By Karlene Skretting
Westwind Weekly News
There was standing room only Tuesday evening in Magrath council chambers as over 50 citizens gathered to voice their opinions and concerns after hearing that the Town of Magrath had a prospective buyer interested in purchasing the Magrath Golf Club.
Council ultimately took the passionate pleas, of both golfers and non golfers alike, to heart and decided in camera after the meeting to take the discussion of selling the golf course off the table.
“After last night’s meeting it became evident to us that it wasn’t the right time,” said Mayor Russ Barnett Wednesday morning in a follow up interview. “We have a passionate group of dedicated golfers and members out there that enjoy the golf course.”
Council has told the buyer, who approached them earlier in the month, that the golf course is not for sale and council will not explore other options, assured Barnett.
The 18-hole Magrath Golf Club was established in 1925. It is currently its own entity and operates on its own, but sits on 214 acres of land owned by the Town of Magrath.
Many volunteer hours, donated materials and labour went into making the course what it is today, and to keeping it that way, acknowledged Mayor Barnett in his opening comments Tuesday night.
When residents and board members heard that the golf course may be bought by a private investor, that did not sit well. Normally, maybe one or two people attend and listen to a Magrath council meeting, but a large group gathered to make a point and discuss an item that wasn’t even formally on the agenda. Every one just rightly assumed it would come up during the public forum.
Concerns raised at the meeting included the fact that the course puts Magrath on the map and that it is the one thing Magrath has become known for. Many residents moved to Magrath instead of other bedroom communities to have easy access to the course.
Residents were also concerned with the Town selling the property and the potential owner deciding that they did not want to keep the property as a golf course even though it is zoned for such.
The fact that the course is 90 years old and an important part of Magrath’s heritage also came up frequently.
“We are greatful that the Town has made this decision. And we thank all the community for their tremendous support,” said Josh Walker, the head golf professional at Magrath Golf Club Wednesday morning.
“I think there is a great relief and comfort knowing that the Town is going to be hanging onto this land and that it will continue operating as a golf course.”
Mayor Barnett and the rest of council were impressed with the good representation of the golf course members, from the Town of Magrath, that shared their passion for the course.
“And that was sort of what tipped the scale and helped us come to the conclusion that we did,” said Barnett. Council spent another hour in camera after the council meeting, debating how to proceed, until after 10 p.m.
“We are elected to listen to those people, that’s what we are there for,” said Barnett. “A wise man changes his mind all the time, a fool never does. I’ve lived by that a few times.”
Council ultimately decided that they had no reason to “pull the rug out from under them. It just seemed like the wrong thing to do.” They stressed that they did not feel like the course has been miss managed or operated in any way.
In 2009 when the town backed the Golf Club and cosigned for a $350,000 loan to purchase a new pumping system they proved that the town and board can work together in times of need.
Since then the Golf Club has not missed or defaulted on a payment, despite unpredictable financial burdens like poor weather, a decline in recreation time and an increase in competition from a larger number of golf courses in recent years.
“They say there was 10 million less rounds of golf played last year in North America than the year before. There is a bit of a down turn in the golf industry,” said Mayor Barnett during the Tuesday meeting.
That stat supports the decline in membership at the Magrath Golf Club over the years. At its peak in the 1970s the course had over 700 members and a waiting list. Currently there are 200 members, 46 of which live in Magrath. Ccouncil realizes many just opt to pay green fees when they pay.
That was council’s biggest dilemma – sell now and get a return, or wait and possibly make less on a sale at a later time.
Mayor Barnett and the rest of council argued strongly Tuesday night in favour of selling the course but as the night proceeded and the citizens comments kept coming, it didn’t make sense, he admitted, noting the course has met its obligations and it hasn’t cost the town any money.
The Magrath Golf Club has never been in better condition said Mayor Barnett adding that 2015 is shaping up to be a profitable year.
Council is confident that the course will continue to keep Magrath on the map and bring people to the community.
“We hope that we can provide a golf course for the community for the next 90 years,” added Walker.