22 July 2011

A Martini with your putter?

The Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation is considering serving alcohol on the greens and fairways of the public golf courses. I am very much looking forward to the staff report that will accompany this recommendation. According to park board by-laws consumption of alcohol is prohibited in our parks, however section 4 (a) (i) of the General Requirements allows the Board to grant permission to sell any food or beverage. So while it would appear that it is possible to sell alcohol on the courses, the question becomes is it good public policy to do so?

Advocates say that many golfers already consume alcohol on the courses and this will just legitimize this. They also point out that private courses have been doing this for years. I have a problem with both of these arguments. In the first case, some people drink and drive which is illegal. Do we change the laws just to suit those who break the rules? Of course not. As far as the argument that private courses offer this service, I compare this to the difference between serving alcohol in your backyard and in a park. Your backyard is a private area whereas a park is a public area. I don't think many people would advocate selling alcohol on our playing fields or picnic areas.

So then the argument comes down to money. Profit. The argument becomes one of the loss of potential revenue. I contacted MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to see what they thought about this. They recognized that this is already happening on private courses, and that with proper procedures such as not serving anyone who has already been drinking, limit the hours of service, limit maximum number of drinks served to 2 per 18 holes, cost the drinks higher than the cost at the bar, and have a program to offer alternative transportation if needed, it was possible. However, they also said if these were not put in place and it is being done for profit they would not be supportive. The last bit was what caught my attention.

Why would the Park Board serve alcohol on the courses? Does alcohol somehow enhance the game or make players play better? Do golfers avoid public courses because alcohol is not served on the greens? If not then why, other than profit, would we serve alcohol? These are some of the questions I am looking forward to hearing answers to.

Often we hear about the slippery slope - that if you do something in one place it will be continued in another. I am quite concerned as alcohol is often seen on our public beaches. Would we next be setting up bars or liquor trolleys at Jericho or Kits beaches simply because people are already drinking there and we are losing out on an opportunity to make money? I think public spaces should be free from alcohol sales and consumption. These are places that belong to all of us. There are plenty of places to enjoy a beverage, including the clubhouses at our public golf courses--do we need to extend this to fairways and greens?

I look forward to the staff report and input from the public.

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