"We have to re-evaluate what services are priorities to the residents of Brandon, and I don’t think operating the golf course is. 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."
— Coun. John LoRegio (Meadows-Waverly)
Finally, some foresight from a city leader on the future of the city-owned and operated Wheat City Golf Course — currently under water, due to the high Assiniboine River levels. Again.
In a story in yesterday’s Brandon Sun, Coun. John LoRegio — a former radio reporter who covered city hall for years — verbalized what a growing number of other councillors and declared candidates for council have told the Sun in recent weeks.
It’s time to sink the final putt on the Wheat City Golf Course. Certainly, it’s not a decision that will be without controversy, as some locals really enjoy driving down McDonald Avenue to the gorgeous links.
The course has always been a bogey in the side of city council, as it has had financial troubles for years. Attempts were made to sell or lease all or part of it, but it was to remain as a golf and recreation facility.
But nothing has really ever stopped the conversation over the hundreds of thousands of dollars that has been pumped into the soggy city asset.
It is always late in fully opening in the spring due to normal flooding of the lower levels close to the riverbank. But it appears our one-in-300-year floods could become more commonplace, thus making the course largely inoperable.
It’s a huge white elephant sitting on what could be some valuable land for developers. People with deep pockets and big ideas who could decide what land is suitable for much-needed housing, and what land should be left as greenspace (or lakefront property).
You see, the decision to close the course has been made by Mother Nature. All city council has to do is rubber stamp her motion and move on.
But that won’t happen with our current lame duck group. We have a table full of folks — apart from Coun. LoRegio, so far — who are more apt to pass Motherhood and Apple Pie bylaws than deal with anything controversial as the Oct. 22 municipal election looms ever closer.
And that results in the city’s administration making statements such as this in yesterday’s Sun:
"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," said Bryce Wilson, the city’s manager of recreation development.
"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."
It’s not great tourism — we’re not talking the Clear Lake Golf Course here, folks — and us taxpayers are certainly under no obligation to "offer a golf course in the City of Brandon."
Wilson is correct when he states, "we’ve been directed by city council to operate a golf course," but that all might change if our new council this fall decides to make the smartest business decision for the city.
Yes, there are supporters. Why wouldn’t there be? When the former Wheat City Golf Course was fully functional, it was an amazing place to golf, play tennis, go for a walk, or in winter, cross-country ski or curl. It had a nice lounge and good restaurant. It was always bustling.
But those days are long, long, long gone.
Stop the wasteful insanity spending taxpayer dollars on a course that is now obsolete. There are many fine — and generally high and dry — courses hugging the city or within a short drive.
We don’t need highly paid city employees such as Rod Sage, the city’s general manager of operations, spending his time trying to salvage what’s left of the Rec Centre Golf Course.
"We will be looking at utilizing some of the pumps that were remaining from (this summer’s) flood control efforts, which are no longer needed," Sage said Monday. "We’ll deploy those now down to the golf course to pump that water off."
Sage told the Sun that prior to 2011, the course hadn’t flooded for 15 years, and it is a misconception that the course floods annually. We weren’t aware that Sage was also a soothsayer when it comes to weather. Who knows what next year will bring?
Council has to stop living in the past when it comes to the municipal golf course. It should be placing its focus squarely on finding a new home for the Optimist Park soccer complex, also built on low-lying land that has been repeatedly flooded — including this spring and summer.
Brandon Youth Soccer Association director of youth soccer Gerry Rocan told the Sun recently the facility has never fully recovered from a devastating flood in 2011.
"Usually we’re not wanting to see floods at all. It’s starting to be like we’re seeing these every couple years, but to have this happen again in the same year, it’s never happened before," he said.
"If you’re going to flood twice in a couple of months of each other, it basically tells you that you’re done. There’s no possible way, and not just for the soccer park, but for everything else that goes down the Assiniboine like how about Dinsdale Park and Queen Elizabeth Park and the Wheat City Golf Course. What are we doing if we’re constantly putting money into that stuff to revive it? Are we just basically wasting our time and resources or do we need to do something else?"
Those are some of the questions that need to be posed to candidates in the lead up to the fall election.
We need solid, defined leadership on this file.
The City of Brandon shouldn’t be in the business of operating a golf course. The sad financial track record supports that statement.
It used to house a popular Mum’s Family Restaurant. No longer. It used to be a popular curling destination. No more. It used to be a nice reliable place for locals to play a round of golf. No longer. And it just can’t continue to be a money pit for the city and disaster assistance programs from higher levels of government.
Coun. 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.
We couldn’t agree more, sir.