Proposed changes to public golf courses banned, golfers say

A city council committee is due to consider a new staff report on Tuesday that proposes dramatic changes to how the public uses some of Toronto’s five city-run golf courses.

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 expanded from 18 holes to nine. The space saved could be repurposed as a park, the report suggests.

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

Com. Brad Bradford was one of three councilors who wrote to the infrastructure and environment committee on Monday, recommending that the city’s Dentonia Park golf course not be reduced to nine holes, as a staff report suggests. (Radio Canada)

“Dentonia Park Golf Course is a unique and popular course for residents of 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 located on a subway line, in one of Toronto’s most diverse communities,” reads the letter, signed by councilors Brad Bradford, Paula Fletcher and Gary Crawford.

“Improving – not reducing – access to this special public route is key to recognizing and leveraging the benefits this City asset brings to many communities.”

Walk TO was quick to respond, tweeting on Monday afternoon: “A great opportunity to expand the trail network is unexpectedly jeopardized by councilors…need to let them know they are misplaced.”

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

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

The costs of running the courses have been rising and their popularity has been declining for several years, but the advent of the pandemic, the staff report notes, has drastically changed this trend.

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

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

The staff report suggests that the board consider various other non-golf related uses for the courses, primarily during the winter, but also during off-peak times during the playing season. It suggests guided nature walks, for example , disc golf and movie nights as potential uses.

The report notes that several city routes interrupt walking and hiking trails, limiting the public’s ability to use the trails.

“Three of the study routes – Tam O’Shanter, Don Valley and Dentonia Park – are located in ravine systems with existing multi-use trails,” the report said. “Due to limited access to golf courses, these trail systems divert users to adjacent roads or end following the golf course.”

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

But it’s Dentonia’s planned half-closure that seems to be getting the most attention.

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

As of Monday evening, this petition had collected approximately 2,500 signatures.

Com. James Pasternak, vice-chairman of the infrastructure and environment committee, told CBC Toronto he was also open to considering non-golf related uses for the courses.

Golf courses as shared spaces are nothing new, adviser says

Pasternak said turning city yards into shared spaces would not be new to Toronto.

“Toronto District School Board pools, where the city contributes $6 million to operate and maintain these pools…are shared (during) off-peak 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, director of golf services for Golf Ontario, is scheduled to give evidence at Tuesday’s committee meeting. He told CBC Toronto he had no problem with public access to off-season and off-peak classes. But his organization is strongly opposed to the proposed reduction at Dentonia.

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

Loughry said his group would like to see the city come up with a long-term strategy to guide the operation of public yards.

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

Any changes to the golf courses will need to be approved by City Council at its meeting next month.

Michael C. Ford