Highrises or renovations? The future of Calgary golf is up for debate

Calgary's public golf courses may see some changes rolling down the green. City council is poised to debate their futures later this month.

City staff may study options for courses that aren't breaking even

Golfers in and around the city will be watching council closely as the debate about municipal courses continues. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Calgary's public golf courses may see some changes rolling down the green.

City council will soon debate if it should direct staff to consider options for the future of its eight courses. That could mean anything from rezoning the land to build highrises, selling the courses for development or renovating the clubhouses.

The options are theoretical but a solid analysis would allow council to have some numbers to use in the future, should the courses fail to make money by the projected time.

The city has run municipal golf courses for more than 100 years, and currently has eight municipal courses and three driving ranges at six locations.

The golf courses have historically broken even, but since 2013, they've received an average of $700,000 in taxpayer subsidy a year. Currently, city staff estimate the courses generate $10 million annually in direct economic activity.

A council committee is taking steps to consider how Calgary can get them back to being self-sustainable. Last fall, the city agreed to take steps to help them make money — which administration believed would be possible by 2022.

The latest step would see staff assessing the value of the land and what options the market could support.

The city previously analysed the McCall Lake Golf Course and determined the best option was not to develop the land but to renovate the course. 

Calgary runs the courses to make golf accessible to more people. Fees are typically much lower than private clubs. The clubs see more than 300,000 visits each year, including visits through a program for low-income families and youth.

Hire contractors, councillor urges

One councillor is renewing his call on the city to get out of the golf course business entirely.

Coun. Joe Magliocca would like see contractors manage courses because he says companies know how to turn a profit through business management and cutting wages, which are currently protected by negotiated collective agreements.

He thinks that would save between $6 million and $7 million — figures not cited in the preliminary staff report.

"We're always looking for savings, and that's my job as custodian of tax dollars," Magliocca told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

He said they leave no stone unturned as they seek savings.

"And this is a big savings for capital and operation."

Magliocca said he's already spoken with many private operators who've expressed interest, and he's suggested 25-year leases. They've promised, he said, to not allow the quality to decline nor the cost to increase under their watch.

Hear more about Magliocca's ideas for golf courses:

City council is expected to consider the recommendation to assess the value of municipal golf courses by the end of May.

The city's golf courses include Confederation Park, Lakeview, Maple Ridge, the recently renovated McCall Lake, Richmond Green and Shaganappi Point.

Have ideas for the future of Calgary's municipal golf courses? Share yours in the comments.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener