City of Toronto Approves Move To Create Improved Operating Model For City Golf Courses

Don Valley Golf Course (Photo: City of Toronto)

The recent battle over the future of municipally-run golf courses in Canada’s largest city seems to have some resolution.

On Thursday, Toronto City Council received the findings from an external review of the City of Toronto golf operations and they have approved the recommendations. Those suggestions point to an improved operating model, a move to fortify the golf facilities with other complementary uses and public access, and the further development of golf programming.

“Throughout our pandemic response, we have done everything we can to provide more access and opportunity for people to get outside and be physically active,” said Mayor John Tory of the golf course decisions. “Maintaining City golf facilities in a prudent way that delivers a better experience for golfers, supports affordable access to the game for Torontonians and expands opportunities for how we use these spaces year-round is the right thing to do. Providing public access to these areas, primarily in the off-season, creates more opportunities to be outside and active, including for hiking, running, snow-shoeing, or cross-country skiing.”

The City says their staff recommendations are based on the public consultation with golfers and non-golfers. This included focus groups, a city-wide virtual meeting, five local community meetings, a market sounding with golf operators and a presentation to the Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Committee. They say more than 7,000 people were reached as part of the review’s public engagement program.

The city currently owns seven golf properties, with two of those, Royal Woodbine and Centennial Park under lease agreements to outside parties, so today findings are more related to the other fine city-operated courses – Dentonia Park, Don Valley, Humber Valley, Scarlett Woods, and Tam O’Shanter.

In a media release today, the City of Toronto states that these five golf courses will have a public/private partnership in place for their operations.

“Five City-operated golf courses – – will be operated under a hybrid model wherein the City retains responsibility for maintenance and approval of green fee rates, while pro shop and food and beverage operations are provided by a single private contractor. This model provides safeguards for access, affordability and financial sustainability while leveraging private sector expertise. A negotiated Request for Proposal (nRFP), which provides for a flexible approach to procurement, will be issued in the second quarter of 2022, with an operator selected in time for the 2024 season. Indigenous economic opportunities will be incorporated as a scored element for consideration in the nRFP process.

The improved hybrid model will provide improvements in customer experience, environmental stewardship, financial performance, and recreational opportunities.”

One of the contentious issues in the recent golf course use discussions was the proposal that the Dentonia Park Golf Course might be reduced to nine holes, to free up land for other purposes. After today’s findings were received Toronto City Council has given direction to city staff to continue the use of all 18 holes at Dentonia. At the same time they would like them to investigate further uses of the property for “year-round recreation, multi-use arrangements, increased accessibility and affordability for golf use, and access to Taylor Massey Creek trail ravine.”

The affordability aspect is a key for many in a city where costs are rising and not everyone has access to a vehicle to reach lower priced golf facilities outside of the urban sprawl. As a result City Council has mandated that the City Staff expand access to the courses and programs, make them more welcoming, and extend the Welcome Policy fee subsidy program for families with low incomes to junior golf memberships. To support that Staff have been told to develop partnerships that will focus on your programming and expanding access to golf.

Additional guidance from the report that has been approved for action includes: “Staff will also work to develop programming and engagement opportunities to increase access to golf for equity-deserving groups, and will continue to enhance off-season public access to the courses and expand complementary in-season programming. In recent years the City has added a number of off-season and after-hours uses for the courses that include winter snow loops for snowshoeing, fling golf and disc golf. Complementary uses will also focus on opportunities for enhancing environmental stewardship, growing the urban forest, restoring natural areas, and improving ravine access and trail connections, in alignment with the City’s Ravine Strategy and Parkland Strategy.”

In 2021 the City of Toronto golf courses hosted more than 195,000 rounds, the most since 2013.

Despite a shortened season due to COVID-19-related closures, increased demand for the sport in 2021 resulted in golf courses’ best year performance since 2013, with over 195,000 rounds played in 2021. This upward trend in golf rates of play was experienced across the country, and reinvigorated interest in the sport.

“Toronto’s golf courses are all affordable, high quality and TTC-accessible. Each course has unique characteristics and offers something for all skill levels. These improvements to the operating model will provide more opportunities for participation and help make these courses more financially and environmentally sustainable,” commented Councillor Jennifer McKelvie (Scarborough-Rouge Park), Chair of Infrastructure and Environment Committee.

Information on the courses is available at toronto.ca/golf and details on the review of golf course operations can be found on the City’s website. 

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