The Graham Argyle Report – 25 Years Later



Expo 86 & Bill Van der Zalm elected Premier on Oct 22 1986

Because of the success of Expo 86 the Social Credit government campaigned in the 1986 election that tourism could replace forestry and mining as the number one industry in BC. In their quest to find new avenues to generate revenue through tourism the government commissioned the Tourism Research Group headed by Mick Collins and Associates to investigate GOLF TOURISM IN BRITISH COLUMBIA – A MARKET AND PRODUCT OVERVIEW. In March 1988 the group presented their report to the government. The report illustrated, “ Golf as a generator of travel as well as recreational activity has not been given the attention it deserves. Increased attention by the tourism industry is warranted for the following reasons: the market is large; the market is attractive; the market is relatively easy to identify; the market is expanding; there is considerable interest in British Columbia as a golf destination.” The group made the following recommendations. “The Ministry of Tourism, Recreation and Culture should undertake the preparation of a golf development strategy. This strategy should provide:

– A detailed inventory of the current supply of golf courses, clubhouses and services offered, and accommodation near the courses,

– Compile information for proposed golf courses

– Compile information from municipalities regarding suitable land available for golf course construction

– The Ministry should allocate three personnel for golf one for development, one for sport and recreation, and one for marketing

– The Ministry should take a proactive role in identifying investors and developers who are interested in developing golf courses and resort communities that involve golf.”

Because of this positive report the government acted very quickly by passing an order-in-council to transfer golf course decisions from ALRC to municipalities. This changed the landscape for golf course construction instantly for the next three years.

“With the stroke of a pen on June 18, 1988 golf courses became an approved use of land within the Agricultural Land Reserve, subject to the terms and conditions that may be set the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). Order in Council # 1141 reversed previous policy and in effect took decision-making regarding the approval of golf courses out of the hands of the ALC and dropped the issue in the lap of the municipal politicians.”

In Delta the tweleve pending golf course applications soon grew. This order opened the floodgates. With every municipality under the gun in February 1990 councils called for a halt to golf course permits. Van der Zalm argued golf courses are a tremendous asset to the economy. Opposition leader NDP Mike Harcourt called for a moratorium on new golf courses and a commission to investigate land use decisions involving farmland.

GVRD hired Graham Argyle to produce a report on guidelines for approving golf courses (November 25, 1990)

Finally in November 1990 the GVRD and the ALC hired W. Graham Argyle “to carry out a study on local planning issues associated with the demand for new golf courses and the problems faced by local municipalities in regulating golf course development in the Lower Mainland. The study group developed the report in three phases: gathering information on the existing supply and current golf course applications, the demand for golf courses, the environmental impacts of golf courses, analysis of the data, and publication of a report with policy options for municipalities. The recommendations would provide a framework for decision making at all levels of government.

ARGYLE REPORT was released on May 13, 1991

The author of the report wasn’t shy when asked about his controversial report. “I’ve never done a study that sat on a shelf. I pride myself on my ideas being implemented. Argyle challenged the golf community to get there and think about the future of golf. We need to seek innovative solutions to the land situation. His key recommendations included:

“- Retain all Category 1, 2,3 (highest quality) farmland in the ALR.

– Non-agricultural land should be the preferred location for golf courses and if this cannot be met land in class 4,5,6,7 in the AGR should be considered.

– Golf will essentially double in demand by the year 2011 with just a 4% growth rate. By 2011 there will be 2.5 million golfers and 6 million rounds.

– There should be 24 courses constructed by 1996. This will include 5 tourist destination courses.

– The golf industry must spend more time building credibility in the community.

– Rezoning power must return to the ALC and the perceived quick and dirty development process replaced by consummate planning.

– Provincial regional, and Municipal Park and other public lands should be investigated for golf course development

– The private sector must be prepared to spend more time and money preparing a business plan to clearly identify the market segment they wish to serve.

– The GVRD should prepare a Lower Mainland Golf Development Plan.

