Costs Add Up for Florida, Illinois Golf Facilities

By | March 14th, 2018

Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla., needs the city’s help covering operating expenses with a $425,000 subsidy, and an early estimate for the next budget is closer to $1 million. The Lake Bluff (Ill.) Golf Club could face closure at the end of 2018 due to past financial losses of nearly $3 million.

Keeping the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla., in shape has long been an issue. Average rounds are declining, down almost 20% over the last two years; and for the first time in recent memory, staff say they need the city’s help covering operating expenses in the form of a $425,000 subsidy. An early estimate for the next budget is closer to $1 million, the Sarasota-based MySuncoast reported.

“Back in the day, when Bobby Jones was the only game in town, of course everybody was coming here,” said General Manager Sue Martin. “Now, they’ve oversaturated the market with golf courses, especially ones that are open to the public.”

Fixing outdated infrastructure like irrigation and drainage is necessary, Martin said, but expensive. Golf course consultant Richard Mandell recommended a $21 million investment in October, MySuncoast reported.

“We’re concentrating on his $18 million number,” said Martin, who plans to approach the city with a plan later this spring. “We’re actually working on trying to get that number even lower.”

City commissioner Hagan Brody was startled by Mandell’s proposal in October. “Some of the options I don’t think are on planet earth,” said Brody.

Brody doesn’t want to lose the course, but is willing to sacrifice a few holes out of the current 45-hole offering to help lower daily operating expenses. “I think a million dollar subsidy to golf for a city our size is unacceptable,” says Brody.

Brody and Martin can agree on one thing: Bobby Jones is an asset for the city, offering quality of life, especially for beginner golfers, MySuncoast reported.

The city wants to make it very clear that there are no intentions to sell any part of the historic course, Martin said. Lowering the number of holes, however, is not off the table. If that were to happen, the property would be converted to some other form of a public park for residents to continue to enjoy, MySuncoast reported.

Lake Bluff Park District officials are saying that past financial losses of more than $3 million and an ominous future may force them to close the Lake Bluff (Ill.) Golf Club at the end of 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported.

On February 26, in the first of two scheduled meetings with the public discussing the club’s prospects, the park district’s board and staff detailed the economic pressures facing the golf club, which opened in 1968, the Tribune reported.

Specifically, park district officials said the club has lost more than $3 million since 2006, and another $5.4 million in red ink is projected over the next 12 years, the Tribune reported.

“This particular operation has been difficult and costly,” park board President Rob Douglass said.

The number of rounds played at the golf club fell from slightly more than 31,400 in 2007 to almost 26,000 last year, said Executive Director Ron Salski. He added that decline mirrored a similar decline in rounds played nationwide, citing statistics from the National Golf Foundation. Plus, Salski said, the golf club faces strong competition, as there are three public courses within a five-mile radius and 21 public courses inside 10 miles, the Tribune reported.

The club needs $2.7 million in capital repairs over 12 years, including $1 million for a clubhouse renovation required in 2019. “The past and future golf financials are daunting,” Salski said. “Eventually the board needs to make some decisions.”

Another factor is that a contract with Billy Casper Golf, a privately-owned golf course management firm responsible for the club’s operations, expires at the end of this year, Salski said.

Park board commissioners chose not to discuss the issue at the meeting. Instead, they opted to listen to an audience of 200 at the park district’s administration building, most of whom stated they wanted the course to remain open, the Tribune reported.

While most in the audience supported the club staying open, Lake Bluff’s Caryn Wilcox saw the issue differently, claiming she represented 90 percent of village residents who do not use the course. “These numbers are alarming,” Wilcox said. “That is a lot of money to be subsidizing for such a small portion of people. It would be nice to keep it open, but this is crazy.”

Local golf industry consultant Barry Cronin said many area clubs are having trouble because their costs are too high. “Some of them make capital investments they don’t need to make such as pouring money into clubhouses rather than focusing on quality of the golf course and keeping greens fees as reasonable as possible,” Cronin said. “They need to identify their market and who are they trying to serve at a municipal golf course.”

A second meeting is scheduled in Lake Bluff for later this month, and officials said a decision about whether the course would remain open would be announced at an unspecified board meeting in the future. But park district officials said that, no matter whether they decide to close down for the future, the course would remain open through 2018, the Tribune reported.

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