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Proposed changes to public golf courses are out of bounds, golfers say | CBC News

A city council committee is set to mull over a new report from staff on Tuesday that proposes dramatic changes in the way that the public uses some of the five city-run golf courses in Toronto.

The report to the infrastructure and environment committee recommends that Dentonia Park, the smallest and least used of the city’s five public golf courses, be cut from 18 holes to nine. The saved space could be repurposed as parkland, the report suggests.

On Monday, three city councillors drafted a letter to the committee criticizing that suggestion and offering an alternative.

Coun. Brad Bradford was one of three councillors who wrote to the infrastructure and environment committee on Monday, recommending that the city’s Dentonia Park golf course not be pared down to nine holes, as a staff report suggests. (CBC)

“Dentonia Park Golf Course is a unique and highly appreciated course for residents across the East End and Toronto, providing an affordable entry into the sport of golf. There are few courses in the country as accessible and affordable as Dentonia Park, which is situated on a subway line, in one of the most diverse communities in Toronto,” the letter, signed by councillors Brad Bradford, Paula Fletcher and Gary Crawford, says. 

“Enhancing — not reducing — access to this special public course is vital for recognizing and building upon the benefits this City asset brings to many communities.”

Walk TO was quick to respond, tweeting on Monday afternoon: “A big opportunity to extend the trail network is being unexpectedly jeopardized by councillors … need to get them to know they’re being misguided.”

A dog walker takes advantage of the city’s public Tam ‘O Shanter golf course to go for a stroll. During winter months, public courses are open for a variety of non-golf activities. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The city operates five golf courses: Dentonia Park, Don Valley, Scarlett Woods, Tam ‘O Shanter and Humber Valley. 

Costs of operating the courses have been rising and their popularity has been waning for several years, but the advent of the pandemic, the staff report notes, dramatically shifted that trend.

The number of rounds played per year soared from 159,910 in 2019 to 195,164 in 2021 — a number that would have been higher had COVID not forced the closure of the courses between April 17 and May 22.

Coun. James Pasternak, co-chair of the infrastructure and environment committee, says the city should be looking at ways to share resources like public golf courses with other users. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The staff report suggests council look into a variety of other, non-golf uses for the courses, mainly during the winter, but also during off-peak times during the playing season. It suggests guided nature walks, for instance, disc golf and movie nights as potential uses.

The report notes that several of the city’s courses interrupt walking and hiking trails, which limits the public’s ability to use the paths.

“Three of the courses under review — Tam O’Shanter, Don Valley, and Dentonia Park — are situated within ravine systems with existing multi-use trails,” the report states. “As a result of the limited access to the golf courses, those trail systems divert users onto adjacent roads or terminate as a result of the golf course.”

The Don Valley Golf Course was the busiest of the five city-operated public golf courses in 2020, with almost 35,000 rounds played, according to a city staff report. (Mike Smee/CBC)

But it’s the proposed closure of half of Dentonia that seems to be drawing the most attention.

Aside from the letter from Dentonia’s three councillors, an online petition is also calling for the course to be left alone.

By Monday evening, that petition had garnered about 2,500 signatures. 

Coun. James Pasternak, vice-chair of the infrastructure and environment committee, told CBC Toronto he’s also willing to consider non-golf uses for the courses.

Golf courses as shared spaces not new, councillor says

Pasternak said turning the city courses into shared spaces would be nothing new for Toronto.

“The Toronto District School Board pools, where the city contributes $6 million to the operation and maintenance of those pools…are shared (during) off hours with the general public,” he said. “We have to take some of the concepts of the shared economy and apply them here so that all groups can be accommodated.”

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario’s director of golf services, is scheduled to give a deposition at Tuesday’s committee meeting. He told CBC Toronto he has no problem with the public accessing courses during off-season and off-peak hours. But his organization is dead set against the proposed reduction at Dentonia.

“We are against the reduction of holes and minimizing any kind of golf opportunity for the public,” he said. “It should be part of the overall recreational offering of the city.”

Loughry said his group would like to see the city come up with a long-term strategy to guide the way the public courses operate.

“We would be happy to help the City of Toronto form that strategy…not just for the next couple of years, but for the next five, 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. “That’s what we should be looking at here.”

Any change to the golf courses would have to be approved by city council at its meeting next month.

 

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