As Toronto golfers tee up for the 2023 season, many in the golfing world hope for another banner year, but some advocates question if golf courses are the best use of public land.
Toronto's municipally-run golf courses open for the season on Tuesday. They've grown in popularity in the last few years, but aren't without detractors.
"Public green space in Toronto is really at a premium, in particular for people who don't have access to a backyard or a private green space," said Sarah Buchanan, campaigns director at the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
"Yet you know we've seen that there are five golf courses on city land that are largely inaccessible to the people who live right next to them in many cases, unless they're willing to pay to play golf."
Growing interest in the sport
In 2022, the city's golf courses had record high use, with 225,501 rounds of golf played — an increase of more than 30,00 compared to the previous year.
Craig Loughry, director of membership and member services of Golf Ontario, said early in the pandemic, a new crop of players were introduced to the sport for the first time as golf offered a way to get outside, be active and socialize.
"A lot of those new golfers that were introduced to the game have stayed and they're just as excited as those that have been golfing for 20 years, to get out and play," Loughry said.
Loughry said Golf Ontario is "aware of the perception" of golf as an exclusive sport, and said the organization is working to change that. He said municipally run golf courses help to make golf accessible to as many people as possible.
"You can get there by subway, by bus, very easily. And they're very friendly golf courses too. They're fun to play, they're well maintained, and the city of Toronto does a great job operating them," he said.
Expand use of space 'beyond just golf,' says advocate
In December 2021, city staff completed a report outlining the results of public consultations and recommendations for changes to the city's golf courses. One of those recommendations was to reconfigure the Dentonia Park Golf Course in Scarborough — the least used of the city's five courses — from 18 holes to nine, to make room for more public use green space, and a connected trail network.
City council ultimately decided not to reduce the Dentonia Park course, but it did commit to explore other year-round uses of the courses and opportunities for shared use.
Buchanan said she hopes the city continues to have discussions about shared use of the land, including during the mayoral byelection.
"There's a lot of overlapping really important priorities in Toronto that can be moved along if we just open our minds a little bit about what can be done on these golf courses beyond just golf."
There are a few non-golf activities available at the courses, including disc golf, walking paths in the winter, and fling golf — which combines elements of golf and lacrosse — in the spring and summer.
A city spokesperson said in an email to CBC Toronto that staff are exploring the feasibility of improving trail connections at the Dentonia Park site, but said there are "no firm plans."