-Municipalities should encourage developers through changes to land use regulations, to seek innovative ways to provide affordable public golf

-The BC Government Ministry of Advanced Education and Job Training should establish a body for the specific licensing, education, training and certification of golf course managers, operators, and groundskeepers.”

August 9th, 1991 The Vancouver Sun

“More than 6,000 hectares of BC farmland have been lost to golf courses since a provincial cabinet order-in-council in 1988 allowing golf course development in the agricultural land reserve. It is an alarming statistic because of the location of a great many of the courses on prime farmland. Golf courses are being parachuted into the heartland.” Ian Paton, the ALC chairman for five years, noted golf courses could serve a useful purpose as a buffer between agricultural and urban areas.

Despite calls from BC Federation of Agriculture and the BC Institute of Agrologists the Agricultural Minister Larry Chalmers remained steadfast with no plans to rescind the order-in-council. “The Okanogan is becoming a golfing mecca and many people would like to see this expand from an economic standpoint. There are more economic spin-offs for the same acreage than agriculture.”

Bill Barlee, the NDP agriculture critic, said reversing the order-in-council would be a priority for an NDP government. “Some of these golf courses are really thinly disguised condominium developments and it’s an erosion of the original concept of the ALR. Golf courses might need to be built on less accessible, non-agricultural land.” Rod King a Penticton fruit farmer who served a one-year term on the ALC summed his experience. “Once the land becomes a golf course, it’s pretty hard to turn it back to agriculture. No matter how you cut it, it becomes very difficult for adjacent farmers to a golf course to operate.”

The New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Mike Harcourt won the October 17th, 1991 provincial election.

On November 7th, 1991 less than one month after assuming office the NDP government acted decisively to stem the tide of golf course applications. Bill Barlee told the golf course developers and mayors the government prohibited golf course construction on prime farmland. The government rescinded the June 198 order-in-council.  The ALC once again gained control for the needs for golf demand, environmental demand and agricultural demand. This move placed golf course proposals in limbo. One developer expressed the situation as: “Will the government terminate all existing applications and what percentage of existing soils will be used to authorize the construction of a golf course. For example if a site has mainly Category 5 soils and a small percentage of Category 2 soils will the project move forward?” One week after their initial announcement the Bill Barlee placed a full moratorium on golf course developments on farmland including those under construction  – pending a full review by the ALC. Barlee noted the moratorium would relieve municipalities of the pressure caused by the golf course applications by removing their approvals authority. In BC 181 golf course developments were in various stages when the moratorium came into effect.

Mike Davis, a golf course consultant and strong advocate for golf course development in the lower mainland, noted “the moratorium was frightening because it was so wide reaching. Many projects had spent millions of dollars to reach their present stage and the ALC was grossly under funded. For that reason the projects could be on hold for a long period of time. Stack holders warned of possible lawsuits. They argued the government could not possibly believe that golf courses under construction could now be returned to agricultural use. Swan-e-set was a good example. At this point the Japanese developer had sunk $3 million into the project excluding the cost of the land. The Belmont course developers in Langley sat wondering if their clearing and construction to date was in vain. Kirk Miller, the General Manager for the ALC, had no idea how long the process would take to access the 180 projects in the system. Bill Barlee reiterated the government’s belief that prime farmland and the ability to produce high quality food in abundance must be preserved. Golf proponents argued the Argyle report sated the lower mainland required 24 more courses by 1996. If the present growth rate for golf persisted by 2011 the area would require 54 additional courses.  In Kamloops a major project affected by the moratorium worried about future investments in the province. Investors require stability for long term planning. If this project fails then future investment in the interior could cease.

