The uncertain future of Blumberg

The future of the Blumberg golf complex has been uncertain for the better part of a decade. It was 2013 when the city-owned property outside of city limits was declared surplus. Throughout that time the complex, which includes an 18 hole and a 9 hole golf course, has managed to evade the wrecking ball, but it’s not out of the woods (much like your drive on the tight par-5 14th hole.)

It had also been about a decade since I had golfed at Blumberg. The now-defunct Meadows golf course was longer, more interesting, had nicer greens and was closer to my house. I was not the only one staying away from Blumberg — patronage dropped to around 7000 rounds per year. That’s less than 40 rounds per day / 20 per course. That’s not good.

Rumours started circulating about the condition of the golf course deteriorating. It was not in great shape 10 years ago, but word on the street was that gophers were taking over the course. The grass was dying, the fairways were dry, and cracks were opening up releasing the eternal screams of tortured golfers from the depths of the underworld.

With debate about the property once again perking up, I decided to take an afternoon this fall to go check out the course to see for myself what kind of condition it was in.

To summarize: not as bad as I feared.

Like any of the public City of Winnipeg-owned courses, there are dead spots and weedy spots. You will want to play “winter rules” (i.e. move your ball if its on one of those spots) all year round. However, that is not necessary for the most part at Blumberg (I golfed the 18-hole course). The new operator Brian Campbell has apparently done some work getting water on the grass and upkeeping the course.

The fairways and greens are quite hard, but unlike the Windsor Park golf course, you do not have to spend 5 minutes cleaning clay off your club face if you take a divot at Blumberg.

The big question is: Is the course worth saving?

My answer is yes, partly because there are not many full-length public golf options around Winnipeg, especially now that Meadows has closed (to eventually be developed into a low-density exurban community.) As I’ve grouchily mentioned on this blog before, the City of Winnipeg does own three decent quality championship-length courses, but they are all operated as private courses without general access to the public. Cities are in the business of operating golf courses to provide affordable recreational options to the public, and right now Blumberg is the only city-owned option for golfers like me.

There is an opportunity cost associated with not selling a golf course. As I noted previously, developing just half the Canoe Club golf course could generate half a million dollars in property tax revenue every year. Blumberg, however, is located in the RM of Headingly, so there would presumably be no on-going revenue stream for the City, just revenue from the sale of the land. (Keeping the golf courses would net a modest sum of about $50,000 per year from the lease — similar to what the City gets for the Canoe Club lease.)

That revenue picture certainly needs to be considered, but the City is ostensibly trying to increase greenspace by 1,000 acres, and selling 200 acres of golf course does not help achieve that goal. There is value in greenspace, golf courses even. If it were feasible for the city to find 1,200 acres of more useful greenspace inside of city limits, the case for selling Blumberg would be a lot stronger. Call me skeptical, but I don’t see that happening.

Hanging on to Blumberg is a relatively affordable way for the city to stock it’s greenspace portfolio, if that’s the goal. It also includes treed river frontage that could be part of a winter ski-trail or something else down the road. So much river-frontage is in private hands, it is nice to hang on to it when we have it.

Having said that, I don’t think we need to be tied to that 1,000 acre number. It’s good to have goals, but just like maintaining our urban tree canopy is more urgent than the Mayor’s unrealistic goal to plant 1 million trees, having quality greenspace in places where it is needed most (urban areas) is more important than the goal of adding 1,000 acres wherever it may be.

So now what?

Last week Coun. Kevin Klein put forth a motion to rescind the declaration of Blumberg as “surplus”. That didn’t appear to go well. The Community Committee meeting minutes from Oct 27 state “The Assiniboia Community Committee did not make a recommendation on the matter as the motion was declared lost.”

I take this to mean that the property is still surplus, the city is still evaluating RFPs, and it’s future is still uncertain.

PRO TIP: I’m not a caesar guy, but I have been told by friends that the concession area at the Blumberg ball complex makes the best caesars in the city. Yes, you read that correctly.

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