When Jhonattan Vegas shot a seven-under-par final round to pull into a tie with Charley Hoffman at -21, and subsequently won the tournament in an epic playoff, a lot of the lustre of the RBC Canadian Open had already been removed, since more people were talking about the plans to demolish and develop Glen Abbey Golf Club than were talking about the golf itself.
I understand the need to balance a city’s history and tradition with the increasing demand for housing, but what makes a building, a park, or a golf course “of historical significance,” enough so that it needs to be “saved” for all eternity?
A lot has been made of this topic, and I’d like to weigh in with my thoughts…
For those of you that aren’t caught up on the trials and tribulations of a particular Oakville golf course, let me give you a quick refresher.
Glen Abbey Golf Club was established in 1976, and was designed by perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, as the very first solo-design in his illustrious second career as a golf course designer.
Although members of St. George’s Golf & Country Club and The National Golf Club of Canada might argue that their courses are “better,” Glen Abbey is probably Canada’s most famous golf course, and has held more Canadian Open tournaments than any other course, with twenty-five.
There are courses in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia that have a type of beauty that no Ontario golf course could ever provide, but as far as Ontario courses do go, Glen Abbey is the most scenic. The back nine provides five “valley holes” that are deep down beneath the rest of the course, and offer cliffside views, and gorgeous tree-canopies over the course below.
The course is absolutely gorgeous, it’s tough enough to host a professional event, it’s famous, and it’s popular.
And the owners of the property on which Glen Abbey is situated, a golf conglomerate named Clublink, want to demolish the golf course and build residential and commercial structures.
The development proposal calls for 3,222 residential units, consisting of 141 detached homes, 58 townhouses, 2,434 apartment and townhouse units, and 589 mixed use apartment and townhouse units.
These units would be spread throughout 28 four-to-eight storey mid-rise apartment buildings, and 9, nine-to-12 storey apartment buildings.
There are also plans for over 200,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and office space.
The entirety of Glen Abbey Golf Club’s property is 92.7 hectares, and 42.59 hectares of the site would be used for the development.
50.11 hectares would be turned into publicly-accessible green space.
This includes 34.60 hectares preserved as part of the Natural Heritage System (NHS), remnant wood area or buffer (including the 31.39 hectares Sixteen Mile Creek Valley); 10.62 hectares of parks and open space; 4.32 hectares of storm management ponds; and a .57 hectare Enbridge easement. (Source HERE)
So that’s the background info, folks.
The question at hand is very simply: should this development move forward?
If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Um, why wouldn’t it move forward? This land is owned by a corporation, who can do whatever they want with it. The land isn’t zoned for apartment buildings, but zoning changes like the direction of the wind.”
But it’s not that simple.
Never underestimate the entitlement of today’s general public, because residents of Oakville and the surrounding area are all feeling like they should have the final say in what goes on with this privately-owned land.
And personally, I think that’s slightly misguided.
Keeping in mind that I am an avid golf fan (it’s my favourite sport to play, and believe it or not, it’s my favourite sport to watch, even ahead of NFL football) I am completely in favour of allowing the owners of Glen Abbey to cease operations as a golf club, and seek rezoning for the purpose they see fit, with the land that they own.
For a moment, just consider the following statements from a fictional Oakvillian:
“I acknowledge we have a housing crisis in the Greater Toronto Area.”
“I would love to pay less money for a home.”
“I’m not a member at Glen Abbey Golf Club, or any golf club, and I have no interest in becoming a member.”
“I don’t golf. I actually don’t like golf.”
“I have never been to Glen Abbey to watch live golf tournaments.”
“We really, truly need to save Glen Abbey Golf Club from demolition because it’s culturally and historically significant.”
Do those statements, as a package, make any sense?
Or are they completely and entirely contradictory, hypocritical, and reek of NIMBY’ism?
Glen Abbey is a gorgeous golf club, but it’s privately-owned. Why do residents of Oakville feel they can stop the course from closing, the owner from selling, or the developer from developing?
If every resident of Oakville was a member of the club, and played it every weekend, then perhaps they could have their voice heard.
But they’re not. The people objecting to the development are like those who find something on TV to be offensive, but instead of simply not watching it, they want to have the show cancelled so others can’t watch it.
In an article HERE from back in July, we got some quotes from “real people” in the community, like this one:
“Glen Abbey is an Oakville institution. What else do we have to attract people to this community?”
This is where my problem lays.
Glen Abbey is not an institution. It’s a 40-year-old golf course. That’s hardly enough time to create an “institution” when there are 150-year-old golf courses littered across North America.
“This would not happen with Augusta or St. Andrews.”