On November 29th, 1991 the majority of the developments released after the first review by the ALC comprised projects that were completed or nearly completed. These included: Swan-e-set, Belmont, Riverway, James Island, Storey Creek. Other developments permitted to proceed included those in Midway, Lumby, Burns Lake, Coombs, Fruitvale, Houston, and 70 Mile House. Most of the courses were long established courses for alterations or additions and to projects completed by June 1988 such as Arbutus Ridge, Cordova Bay, Coyote Creek, Fairview Mountain and Eagle Point. The highly controversial project on the Averill Hills farm in Duncan was released even though it was located on prime agricultural land. Because the course was over fifty percent completed the government feared a lawsuit if they stopped construction.

The most complicated decisions rested with those applications submitted in the summer and fall of 1991 – the time frame just prior to the 1991 election. The next group of projects to be released will be determined by the amount of marginal land used and the state of construction. Basically the government wanted to return prime agricultural land back to the ALR.

During  December additional projects removed from the moratorium included Belair in Aldergrove, Redwood farms in Langley and Delta Farms, Tsawwassen Executive extension and Peace Portal executive course. By December  31st, 1991 sixty-seven projects throughout the province had been released by the ALC from the moratorium.

After sitting on the final recommendations by the ALC the government vetoed 60 projects on April 5th, 1992. While 42 projects were allowed to proceed the rejected projects were also denied compensation through lawsuits. Arnold Palmer’s Northview was allowed to proceed, but Jack Nicklaus’ Pacific Ridge development in Surrey plus seven projects in Delta were rejected. Projects given the green light to proceed included: Golden Eagle, Smugglers Cove in Langley, a site on Barnston Island, a Japanese backed project in Kamloops and a course near Sidney airport.


Historical Perspective

After WW1 golf experienced an unprecedented boom. The automobile enabled golf courses to be built on the outskirts of the local towns. “The golf courses could be built outside town as long as the golfer could be home for evening supper.” The golf architects chose rolling farmland for their creations. Due to the Great Depression in the 1930’s many of these early courses closed, particularly the pay-as-you-play courses constructed by private owners for the public play. In the 1950’s the returning war veterans required housing. The abandoned and struggling golf courses became a source for the new housing projects. As in the 1920’s the movement towards creating necessary housing placed a strain on local farmland.

In 1973 British Columbians elected for the first time the New Democratic Party to office. The NDP passed legislation to protect farmland around the growing municipalities. The government created the Agricultural Land Commission. The Commission identified the farmland in the province creating the Agricultural Land Reserve. No golf course could be developed on land controlled by the ALC. This policy remained in effect for the next fifteen years.

The success of Expo 86 showed the Bill Van der Zalm government the role tourism could play on the British Columbia economy. In the 1986 provincial election the Socreds campaigned to increase the tourism industry to become the number one industry in the province surpassing mining and forestry. In 1988 the government created a commissioned a study to see what impact golf had on tourism. By investing in golf courses could the province experience an increase in tourism dollars? The study reported golf as an untapped resource. Immediately after receiving the report the government passed an order in council on June 18th, 1988 allowing golf courses to be constructed on prime farmland.  Golf course approvals became the responsibility of the local municipalities. This one move immediately created a flood of applications for golf course developments throughout the province. The municipalities in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) experienced the most. The municipalities had no expertise to analyze the applications for acceptance or rejection.  Some applications proceeded immediately. Developers and municipalities found themselves involved in costly lawsuits from environmentalists trying to prevent projects from ruining wildlife preserves and prime farmlands. The order-in-council created chaos.

Finally after many calls from local mayors for assistance the GVRD placed a hold on all applications. Finally in November 1990 the GVRD hired Graham Argyle to prepare a report to evaluate the need and establish locational criteria for the development of golf courses in the GVRD. In May 1991 Argyle presented his 150-page report. For the first time he presented a detailed profile for a golfer. He estimated the yearly number of rounds of golf played. He showed the economic impact golf had on the economy. Most important he estimated the GVRD required 19 eighteen-hole courses plus 5 eighteen-hole resort courses to be constructed before 1996 to satisfy the demand. He estimated golf would grow at a 4% rate. Included in his 10 recommendations he advised the GVRD no golf courses should be constructed on Class 1, 2,or 3 farmland. Using these guidelines the GVRD municipalities approved several golf course applications to proceed.

