Toronto Mayoral Candidate Proposes Turning Golf Courses Into Public Parks

The idea might be a tougher sell than anticipated.

Toronto's Scarlett Woods Golf Course is one of three courses within city limits that mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposes converting to land for parks, arts hubs, sports fields or other public use. (Photo by Bill Hertha via Flickr)

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Urban planner and Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has come up with a proposal to create more green space in the city: if elected mayor, she says, she wants to turn three city-owned golf courses into public land.

The three courses are located on transit routes and are operating at a loss (subsidized by taxpayers). Keesmaat suggested Monday turning them into parks, arts hubs, sports fields or skating rinks, the CBC reported.

“They are a massive amount of land and land is an incredible resource in this city that we shouldn’t leave closed half of the year, which is what we are doing today,” she told the CBC.

Incumbent John Tory told the CBC that the idea is “nothing new” and said that Toronto city council commissioned a report in January to review all seven city-owned golf courses to “determine the best model for golf service delivery” over the next 20 years. The report, which the Toronto Star says was only to “review golf operations,” not propose alternate uses, is due in early 2019.

Keesmaat says that re-evaluating the city golf courses would be in line with what other Canadian cities have done recently. Vancouver is updating its 25-year public parks plan, which includes its golf courses. In 2012, park commissioners in that city proposed converting all or part of the transit-adjacent Langara Golf Course into either a park or a housing development. But, commissioner John Coupar told the CBC, “There were a lot of golfers [speaking out] and a lot of people who use our golf courses not just for golf, but the walking tracks around the courses.” Heavy opposition led to the city canceling the project. Since then, the CBC adds, average property prices on the Vancouver’s east side have increased by 78 percent, and 72 percent in the west side, while golf course use has “remained stagnant.”

Keesmaat’s proposal is slightly different than the failed Vancouver proposal, given that the Vancouver parks board hadn’t ruled out developing housing on the land. Keesmaat appears to be in favor of parkland only; her public statements have not referenced condominium or apartment development, but she has said that she supports the “highest and best use” of the land. Her opponent Tory has raised the specter of development. “I hope that when she said today that we would turn those into the ‘highest and best use’ she didn’t mean condo towers, because quite often when you use the expression ‘highest and best use’ it means more condo towers,” he told the Toronto Star.

Just over 150,000 rounds of golf were played at Toronto’s municipal golf courses in 2016, a 15.5 percent decrease from the 187,000 rounds played in 2007, the city said. Golf operations generate between $4.5 and $5 million in revenue but operate at a loss, and the city golf courses need $9.7 million in investment through 2026 to repair aging clubhouses and irrigation systems, among other repairs. A city report noted that these repairs are “basic infrastructure … requirements and do not address any service enhancements that may be required to remain competitive” with greater Toronto’s 100 public and semi-private golf courses. The report added that to compete with the other golf courses, municipal courses would need to add online tee-time booking, flexible fee structures, expand its pro shops, and make a “significant investment” in the food and beverages available at the courses.

In an unscientific Internet poll, readers of The Toronto Star at press time were in favor of converting the courses, 50 percent to 42 percent.

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Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: parkspublic spacetoronto

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