Has the time come to consider different uses for the Maple Ridge Golf Course, a municipally owned facility which has become a very expensive subsidized playpen for too few people?
The course currently generates $140,000 per year in lease payments for use of the approximately 40-acre site, a true bargain by any standards.
For mixed residential development purposes alone, the site could probably accommodate between 400 and 500 home sites. That would generate hundreds of jobs during the construction phase and many times the current $140,000 in ongoing annual municipal revenues.
It goes without saying that any future use of the property must recognize its historical importance as the birthplace of Maple Ridge, but that can easily be incorporated into any subsequent development.
The current operators of the course claim these are tough times for nine-hole golf courses. If true, that begs the question, should the municipality be in competition with privately owned courses facing the same challenges, but do so without municipal subsidies?
The financial return to taxpayers for use of the multi-million dollar site is pitifully low and there doesn’t seem to be enough business to make it pay without attracting golfers from other areas.
Again, should Maple Ridge taxpayers be required to subsidize golfers from other municipalities through the incredibly low lease rates paid by the golf course operators?
In today’s world, no major amateur sport could exist without taxpayer subsidies, but the level of that support should be justified by the number of local participants, a challenge the Maple Ridge Golf Course would have a difficult time meeting.
Even the heritage aspects of maintaining the golf course are questionable as it seems it was originally settled as a farm, not a golf course. Of course, as any oldtime residents of Hammond could tell you, sledding is also a very popular historic use of the golf course, whenever there’s enough snow.
There were even historic instances of a few of Hammond’s bad boys who enjoyed the profitable pastime of stealing stray golf balls and selling them back to the clubhouse before the actual owners had a chance to retrieve them.
Times have changed and some these historic activities have abated or disappeared altogether.
The golf course has been enjoyed by many over the years, but that use has become too expensive to expect all taxpayers to subsidize its continued existence for the benefit of the few remaining golfers.
With all of the required urban services available at or nearby, it makes perfect sense to develop the site in a manner whereby greater numbers of local residents and taxpayers would benefit, not just a few local or out of town golfers.
Golf is a relatively expensive sport for its participants. But, in the case of the Maple Ridge Golf Course, it’s also expensive for all non-golfing taxpayers.
If the golf course must be retained, the lease fees should reflect market value based on the highest and best use of the site, and that probably is not as a subsidized golf course, which pays little or no property taxes.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.