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Town purchases golf course

CARSTAIRS - The Town of Carstairs has purchased the Carstairs Community Golf Club at a cost of $700,000, say officials. The sale was approved by the club members at a meeting on Sept. 9.

CARSTAIRS - The Town of Carstairs has purchased the Carstairs Community Golf Club at a cost of $700,000, say officials.

The sale was approved by the club members at a meeting on Sept. 9. It was then approved by Carstairs council at its regular council meeting that same evening.

The Carstairs Golf Club was formerly a semi-private course with nearly 500 members each holding shares. The members ran the club through a society.

The club will fall under the auspices of the Town of Carstairs beginning on Oct. 1.

Mayor Lance Colby said the purchase of the golf course will be a benefit to the town.

"We look at it that we can bring the golf course in and run it through our administration," said Colby. "I think it's a good draw for the town. We feel we should keep that because a lot of people do come out here for the golf. In the (Mountain View Gazette) Readers' Choice Awards it was the number 1 golf course. We want to work at it and keep it that way."

Colby said there was some debate around whether the town should purchase the course.

"Acquiring the golf course is something that we had a lot of discussion about whether we should or shouldn't," said Colby. "The biggest fear is if we didn't pick it up and it went to a developer and they didn't look after it. What if they came back and said we can't operate it, we need to put a development in."

Colby said that money to pay for the golf course will come from both the town's reserve fund ($300,000) and a short-term loan ($400,000).

Carstairs CAO Carl McDonnell said that the town has been in discussions with the golf club for almost two years.

"We assisted them with their administration and human resource files," said McDonnell. "Through the progression of some of these discussions and given the current state of golf across the province and the weather they had last year -- golfers are getting older for the most part and not as many people are golfing -- so they're looking at the long-term viability of the golf course and what that looks like."

McDonnell said the town spoke to the board of directors and talked about the long-term viability of the golf course and the direction it needs to go in, as well as the importance of the course to the community.

"It's not just a golf course -- it's a large recreation site we have in town," he said. "It employs the largest number of kids in the summer months of any employer in town. It's definitely a big draw for people to come to Carstairs. Looking at that we met with the board and met with council in camera. We went through a series of negotations."

McDonnell said the town offered $700,000 to purchase the golf course, which was accepted. The town would assume the leases that the club had.

"They lease the golf carts they have," he said. "They have a four-year lease left on those and then they own them. We would take over those leases and make those payments."

McDonnell said the $700,000 would go to the society, which would then be responsible to pay off any debts associated with the golf club.

"The town will take over ownership of the course on October 1," he said. "Normally the course would be open until the weather turns but we're going to close on October 1. There are a list of projects that need to be completed prior to the fall. We'll be working on that with the staff at the golf course."

McDonnell said the three full-time golf course employees will be given offers of employment by the town including general manager Kirk Williscroft.

"We'll set it up like any other department of the town similar to the recreation department, like the arena or parks department," he said. "Kirk will be the department head. We'll look into level of service out there for the new season. The financials are part of the town but will be maintained separately."

McDonnell said the golf course must be self-supporting.

"The difference is we can restructure the debt and what we're paying out," he said. "We have the ability to restructure the debt and debt payments. So everything else looks like the golf course will be self-supporting. We won't be supporting it with tax dollars."

McDonnell said the town will be doing a full review of the operation including the membership fees and dues.

Williscroft told the Gazette the sale of the golf club to the town will be beneficial to all involved.

"It's a very exciting opportunity for the club and the existing members moving forward," said Williscroft. "We're very fortunate to be able to partner with the town and keep this golf course in Carstairs and keep it as a service to the locals and area."

Williscroft said there were a number of factors that led to the sale.

"There's certainly less people playing but also more place to play in the county," he said. "When this golf course was originally built 59 years ago there were two other golf courses in the county - now there are seven. You're competing for a minute population. We believe we have a great product and that we can provide the best service and amenities moving forward."

Williscroft said the day-to-day operations and management will remain the same.

"We just have the support of the town now as a backing," he said. "For most people coming in that have been here before they won't see a big change in the way we operate; our leagues will remain the same, the majority of our events will remain the same moving forward."

Alfred Pew, president of the Carstairs Community Golf Club, said selling the club to the town was in the best interest of the club.

"All over Canada you hear about golf courses going into receivership and that," said Pew. "We just felt with the town and Kirk talking about it we felt this was the best route for the golf course and the management."

Pew said the vote to accept the sale wasn't too close. He added that most members are pleased with the deal.

"Especially after we had our meeting and Carl (CAO McDonnell) talked to a lot of the membership and talked about the plans for the golf course," he said. "For example, we didn't have the funds for a lot of changes to the golf course and the clubhouse. With the town owning it now they can keep it up much better than us."