Munis find formulas
Detroit may be rising from the dead, but its
four public golf courses are still on life support.
The city, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013,
has resolved that matter, but getting its golf
courses into the black is an ongoing challenge.
Charlie Beckham, chief of the city’s recreation department, told Detroit City Council
members that the courses are costly to maintain and face strong competition from privately owned daily-fee courses in the area.
Revenue from the city-owned courses in 2016
was down sharply from previous years.
Detroit officials recently approved a contract with a management company to run the
courses through this season, but they made no
promises about the future. Beckham wants to
sell the courses.
Other cities are facing similar challenges.
In San Jose, Calif., a recent city audit found
that two municipal courses, both built since
2000, are losing more than $2 million a year.
Some officials want to consider selling all or
part of the courses or converting them to athletic fields.
The issue is even more acute in smaller
communities with tight budgets. In recent
months, city leaders in Akron, Ohio, Lafayette,
La., Dublin, Ga., Cleveland, Tenn., and Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, have all debated what to do with
their money-losing public courses.
But while many municipalities are weighing whether to keep their courses, others have
found ways to operate in the black and provide
residents with valuable recreational amenities.
In Houston, which owns seven public
courses, there was a movement in 2014 to
convert Gus Wortham Park Golf Course
into a botanical garden. The Houston Golf
Association (HGA) got involved in an effort to
preserve the course.
Ultimately, the Houston City Council voted
to keep the course open under management of
the HGA, using its tax-exempt nonprofit status
to raise funds to upgrade the course and keep
green fees affordable.
The HGA now is pushing to manage other
municipal courses to reduce the financial burden on Houston city government.
Amanda Hansen, vice president of marketing and communications for HGA, said the
biggest challenge for Houston’s munis is the
Despite the financial struggles of many cities, muni courses are coming up
with ways to stay alive in today’s market. By Chris Lewis
Chambers Bay Golf Course