgrade for that price? Even assuming the course’s irrigation system needed to be overhauled and cost $2-million, where would the other $6-million go? Were they planning on completely rebuilding the course?

Interesting to see a talking head from the National Golf Course Owners Association agree with the numbers — though what he’s really saying is he’d prefer people play their golf at privately-operated facilities:

With other city courses available, those participants should find room elsewhere, said Brent Hutcheon, Alberta director of National Golf Course Owners Association.

“As a person who grew up on the McCall Lake golf course, I am sorry to see it go,” Hutcheon said. “This will certainly increase demand for the remaining city-owned facilities.

“Calgary has lost 45 holes of inventory in the past seven years, but during that same time, 118 new public holes have been built in and around the city, with more projects underway,” he said.

Hutcheon said he agrees with the city’s calculations.

“I know that McCall Lake needed substantial renovations due to flooding and other turf and water related issues. On top of the daily maintenance cost of operating a golf course throughout the year, replacing one green now costs between $100,000 to $250,000, and a new irrigation system is well over $1 million, not to mention the high cost of the maintenance equipment.”

And this notion they lost $200,000 is remarkable given the number of rounds they are putting through a 27-hole facility. The main course has a green fee of between $41-$46, it is hard to fathom how the course would lose money, even with unionized staff. Even if you averaged the fee down to $30, that’s still $1.8-million in revenue. Anyone know a muni that spends a million on maintenance? A course doing that number of rounds should churn out cash — or it is being mismanaged.

Which comes back to the real point — the development money. I actually understand that developing muni courses might make sense in overdeveloped areas. I’d advocate that for my new hometown of London — but I don’t think Calgary is overbuilt.

Once again, it comes down to disingenuous politicians. If Calgary’s mayor would just admit the city wants the tax revenue from developing the land, I might disagree, but at least I’d know he’s not spinning me.

As it is the closing of McCall, which happens next year, is all spin and no substance.

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Jeff Lancaster

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree completely with Mr. Thompson, the financial numbers they are reporting are bogus and misrepresented. I was a director of a private golf course several miles from McCall Lake and 3 years ago we renovated our course for 6 million including a state of the art irrigation system plus redoing numerous greens, all the bunkers with white sand from the BC interior as well as resodding a portion of the course.

    One overlooked stat is the closing of the par 3 course which was a wonderful way to introduce newcomers including children to the game at a modest price.

    McCall Lake closing is not going to effect me as I only have a few years of golf left in me but those with a modest income are going to have difficulty learning the game. It is unfortunate all the other city recreation facilities in the city receive subsidies and yet the city golf courses had generated a positive cash flow for decades. Last year the mayor had indicated they would not close any of the golf courses.

    And it is unfortunate the city will not open their books because I do not believe the course is losing money.

  • From the “talking head”.
    It is unfortunate that the city will not open its books to ease the minds of the concerned public golfers in Calgary. It also would have been helpful to see how the proposed $8 million in renovations at McCall would have been spent. I was asked to verify specific costs associated with golf course renovations (which I did). At no point did I suggest (as you wrote) that people play golf at privately-operated facilities. The NGCOA-Canada is a not for profit trade association that represents the business interests of ALL our member clubs; including Municipal (including the City of Calgary), Non-profits, Military and for profit facilities. A simple phone call or e-mail to the source would have been helpful in this case.

    Yours in Golf,
    Brent Hutches

  • How do you spell miss-management? mismanagement? missed management?
    email the Mayor: Naheed K Nenshi

    I had some ideas last year but he didn’t answer my email, maybe you’ll have better luck!

    The courses could lose money, if nobody is watching.

  • 58,505 rounds and they lost money!
    No wonder they don’t want to open the books!
    Maybe Golf Canada should buy the property and move the Calagry “teaching cente” there:).

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