Ottawa's soggiest spring wreaks havoc with outdoor activities


Welcome to the drowned rat season – where giant carp wash onto golf courses from flooded rivers and baseballs disappear into the long, wet outfield grass.

That is, when teams can play baseball at all. Or tennis. Or golf. Name an outdoor recreational pursuit and it has been affected by soaked fields or courts, and near constant rain.

“It’s like a mother-in-law who doesn’t want to go home,” Champlain Golf Club pro Jean Pilon said of the wet weather. “She comes for the weekend but she stays for the week.”

After Tuesday’s all-day rain came a respite — the latter part of this week delivered the first consecutive sunny days this season, a chance for local fields, courses and courts to dry out. However, there is more rain in the forecast in the days ahead.

No single recreational business has been hit harder than local golf clubs by the 300-plus millimetres of rain over the past two months — more than double the normal levels.

Pilon estimated Champlain in Gatineau has lost $3,000 in the driving range business alone. On the course, green fee revenue is down by 40 per cent.

At Rideau Glen in Kemptville, manager Liette Ireland painted an even grimmer picture. Rideau Glen is one of four area courses managed by the Champions Nest company. Ireland said the four courses have lost a combined $50,000 to $60,000 in business, losses they can’t make up.

A recent Flagstick guide of Eastern Ontario/Outaouais listed 164 golf courses in the area. If every course has lost several thousand dollars, the seasonal losses would total more than $1 million. Ireland said the profit margins are already slim, minus the weather challenges.


“The industry is so difficult for all golf courses as it is, I actually think it’s going to kill a lot of them,” Ireland said.

Ireland said two-thirds of her 107 golfers in the Ladies League have yet to play a full round. Memberships are down because golfers were waiting for a break in the weather to sign up.

“Now they’re at the point where they’re thinking it’s cheaper just to pay per round rather than buy a membership,” Ireland said.

Golf has never been so cheap. Many courses are still offering “spring rates,” that typically end in May. Some of the Champions Nest courses have been offering $1-per-hole rates, and some holes had to be closed due to poor conditions.

Then there is Rideau Glen’s sudden, freak tourist attraction — massive carp in the ponds on the seventh and eight holes, fish that washed onto the course from the Rideau River flooding.

“These are REALLY big carp,” said Ireland. “A lot of people want to bring their fishing rods.”

Even the best courses have wrestled with the elements. At the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Gatineau, favoured by many Ottawa Senators players, members have lamented long drives that have little or no fairway roll and sometimes get “plugged” into the wet ground.

The rough is so wet and wild, course staff can’t cut it fast enough.

“It is a jungle,” said one member.

Trevor of the Cornwall Rockies slow pitch team practices at Brewer Park in Ottawa, June 08, 2017.

Over at the Elmdale Tennis Club on Holland Avenue, manager Chris Halliday was basking in Thursday’s blessed sunshine.

“We have a full house today,” Halliday said.

While the clay courts at Elmdale can handle steady drizzle, the monsoons have been problematic, causing the club to cancel numerous events, including a recent round-robin tournament and barbecue. Halliday figures there haven’t been two consecutive days of sun in the past 45, with 15 rainouts in that span.

Tennis players, like golfers, are usually into the swing of things in June.

“People can’t get into the rhythm of the summer,” Halliday said. “By this time you should have had 10-15 hits if you’re a good player.”

The spring season is key for tennis clubs, but house-league baseball and softball have no option of extending schedules into the summer.

Bruce Campbell, president of the East Nepean Little League since 1994, has never seen a spring season like this one. It started with a city ban on field use until May 15 (the city originally declared May 22). Rainouts and poor fields have wreaked havoc on schedules.

“You want to try to give the membership 12 baseball games because that’s what they’re paying for,” Campbell said. “You can get away with 10 games, but it has to be done in May and June. You can’t go into July, too many families go away.”

With several rainouts since May 15, little leagues are making up games on weekends, when possible. Nepean extended its schedule a week to June 29 and modified the playoff format.

Ironically, a record number of little leaguers are keen to play. East Nepean has 840 registered, even more than in the early 1990s when the Toronto Blue Jays were winning World Series championships.

“We call it the Blue Jay bounce,” said Campbell, noting increased registrations across the country. “The Jays were in the playoffs last year, and there may be more of the same this year.”

The Ottawa Nepean Canadians operate three competitive teams: 15U, 16U and 18U. After a delayed start, they lost subsequent weekends due to weather. The ONC schedules back-to-back doubleheaders.

“When we lose a weekend, it’s four games, times the number of teams affected by the rain,” said administrator Cathie Milinkovich.

Because the Canadians play teams from all over Ontario, on weekends only, there is no chance to reschedule. Already squeezed by the long Ottawa winters, competitive ball has no margin for soggy springs.

“We practice indoor starting in January,” Milinkovich said. “But you can’t replicate a game, and there are some things you can’t practice indoors.”

The Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League could also use a break. A cool, wet spring has caused rainouts and dampened crowds to see the reigning league champs.

Local soccer officials sketch a slightly happier scene. Joe Scheier, acting executive director of the Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association, said there haven’t been a lot of games lost to field conditions or lightning threats, but clubs have juggled field use to limit the damage caused by playing in wet conditions.