Why are Canadian municipal courses struggling?
Published on Friday, May. 24, 2013 09:43PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 10:58AM EDT
Municipal golf courses across Canada are struggling. Courses in Winnipeg, Kitchener, London and Thunder Bay have all turned to the taxpayers for help as they struggle with finances. Now, courses in Toronto look set to be the latest to seek taxpayer’s help. It has been reported that the city’s five municipal courses are all struggling with finances and may soon need bailing out by the city.
Of course, taxpayers in these cities are not happy. After all, not everyone plays golf, and many Canadian taxpayers don’t see why they should have to pay for somebody else’s pastime. This is understandable, but without municipal courses, golf is in danger of becoming an elitist sport, played only by a wealthy few that can afford the high fees of private courses.
Part of the problem, according to the Toronto’s auditor general, who has issued a report into the city’s struggling municipal courses, is that maintenance costs are extremely high. This is true of the country’s other struggling municipal courses too, where the money coming in is not offsetting the high costs of maintenance crews. The problem, it seems, is that unlike private courses, municipal maintenance crews are employed by the city, and are therefore members of a union. This means they earn far more than the crews employed by private courses do.
While private course have been struggling too, the high costs associated with the maintenance of municipal courses has created the strange situation where some private courses are able to compete against them on price. This is especially true for golfers who play at least once a week, who may find an annual club membership cheaper than the costs charged by their local municipal course. However, by allowing the closure of municipal courses, which is being discussed in many areas, such as Vancouver, golf could soon be restricted to only those that can afford annual memberships, which will a decline in those that play golf less frequently, and in particular, this means younger players.
Golf is already struggling to attract the next generation of players, and a decline in municipal courses will only see the situation get worse. Golf is not a cheap sport and there are far easier sports for young people to get into. Soccer, baseball, lacrosse and basketball, don’t have any where near the same costs associated with playing golf, which has resulted in fewer young players taking up the sport.
While it is true, golf has always had a stuffy and fusty image, Canadian golf has been aware of this disconnect with younger players for some time and there have been moves to attract the next generation of champions, such as the new Golf in School program. However, a loss of municipal courses could undo all this good work, and lead to a future crisis in Canadian golf, which will struggle to find the next generation of professionals.
Perhaps one solution is to sub-contract the maintenance of municipal courses to the private sector, which will be able to do it far more cheaply. However, the high maintenance costs are only part of the problem. Another aspect to all this is the expectation that municipal courses should be making a profit. All the struggling courses in Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Kitchener and London Bay are being managed as a business. In other words, the courses have a business plan in which the intention is to make money. However, this is perhaps the wrong attitude to take.
Few other taxpayer funded recreational facilities are designed this way. Nobody expects a library to make money, so why should we expect it from a municipal golf course? While it has been traditional that municipal courses have generated an income for a city, just because this has now stopped, it doesn’t mean it is a cause to close the courses.
All cities have a public duty to supply some
recreational facilities to the public to maintain the health of its citizens,
and golf courses are no different from soccer pitches, public parks and sports
halls. Many of these facilities don’t make any money, and even need the
occasional taxpayer handout to keep going, so municipal golf courses should be
Lily McCann writes health articles on behalf of KwikMed - one of only two fully licensed prescribing online pharmacies in the US.