Toronto Municipal Golf Programs Lean Into Winter Recreation


A loop of snow on the Humber Valley Golf Course

City of Toronto

Most golf courses in cold climates are fallow in the off-season. To make its five urban courses suitable for winter, the city of Toronto added trails for hikers and cross-country skiers.

The idea to expand the use of the courses operated by the city came about when using the GPS map service of today’s Deacon Tool of the USGA, a facility management platform with which high-play areas, cycle times, game speeds can be identified and analyzed bottlenecks and a variety of other critical data points that can be used to streamline operations and maximize performance.

“Usually we use this service to try to find out where golfers are on a golf course so that we know where we need to concentrate resources. We don’t spend as much time looking after areas that golfers don’t go to as we do with the high-play areas, ”explains Zach Nicoludis, agronomist for the USGA Central Region.

The city used data from analyzing golf course player usage to draw trails through low-traffic areas, often through cart paths, out-bound areas and rough, along with strategically positioned fairway junctions that have minimal impact on the road Lawn there. The “snow loops”, as they are officially called, were marked out with trail markers for the first time last winter and have just opened again. Trails on the front and back nines on the 18-hole courses and single loops on the smaller holes run between 1 and 2.5 km and always lead back to the clubhouse.

“These are the only golf courses I know of that have used the Deacon platform in this way. We didn’t expect it to be used like this, but there are plenty of golf courses in northern climates and whether snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or bird watching trails this can help confirm where these different areas of use can be placed. “Adds Nicoludis.

Aerial view of the Don Valley golf course

City of Toronto

The City of Toronto looked for ways to increase outdoor recreational opportunities during the pandemic and started the project from the start.

“What better way to present our golf courses than for the citizens to see these beautiful properties in winter. We hope they want to come out, look at the properties and come back in the summer and play golf, ”says Goran Mitrevski, the city park manager who oversees the golf courses.

‘Grow the game’ has been the refrain of the golf industry for decades, but getting non-golfers onto the course for alternative recreational use is actually an idea with much longer roots. The Old Course in St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, turns into a public park on Sundays, open to dog walkers, joggers, and tourists who want to take a selfie at the Swilcan Bridge.

Municipal courses are currently under fire from local governments suspicious of subsidizing large properties that are only used by a small section of the community. The five Muni courses (Dentonia Park, Don Valley, Humber Valley, Scarlett Woods and Tam O’Shanter), on which a total of 170,495 rounds were played last year, are currently under review by the City of Toronto.

“You are deciding what the strategy for these properties will be in their future and how these properties will be used in the larger park, forestry and recreation plan,” said Craig Loughry, director of golf services at Golf Ontario.

Two of the golf courses are just a short hop from underground stations and all five can be reached by public transport, making them accessible even for younger players and city dwellers without a car.

“Public golf holes are very important. The city of Toronto has low supply compared to demand and urban golf courses are one of them. If there is a reduction it will hurt the game, and I think it will hurt the city as well, as it locks the door to the youth and communities that use these facilities, which would be unfortunate, ”added Loughry.

As for the chips, once the government review process is complete, Loughry believes all five golf courses will survive, but predicts that one or two of them could see hole reductions, possibly in the service of improving the city’s existing cross-country ski run that could then run across golf courses. However, the added benefit of winter snow loops could serve as a lifebuoy to keep courses largely intact.

“I think it can make a difference and I hope it does. I hope, on the other hand, that golf gets the way it is or gets better and the city starts investing in these properties in the form of both golf and possibly winter activities when they are not in use, ”says Loughry.