Fearing the fall provincial election could halt golf course development the municipalities received another round of golf course proposals.  In October 1991 the Mike Harcourt NDP party won the provincial election. During the campaign Bill Barlee, the NDP agricultural critic stated if elected his party would immediately rescind the October Order in Council passed by the Socreds and return all golf course development applications to the ALC. After the 1991 election the newly elected NDP government followed their promise. Bill Barlee the new agricultural Minster placed a moratorium on all golf course construction and the approval of all pending applications. At that time 180 applications to construct a golf course in BC existed. Over the next six months several projects were allowed to proceed. The decision rested on three basic principles: how far had the project progressed, was the land in the ALR or on crown/private land outside the AGR, what percentage of the land for the project was in class 4 or class 5 in the ALR. Finally on April 5th, 1992 the government announced its final decision on golf course developments. Basically 42 projects from the 180 original applications received approval.

The list of golf courses illustrates the golf courses constructed after the June 1988 order-in-council.  In the GVRD nineteen courses opened in the period 1988 – 1996. Was the Argyle report correct in its estimate of 24 courses required to meet the demand? Immediately following the release of the Argyle report in May 1991 golf course owners warned an oversupply of golf courses already existed in the GVRD. Argyle had grossly over estimated the growth of golf at 4% per year.

Looking back on the 1988 – 1996 period clearly Argyle over estimated the expected growth for golf in BC. He certainly had no idea the 2008 downturn in the economy would occur. Who could have predicted the decrease in the price for a barrel of oil to $45.00? Tighter border restrictions stemmed the flow of golfers northwards. The Japanese who played a major role in the development of our courses in the 1990 – 1996 period no longer participated. The number of new golfers entering the game declined. In the 1990’s the Canadian dollar was on par with the US.  In the GVRD today the golf courses rely heavily on the Asian golfer to fill the starting times.

It is very fortunate more courses were not constructed during this time. Demand for golf courses must now catch up with the over supply.

Courses Constructed after 1987

Greater Vancouver Regional District (Area from Whistler – Hope)

1989    Mayfair Lakes, Pemberton, Poppy Estates

1990    Royalwood, Coyote Creek

1993    Belmont, Chateau Whistler, Furry Creek, Swan-e-set, Riverway

1994    Northview, Redwoods, Big Sky, Langara

1995    Golden Eagle, Morgan Creek, Westwood Plateau, Nicklaus North

1996    Falls

1997    Northlands

1998    Sandpiper

2012    Pagoda Ridge Tsawwassen Springs

Courses constructed outside GVRD after 1987

1988    The Springs (Radium), Fairmont, Semlin Valley, Shadow Ridge, Lacarya,       Windermere, Arbutus Ridge, Hillview, Eagle River

1989    Storey Creek, Meadow Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fairwinds

1990    Morningstar, Sunset Ranch, Olympic View, Gold River, Kelowna Springs, River Ridge, Willow Grove, Royal York

1991    Eagle Point, Myrtle Point, Predator Ridge, Cordova Bay, Stuart Lake, Sumac Ridge, Pineridge,  Michaelbrook, Balfour, Eagle Ranch

1992    Crown Isle, Trickle Creek, Champion Lakes

1993    Duncan Meadows, Sechelt, Trickle Creek

1994    Harvest, Okanagan (Quail Ridge)

1995    Okanagan GC (Bear)

1996    Sun Peaks, The Dunes, The Falls

1998    Sandpiper

1999    Cottonwood, Greywolf

2000    St Eugene Mission

2001    Nk’Mip Canyon Desert, Point Roberts

2002    Bootleg Gap, Hyde Mountain

2003    Black Mountain

2004    Copper Point

2005    Pheasant Glen

2007    Canoe Creek, Sagebrush, Talking Rock, The Rise, Tobiana

2008    Tower Ranch

2009    Bear Mountain

2010    Highland Pacific

2011    Sunrivers