LAC LA BICHE - The Lac La Biche Golf and Country Club will receive $4.5 million for upgrades over the next seven years to revitalize the 70-year-old aging property. The municipal funding will go towards green space, amenities, utility services and any other necessary infrastructure projects to the 18-hole course that sits on the 86-acre property.
The decision was approved by Lac La Biche County councillors at a recent public meeting, and has been adopted into the 2022 municipal budget.
In each of the next seven years, $636,420 is proposed to be allocated from the Lac La Biche County capital budget to facilitate the upgrades at the municipally-owned course that is operated by the golf club’s society, said Darrell Lessmeister, the County’s associate CAO of Recreation and Community Services.
“We see the golf course as a valuable asset—and I think council does as well. The development of the golf course helps tourism and it also helps the quality of life with the residents in the area,” he said.
Over the last five years, $1.5 million in taxpayer funding has been applied in “capital upgrades, which included a maintenance shop, clubhouse upgrades, irrigation pump house and lake intake and paving cart paths,” according to the county’s 2022 proposed budget.
The additional $4.5 million budget approved for the Golf Course Master Plan—created by Calgary-based consultants Golfplan Associates Ltd.—will begin to be spent this coming Spring on water systems, pathways and landscaping primarily around hole 4. Other projects will also be underway once the winter blanket melts away. Although it is a comprehensive list, Lessmeister says the work is scheduled so it won’t affect the overall course operations.
“I don’t anticipate that we’re going to shut it down for two years and get everything done. We need to do it in phases so we can still keep the golf course operating and functioning,” he said, explaining that the board members of the golf society have been updated and involved in the process.
The golf society and the municipality work in partnership, with the municipality supporting the capital costs and the society handling most of the facility’s operating costs.
The golf course is one of the many recreation projects the county plans to upgrade or construct over the next decade. But, in comparison to the multi-million dollar McArthur Park overhaul and the Bold Center sports fields and campsite, the golf course spend has faced scrutiny over how accessible and feasible the project would be for a large portion of the population.
“We’re looking at a select—a few people—that have this as a hobby. It’s not a necessity for the county and we’re subsidizing that. Yes it is a jewel, it is a tourism attraction, but there should be some sort of a recovery process,” said Lac La Biche County Coun. Sterling Johnson during the recent discussions over the multi-year funding plan.
Disputing Johnson’s claims, Coun. Lorin Tkachuk — who has been a recent municipal representative on the local golf board — said there are rules in the partnership that require the golf society to make the facility affordable and accessible to area residents.
In the mutual agreement between the two parties, said Tkachuk, “it states that golf must be made affordable to the residents of Lac La Biche County.”
At this point, the course does not impose a “local” and “non-local” green fee structure, but that is something that can be discussed later, said Tkachuk.
The county signed a 99-year ownership lease agreement in 2009 on the golf course while supporting the financial challenges that the Golf Society faced at the time. Through the partnership, the Golf Society is responsible for the day-to-day costs, upkeep and continues to operate as a non-profit with the revenue that is accumulated. In turn, Tkachuk noted that the facility contributes to some upgrades at the site and has had surplus budget positions in more recent years.
“They’re investing in new equipment that’s necessary for the upkeep of the golf course—which they’re also responsible for,” he said, while the society has upgraded tee boxes, contributed to green initiatives, and more.
The county’s final decision on the funding agreement was included in the 2022 municipal budget approved in December. The construction and updrade details will be released in the near future