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Golf course considered 'vital part' of tourism industry

The provincial government has announced $18 million towards redeveloping the flood-ravaged Kananaskis Country Golf Course as an investment in tourism.
The flood-ravaged Kananaskis Country Golf Course.
The flood-ravaged Kananaskis Country Golf Course.

The provincial government has announced $18 million towards redeveloping the flood-ravaged Kananaskis Country Golf Course as an investment in tourism.

The decision has been over a year in the making, as the government has been silent on the 36-hole course’s future after it was all but destroyed in the June 2013 flood. Only four holes were undamaged, however, the pro-shop, clubhouse, tournament centre and other golf course buildings on higher ground were undamaged and are valued at $15 million.

Darren Robinson, the golf course’s general manager, called the announcement good news, not only for the business, but for the community as well.

“It is awesome,” Robinson said. “It has been a long 13 months, so to get this news after that period of time and so much uncertainty for the golf course, for our community, for our local businesses, for our region, for tourism, for our local families, this is the most welcome news we could have hoped for and definitely a huge relief.”

Without the golf course, which employs approximately 150 people seasonally, the Village of Kananaskis experienced the economic fallout of not having it operating through two summer seasons so far.

“The golf course has been an anchor of the seasonal summer tourism business out here for 31 year and businesses out here rely on each other a fair bit,” Robinson said. “When you remove one of them from the mix it is a bit of a snowball effect and impacts all the other businesses. With the golf course being that main staple, that anchor, that impact is a little bit more significant.”

The provincial announcement of the funds recognized the significance of the course for tourism in the Kananaskis area and its importance to Albertans as a recreation destination.

“Kananaskis Country is part of our Alberta lifestyle, legacy and identity, and it is a vital part of our tourism industry,” said Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation Richard Starke. “We get away to Kananaskis to have fun and connect with nature, and so do people from around the world. Restoring parks infrastructure benefits the people in our communities, and helps support the local economy.”

The announcement included other investments in tourism for the village of Kananaskis, which sits in the centre of a provincial park and economically relies heavily on the golf course.

An additional $200,000 was announced for the Kananaskis Mountain Festival, which is in its second year, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 27.

Canmore Business and Tourism also represents Kananaskis as its destination marketing organization and organizes the mountain festival, starting it as a response to the devastating damage done during the floods to promote tourism.

CBT president and CEO Andrew Nickerson supported the announcement as a significant contribution to regional tourism as well.

“I think there is a perception out there that this is just a golf course and people come, they play golf and they go back to where they came from and there is no real knock-on effect,” Nickerson said, adding many people who golf also stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and shop. “For Canmore, the Kananaskis Country Golf Course being closed is a big hit because a lot of people build multi-day golfing packages with the idea that they will play all the fabulous courses in the region.

“When you take away a couple of courses from that inventory, it means people stay for less time, it is less attractive as an overall golfing destination and we see a decline in the packaging because of it and that isn’t just hotel room nights, it is all the businesses, including dining and retail.

“We are very happy to see the commitment to the course being open.”

Not all stakeholders in the province supported rebuilding the golf course. The Alberta Wilderness Association was critical of the decision and even opposed the establishment of the course in 1984 by the Peter Lougheed government.

Carolyn Campbell with the association said while the golf course is not their top concern in terms of land use because of its relatively small size, it is an urbanized, highly manicured, altered environment in an area preserved for people to get to know nature and the natural world.

After its development, Campbell said society came to understand more about the threatened fish populations in our headwaters and the important ecological role of alluvial fans.

“In 2010, for example, the Banff National Park management plan recognized the critical importance of alluvial fans and actually set targets to reduce disturbance there wherever possible and restore the natural functions of alluvial fans that spread out sediment, restore and reset fish habitat and also provide rich ecological areas for land animals,” she said.

“In the Kananaskis Village area you of course don’t have pristine wilderness, but in constructing that golf course on Evan Thomas Creek, which is a steep mountain creek that floods … it was redirected from its original path and so it seems the flood offered that opportunity to naturalize an area that will probably flood again and will probably wipe out any expensive infrastructure.

“It is just too bad from that point of view that the province didn’t take that chance to become more flood resilient to re-naturalize, especially given all the other golfing opportunities in the area.”

Government spokesperson Tim Chamberlin said of the $18 million announced, $3 million is earmarked for flood mitigation.

“We will work with expert golf course designers and engineers to make the course less vulnerable to flood damage,” he said, adding the government expects the majority of cost will be reimbursed through the federal government’s Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. “This includes additional sediment traps and more armouring of the restored berms to protect Alberta’s investment.”

Robinson said he hopes to get as much accomplished late this summer and fall to get reconstruction underway.

“So much depends on the variables that are outside of our control, like the weather, but we are hoping to make some big strides here now and toward the end of summer, but I think it is fair to say it will be two to three years,” he said.

When it was open, about 60,000 rounds of golf were played at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course annually, 85 per cent by Albertans. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, it is one of only two publicly accessible 36-golf courses in Alberta, and has been consistently ranked as a top 100 course in Canada by Score Golf Magazine.

A 2011 economic impact study of Kananaskis Country showed as a whole the area has $192 million in tourism expenditures, 1.1 million visits, full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs sustained province-wide of 3,023 and a province-wide economic impact of $202 million.

For the same year, the golf course represented a province-wide economic impact of $14 million, 175 FTEs and $7.1 million in generated taxes.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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