John Blumberg golf course littered with gopher holes and mud patches, likely to be sold by city

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John Blumberg Golf Course will open for 2017, after all

Golfers won't likely be yelling "fore!" at John Blumberg Golf Course this summer. Instead, the city could be putting up a "for sale" sign at its largest course in Headingley. 

The city terminated a contract with a private operator in January, over "performance issues." The city's chief corporate services officer Michael Jack said he can't discuss details of those performance issues involving contractor Ben Smirnov.

A CBC tour Monday of John Blumberg, which is located along the Assiniboine River in Headingley, found the 81-hectare golf course littered with gopher holes and mud patches. 

Jack declined to directly link the current state of the course with the contract termination.

"It's obviously fair to say that if someone lets a course deteriorate that's likely going to have an impact on the number of rounds you can generate in a season," he said. "So it really would be speculative, but certainly one possible reason why performance was an issue."

Jack said as soon as the contract with Smirnov was terminated, the city courted another golf course expert to take over Blumberg for this season. But he says they were likely spooked by all the repairs and upgrades which are desperately needed. Jack said the city is still tallying up the cost.

Jack says in the meantime the city will maintain the golf course to keep it in a saleable state.

"If it lays dormant, the city will maintain the property to ensure that if someone wanted to operate it in the 2018 season, we wouldn't let it get to irreparably damaged or in a state of disrepair," he said.

City needs to act: Jack

Jack said it's unfortunate the city doesn't have more time to find an operator for this golf season, which is already underway. But he says the city must finalize a plan for Blumberg soon.

"What the city needs to do, regardless, is just ensure that any loss is being minimized. And therefore we can't take on any unnecessary risk there, given that this is a property that our council declared surplus and gave direction in 2013 to go market the property," he said.

Jack agrees Blumberg probably won't host any golfers this season.

"Anything's possible, and by that I mean we are having some discussions and exploring some options. But it became fairly clear that we likely, not certainly, but likely aren't operating golf out of there this year," said Jack.

Anyone who purchased a membership will get a full refund or be accommodated at another city course. The city says only 17 memberships were sold but anyone needing a refund should contact 311.

Smirnov did not want to be interviewed but told CBC that if anyone had purchased a 10-game pass, it would be honoured at the Canoe Club, which he also manages.

Jack said a "for sale" sign will likely go up on the property soon.

"That remains to council direction. Particularly given this development I would expect that we're going to proceed in that direction now. Perhaps even on a more expedited basis."

 "[The city] already declared it surplus and directed us to go sell the property. They've already made their decision. In terms of marketing the property itself, not being a real estate professional myself, I've been advised that for a piece that large with so many potential uses, that it's somewhere between one and three years is kind of the realistic window that you'd expect to conclude a deal like that," said Jack.

The city did have the Blumberg property on the market for about a year, but received no serious offers.

Changes to zoning could lead to development opportunities

Since the last time the course was on the market, the Rural Municipality of Headingley has updated its zoning regulations. In 2013 the land was designated for recreational use and had to be sold and used as such. That's now changed.

"Last fall, we adopted a new development plan which designates it now as neighbourhood, so it opens up the future for different types of development other than recreational," said Headingley CAO, Chris Fulsher.

That means the land could be developed for housing or retail, or it could stay recreational, but any changes would be several years away, he said.

Fulsher says the R.M. is already at its target growth rate with the current land already designated to be developed. He says regardless of when the golf course sells, Headingley hopes to be involved in the process.

"It's a huge piece of property in our community and a very attractive location, and we really have an interest in seeing what the future holds for it and we've indicated that to the city," said Fulsher.