No kidding. But that’s because St. Andrews was established in 1552, and Glen Abbey was established in 1977. So one course was established 60 years after Christopher Columbus set to sea, and the other course was established the year Star Wars hit movie theatres.
“I would pay more taxes to keep this as parkland rather than see this happen,” said one resident who suggested the town of Oakville buy the property from Clublink.
Sure, no problem. The town can buy the land, if they pay what the owner is asking, and if the owner wants to sell to them.
Where does this entitlement come from?
I understand this golf course is an attraction, and it’s home to thousands of trees, breathtaking sights, and it’s played host to some great tournaments, but what’s to stop the same residents from saying, “Jake can’t tear down his house and build a new one! There were so many great parties there! The backyard landscaping is gorgeous! His kids grew up there! The red-brick home dates all the way back to 1977!”
The residents of Oakville want Glen Abbey Golf Club to be designated as heritage so that any attempt by Clublink to develop the property will be thwarted, and I think that’s absurd.
There’s no shortage of articles on the proposal. Here is one from CBC.ca.
And guess what?
Oakville city council listened to their constituents, and voted unanimously to designate Glen Abbey Golf Course as a heritage site.
Not for a moment do I believe these city councilors did this for any reason other than to avoid the wrath of the voters.
They don’t care about the golf course. They didn’t think about the pros and cons of adding piles of housing stock to a severely depleted market. They just saw the lawn signs, heard the noise, and thought, “I don’t want to have to deal with those people!”
Oh yeah, the lawn signs, I forgot:
Save Glen Abbey.
I just can’t believe it.
These are non-golfers, who couldn’t tell you the difference between a 3-iron and a 3-wood, whose NIMBY’ism, God complex, entitlement, and sense of self-importance makes them think they can control what one person does with a privately-owned asset.
Imagine the gall of the government – municipal or provincial, to tell Clublink, “We know you own that land, but we think it’s special, so you need to keep it that way.”
I’d love to see that play out.
Will the Town of Oakville force Clublink to keep cutting the greens, and manicuring the fairways?
If the course is “saved,” will all those people with lawn-signs flock to the course to join as full-fledged members?
I could ask rhetorical questions all day, but you know where we’re going with this.
And we haven’t even touched on the fact that adding housing stock to a Greater Toronto Area that is in the middle of a housing crisis, is a good thing, and something we should be seeking to do, wherever, and whenever possible.
Every day, I read in the newspaper how real estate prices are spiraling out of control, sellers are greedy, Realtors are evil, millennials will never own their own home, renters are suffering, and so much of the public, as is always the case, wants “the government to do something.”
So here we have a massive parcel of land, albeit with mature trees and greenery, where somebody wants to add over 3,000 new houses, and yet the same people that complain about high real estate prices can’t seem to realize that greater supply, coupled with the same amount of demand, will lead to lower prices.
NIMBY’ism. That’s the best way to describe this.
It’s a total case of, “I want what I want, but I don’t want it this way, and here.”
For years, both on this blog, and in social circles throughout the GTA, we’ve been talking about the real estate crisis, and how increased supply and/or decreased demand, would lead to lower prices.
We’ve talked at length about how to do either of those things, and while measures such as the foreign buyers’ tax, or stricter mortgage regulations, can help to decrease demand, very seldom to we hear about plans to increase supply.
Nobody wants to open up the Greenbelt to development, that’s for sure. There’s an opportunity to add tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of new homes, and create communities north of the city where people can seek alternatives to high-priced homes in the core, and yet there’s so much opposition.
Much of the Greenbelt is government land, so it’s an entirely different conversation.
But Glen Abbey Golf Club isn’t publicly-owned; it’s private.
I believe in the free market, and I believe in ownership rights.
I also live and breathe our housing crisis, and have for 14 years, and I see a population in Canada, Ontario, and the GTA, that is rapidly exploding.
If we stop to throw a fit every time somebody wants to build a house, or a condo, much like THIS debate about an 8-storey condominium to be built in The Annex, then where the hell are people going to live in ten years? And how much will a home actually cost?
I love golf, and I’ve played at Glen Abbey.
I love Canada, and I’m honoured to have the town of Oakville broadcast worldwide on CBS when Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler tee it up at Glen Abbey every summer.
But the RBC Canadian Open will not continue at Glen Abbey among all this hoopla. They’ll find another suitable venue for it, and perhaps we could draw some attention and increase the notoriety and tourism potential of a small area in P.E.I., or a beautiful town in Nova Scotia.
The opponents to the development plans at Glen Abbey aren’t golfers trying to protect a “culturally significant site,” which Glen Abbey most certainly is not.
The GTA would benefit, long-term, from adding 3,000 new dwellings in an area that will cease to function as a golf course in the coming years.
So why stand in the way of progress?