Beside the frost-covered first tee box, Todd York stands next to an easel on which a new vision for the Royal York Golf Course stands.
It’s not the same vision he had 30-plus years ago when he and his father first designed and built the nine-hole course in Armstrong on the family property. And if there was any way around it, he wouldn’t change a thing from that original vision.
But over the past 10 years, the business has proven untenable: golf isn’t as successful an industry as it once was, and York says banks won’t even lend money to potential buyers because golf courses are considered too risky as investments.
It’s forced the Yorks to get creative in order to keep the city’s only golf course up and running.
“We actually haven’t had a year without a loss in the past nine years,” he said.
“We just can’t survive it anymore, and no one will step in and buy it as it is because it’s just the economics of it.”
Fortunately, an offer by local developer Patrick Place presented the family with their first and only recourse that would keep the golf course intact — albeit reduced in size — while offering some intriguing amenities to the community.
That offer is pending a rezoning application and amendment to the City of Armstrong’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which was discussed at the city’s committee of the whole meeting Thursday, Dec. 10. Council voted to defer and continue the meeting Jan. 11 in order to put more questions to the applicants and engineers involved.
“The meeting went well and we continue to be optimistic,” York said.
“As it is right now, without this application, without this investment, we would be closing our doors. The golf course would be no more,” York said. “So, from my point of view, from my family’s point of view, we’re really thankful that this opportunity has come to us. It’s just such a win-win situation for everybody.”
The proposed development would see just under 19 acres of the 65-acre property rezoned from commercial recreation to housing, paving the way for up to 175 lots of multi-family and combination housing units over a 10-year timeline.
More than half of the property would be retained as recreational, and the nine-hole course would be converted into an executive course, with holes 1, 3 and 4 modified for the 2021 season.
Other amenities have been designed with the aim of diversifying the course’s clientele. The list includes a full-size grass putting course, a two-acre off-leash dog park, walking trails connecting to Okanagan Street, Game Court Park and York Avenue, an adventure playground and a daycare facility at the north boundary of Phillips Avenue.
Land for both the walking trails and adventure park would be dedicated to the city for community use — something York says folks have been clamouring for for years.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked by people, ‘can I walk my dog on the golf course? Can I snowshoe on the golf course? Is there a trail system on the golf course?’ And none of that has existed in the past.”
The proposed development could also be a boon for the city’s capital project coffers. As Place explains, $10,000 from each lot built will go towards off-site sewer and water upgrades and other infrastructure projects, through Armstrong’s voluntary capital contribution policy.
That would amount to a $1.7-million capital budget top-up when accounting for the 175 planned housing lots — lots that would help fulfil the city’s housing needs. A recent housing assessment found Armstrong, the most densely populated city in the Okanagan, also leads the North Okanagan in expected growth over the next five years (2.2 per cent annual population increase compared to the regional average of 0.9 per cent).
The Regional District of North Okanagan’s 2020 report states, “there is an insufficient stock of rental housing, causing 35 per cent of renters to experience housing need, primarily in the form of affordability.”
The frosted December greens represent another common business conundrum in the golf industry: the course shuts down entirely for the winter. Until this year, even the restaurant closed once the frost hit. It’s another problem the development proposal plans to solve.
“We’re proposing to expand and improve the clubhouse facility so it becomes more conducive to events, to create a year-round opportunity here,” Place said.
And with an executive course that still features some 200-yard holes and the list of other amenities, York feels confident he can meet the needs of the city, the community and the golfers who have faithfully teed off for the past 30 years.
“It not only keeps the golf course but it offers a lot of opportunity for recreation for non-golfers,” he said, adding he also hopes to add a golf pro to run a youth golf academy all year round, bringing young people back into the sport.