It’s hard to look at damage on the front nine at the Wheat City Golf Course and wonder if it will ever be the same again.
But course manager Bryce Wilson says they are indeed making significant progress in the recovery from the devastating effects of last year’s flood of the century — or centuries, if you prefer.
“It looks way worse than what it is,” said Wilson, the city’s manager of recreation development.
Wilson is right on both counts.
I had the pleasure of playing the six holes on the back nine that are currently open — No.13 through No.18 — hitting the course on Canada Day Sunday with my better half, Barb.
While six holes do not a golf course make — and going around three times to make 18 can be a little monotonous — those six holes are in solid shape. The better news is that the Wheat City is finally planning to have nine holes in play starting on Saturday, July 14 when No.1, No.10 and a shortened No.12 will open.
While there is still plenty of work to do on the bulk of the front nine, which looks like a disaster zone on some holes, slowly but surely the course is getting back on track.
“I think we are getting close now,” Wilson said. “It’s been a long year and a half and we’re turning the corner here ...
“We’re hoping we can have 18 holes up by September, say the middle of September. We’re still kind of pushing for that, depending on the weather. But we would like to get people out on the 18 holes a few times, if that’s viable and feasible, to just have a look at it and see the changes that we’ve made and get them excited for 2013.”
It was back in 2010 the last time that 18 holes were open at the Wheat City club, a course with so much potential, featuring a well-treed natural scenic layout meandering along the Assiniboine River. Unfortunately, that proximity to the river has always posed a threat to the course, never more evident than last year’s flood that ravaged all of the low-lying holes. The city’s engineering department is expected to take a long look later this summer to see what can be done to improve the existing dike along the river to protect the rebuilt course in the future.
Wilson said the course has also already spent close to $100,000 on flood-related rebuilding capital costs and will spend another $50,000 more this summer as the bulk of the front nine is freshly reseeded and fairways are built up again after being torn up to install drainage and piping to help deal with long-standing water issues. Most of that money will be repaid to the city through the Disaster Financial Assistance program.
However, the course has also taken a huge hit in revenue, down close to $175,000 at this point compared to the last non-flood year in 2010, with memberships having dropped from 175 to 72.
Wilson is hoping the return to nine holes next week will bring back some of the longtime local golfers, with leagues and tournaments hopefully to follow next year.
“Obviously the revenues are down because we don’t have the full nine holes, but we’re hoping that will pick up (next week),” Wilson said.
“We’ve heard a lot of people want to be back at the golf course, but they obviously need nine holes, or 18 holes.”
Opening nine holes a week from tomorrow will be the first real sign of progress as the city-owned course strives to return to form. While we won’t get into the debate on whether the course should be publicly or privately owned or managed — a topic for another day — it’s good to see that there is finally something positive to write about at the Wheat City.
And while he hopes it never happens again, Wilson said rebuilding from the flood also gave the course the time to finally address long-standing drainage and ground-water issues on the front nine that had been a problem for decades.
“We’re happy with the changes that we’ve made and it’s going to help in the long run on the golf course,” Wilson said. “I hate to say it, but maybe the flood was a blessing in some regards, with all these projects that we needed to do and now we can do them since part of the course is closed.
“We’ve got to build momentum and we’ve got to recognize that it was a major disaster ... but I think 2013 will be a very good year.”
ICINGS: All is quiet on the Brandon Wheat Kings’ front as the club entered July still without a head coach hired for the 2012-13 WHL season. GM Kelly McCrimmon is believed to be considering long-time assistant coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, among others. Former coach Cory Clouston, fired by the Wheat Kings at the end of the season, was considered a candidate to return to the Kootenay Ice, but the Ice hired another former Kootenay bench boss, Ryan McGill. Clouston has now turned his attention to the vacant Victoria Royals job, according to the Victoria Times-Colonist. “There is definite interest on my part,” Clouston told the Times-Colonist this week.