London

River Road Golf Course a drain on city funds, should be closed: report

A new report going before city council next week recommends closing River Road Golf Course, nearly a decade after council voted against a staff recommendation to do just that. 

The course ran a loss of over $70K in 2018, report says

There is much discourse about re-purposing golf courses across the country, and in North America. (iStock)

A new report going before city council next week recommends closing River Road Golf Course, nearly a decade after council voted against a staff recommendation to do just that. 

The report, compiled by consulting firm KPMG and commissioned by the city as part of a standard service review, says the course operated at a loss of more than $70,000 in 2018. The course is near Veterans Memorial Parkway and River Road in London's east end. 

 On Feb 4, city staff will ask to hold public participation meetings and study the position further.

"There was no public consultation as part of the KPMG process, and you know as usual in the public service that most certainly is very important to us. " Jon-Paul McGonigle, of the city's park and recreation division, said. 

In 2011, city staff recommended closing the facility but council voted against it after the community spoke out. Instead, the businesses were rearranged so that all three of the city-run courses would operate as one, sharing revenue as needed. 
 On Feb 4, city staff will ask to study the report's findings further. (Facebook/City of London Municipal Golf Courses)

But in 2018, River Road's loss was greater than the profit from the other two courses combined, resulting in a loss for the entire golf course system. Additionally,  it would need over $8 million in upgrades in the next ten years. If River Road members turned to other municipal courses, the city could be looking at a revenue bump.  

London's 'over-supply'

River Road is the latest golf course to follow a downward trend of participation in the sport. The course has seen a 37.5 per cent decrease in the number of rounds played since 2012.  

"The age of the player getting older and our industry needs to do a better job, just like others, of figuring out a way to connect with the younger 20 and 30-year-olds, said Brian Gallant, director of the London Junior Golf Development Centre. He said the fact that River Road is running a loss is an indication there's "an over-supply in the area."

There are more than a dozen golf courses in the city, and more in the surrounding area.  

McGonigle, who looks after sports services for the city, says golf is a stand-out sport in his portfolio because it's not often a sport's effectiveness is judged on its profit. 

"It most certainly is a unique service for us, but we generally believe that the golf, like other activities, helps parks and recreation meet its mandate for its citizens."

Paid for by golfers

As for job losses that could come with possible closure, McGonigle says, he's confident the parks and recreation division can move workers to different opportunities. 

"But I think that I think that's part of the reason that we should be consulting and reporting back. The KPMG report doesn't talk about job impact or people impact." 

To that end, McGonigle expects the golfing community to demand a say in what happens next to the course. 

"Golfers in London feel high ownership of the city courses and the city system because it was paid for by golfers," he said, referring to club fees and memberships.  "Since 1924, when the system was born, golf has always paid for golf."

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