A Brandon councillor says it’s time for the city to cut ties with the Wheat City Golf Course and sell off the property.
Coun. John LoRegio (Meadows-Waverly) questioned why the city continues to spend money on a service "that may or may not be required."
"We have to re-evaluate what services are priorities to the residents of Brandon, and I don’t think operating the golf course is," LoRegio said. "I know there’s going to be some people that are not going to like that, but there’s only so much tax money to go around."
A majority of the city-owned and operated Wheat City Golf Course is currently under water, due to the high Assiniboine River levels.
At the beginning of the season, the course opened with nine holes, then very briefly, it had all 18 holes open.
But once the river began to flood, the course could only operate six — holes 13 through 18.
"We had a full 18 open finally last year and we were anticipating a great year this year, and then the flood hit," said Bryce Wilson, the city’s manager of recreation development.
The course has been offering a $15 deal for golfers to play all day, and Wilson said the traffic has been moderate.
In 2011, the flooding Assiniboine River forced the course to close, causing significant damage. The course has reconstructed 12 greens and 11 fairways, covered under the Disaster Financial Assistance program. In 2012, six holes were open to begin the season with nine opening before the summer was completed.
In 2011 and 2012 combined, the city spent approximately $832,000 operating the facilities, which include the Rec Centre building and tennis courts. Wilson said in 2010, the course managed to break even, but in the following years it has lost money.
"Every year we have the same story, part of the golf course can’t be opened, we have to wait," LoRegio said. "We spend money fixing it up, getting it ready, I know this year DFA will cover the cost, but we’re at the point … let it go back to its natural self and sell what portions we can."
LoRegio pointed out that the city has several other recreation facilities that "desperately need money," such as the Sportsplex, soccer fields and the Keystone Centre.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg mayoral candidate Gord Steeves promised last week to sell city-owned golf courses to raise more than $100 million for road renewal. He pledged to liquidate the Kildonan Park, Crescent Drive, Windsor Park and John Blumberg golf courses and use the proceeds to fix roads.
Steeves said he believes councillors could be convinced to revisit the idea if they were presented with what he described as a "stark choice" between maintaining golf as a city service and respecting Winnipeggers’ desire for better roads. New property-tax revenue from developments on the three golf courses located inside the city would also be devoted to road repairs.
The water has started to recede at the Wheat City Golf Course, and now the Assiniboine’s banks are visible. However, pools of water remain on the fairways.
"We will be looking at utilizing some of the pumps that were remaining from the original flood control efforts, which are no longer needed," said Rod Sage, the city’s general manager of operations. "We’ll deploy those now down to the golf course to pump that water off."
Sage noted that prior to 2011, the course hadn’t flooded for 15 years, and it is a misconception that the course floods annually.
"There is standing water in areas of the golf course that wouldn’t normally be there when the river is low," he said.
As for remediation this year, Sage said the course is a site for the city’s disaster financial assistance claim, similar to Queen Elizabeth Park, Eleanor Kidd Park and Dinsdale Park.
"All work will be done following the same guidelines for all areas of the city impacted by the flood with costs borne by the DFA claim," Sage said at a recent council meeting.
"Cleanup costs are determined by the adjustors assigned by the DFA for each site remediation."
City administration "firmly believes" remediation of the course is required in order to maintain the value of this community asset, Sage added. The course has been city-owned since the early 1970s.
This year, the course had more than 175 season pass holders, and Wilson said many golfers and leagues recognize the need for this course in Brandon.
"We find that it’s a beautiful green space and we know that we need to offer a golf course in the City of Brandon and we’ve been directed by city council to operate a golf course," Wilson said.
"It’s good tourism, good marketing, it’s good for business. We’ve got a lot of supporters that’s for sure, but I’m sure we have a lot of naysayers as well."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press
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