York Urbanist

(NOT JUST) THE TORONTO SCENE

March 18th, 2019

Toronto’s success as Canada’s economic centre in part is why other Canadians will key into any sense of failure.  Hence, the closings of two Toronto clubs, in the same year, was seen as a bellwether of curling’s demise.  Scarboro and Weston both started as golf clubs.  Curling was added as a winter complement for golfers.  But then curling became its own entity.  There became a ‘we versus them’ mentality within the clubs, but there was more.  Let us look at the circumstances surrounding those closings and some of the emotional response.

Scarboro Golf and Country Club:  February 13, 2018 –“Scarboro G&CC just had a special meeting this evening to decide the future of curling at the club. Unfortunately the vote Scarboro Curlingdid not go in our favour and it looks like curling will wind up at the club at the end of the season. Many tears shed. A very sad day for our curling “family” at Scarboro.” said Bill Baker.  Hugh McCarrell added: “The golfers don’t understand what impact it will have on them financially, socially and many other ways. They will likely regret this down the road.”

Weston Golf and Country Club:   August, 2018 – Doug Flowers analysed the problems in Weston, but they reflect those of Scarboro:

  • “Curling membership has declined by about 50% from a peak of 600 members;
  • Golf membership at Weston has remained strong …;
  • Curling revenues from fees (do not exceed accounted expenses);
  • Utility costs are increasing, with the following immediate and long term consequences vis a vis curling:

i)                    Later start and shorter season related to costs of installing ice;

ii)                   Higher operating costs and fees;

iii)                 Capital expenditures to make the sixty year old facility energy efficient.

  • Curling in country clubs is suffering generally, while curling in public clubs is thriving. Public clubs have grown in proportion to the growing profile of the game (Olympics), while curling in country clubs has stagnated;
  • The median age of Weston curlers is post sixty..;
  • The (difference) between  …country club curling … and public club curling operation is marketing … Country clubs “hide their light under a basket”…;
  • There is also competition for people’s time. Traditional activities (compete with) 500 channel TV, Netflix, You Tube, and extensive travel.

…A curling entity can better control its destiny …when operating independent of a country club structure. The underlying rationale is that the curling membership … can more readily identify trends, threats and opportunities, and has the skill set and motivation to respond appropriately if their “hands are on the wheel”. “

St. Georges Golf & Country Club: This country club is not gone…..yet, which is why current members have organized to find a way to continue.  The threat was there at least six years ago.  It seems to never go away.

The Facts:

Existing Toronto clubs are oversubscribed – Curling activity is growing.  But facilities are not keeping pace.  Accordingly, the remaining facilities in Toronto are experiencing unprecedented member enlistments. Dixie Curling Club on the edge of Etobicoke was overwhelmed by the influx of curlers in August 2018, as players exited Weston Golf and Country Club. High Park and Royal Canadian Curling Club the two clubs south of Bloor Street have realized an influx of younger players – younger in comparison to the Golf related curling memberships. Their memberships are 124% and 111% of the normally accepted 100 persons per sheet.  Leaside (125%), Tam Heather (105%) and East York (102.5%) are also over the magic 100. What that translates to is that none of the subscribed members can acquire practice time at reasonable hours.

Private run facilities are stronger than public ownership models – Both Royals and High Park are privately owned and operated, while Leaside, Tam Heather and East York are owned by the City of Toronto.  Note that Leaside has the highest membership per sheet.  Since 2014, the curling operations and programming were taken over by Leaside Curling Club.  Since the changes, membership has grown.  The success is due to the fact that there was close appreciation for the way operations and programming interweave.  With eight sheets, Leaside is now has the largest membership of any curling club in Eastern Canada.  Wait lists are happening.

Corporate groups are hard pressed to find facilities. The Toronto Sport and Social Club looks for places for its 20,000 members. They have expressed that they cannot find enough ice time for its members who want to curl.   https://toronto.sportsocial.club/events/ This alone evidences demand. So, why are curling facilities not going up in Toronto?

For one, fees are too low for the amount of ice time available.  Heresy, you say?  Public facilities are skewing the actual cost of participating by subsidizing players with fees that cannot match the costs of capital replacements over time.  Leaside proved that they can attract members with rates that are over the former public fees.  They attract curlers because they provide the services that members want. They also ensure that marketing continues, even after they have reached virtual saturation of usage.

What to Do:

Partner: The City of Toronto needs to know that curling has demand, and at a rate of 1 active curler per 1,000 in urban areas. In their Parks and Recreation Master Plan, there is but one-half a page dedicated to the sport in a 300 page tome. It says that curling is the realm of private providers while acknowledging that the City owns three facilities. Their recreation consultant continues to reflect on outdated statistics about curling.   So, the West End Curling Club (WECC) group has met with councillors and staff to impress that there is a surge of need in the curling community.

The Golf and Country clubs can also be partners.  The WECC is proposing such a partnership as this article is being written.  Understand the underlying reasons why the Country Clubs act the way they do.  They have a curling hall asset that has been depreciated for fifty years and requires replacement and they did not plan the correct amount of resources to curling as their focus is on golf.  It is timely to give them a rationale that others can handle that asset for them.

Build:  There are underutilized hockey and skating arenas in Toronto.  The WECC has enquired and found two such rinks.  The infrastructure is there.  Hockey has plateaued.  Much of the infrastructure has been depreciated and like the golf clubs they need replacement parts.

Six million dollars will get you a typically Canadian curling facility.  But, perhaps we should be watching the neighbours to the south.  Instead of lounges behind the glass, some American facilities are going the route of ‘warm rooms’.  Warm rooms may or may not be separated from the ice by a permanent wall.  By doing this, the facility could be under a single roof, instead of distinguishing the lounge and ice shed buildings.

Promote:  There is a pent up demand for curling in Toronto, a hidden market of 40,000.  The marketing should be easy, right?  The marketing is different in the urban centres. The Toronto Sport and Social Club is a source of curling enthusiasts if the business plan is premised on rentals. If membership is the model then a creative advertising campaign should be associated with unique leagues and event planning.  Urbanites have more opportunities and therefore want less frequent and unique ways to spend their recreation dollar.

Operate:  Take operations of the facility out of the hands of the public bodies.  Ensure that employees understand the flexibility you need to offer unique programs between 8am and 11pm.

Raise your rates:  The rates need to be subject to the operations, promotion and program costs of your facility.  The business plan will determine the rates that are appropriate.  But, it was said before, the rates today are too low for the urban recreationist.

Toronto can be, and is, a hotbed of curling enthusiasm waiting for the right impresario to seize the moment.  WECC could be that impetus for new facilities.  Curling’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

NOTE: Since this article was written for The Curling News, Glendale Golf Club has determined that there will no longer be curling at its site.  This further confirms the clash between curling and golf cultures.

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