After two city-owned courses in Little Rock, Ark. were closed earlier in 2019, Burns Park GC, on the other side of the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, has seen gains in total revenue for three consecutive months. While Burns Park still loses money, city officials see it as a valuable asset. “The first thing people ask when they come to see the city is how are our parks, and how many golf courses do we have,” said Parks and Recreation Director Terry Hartwick.
The closure earlier in 2019 of two of the city-owned courses in Little Rock, Ark. has provided a boost for the public Burns Park Golf Course across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
For a third consecutive month, Burns Park saw an increase in total revenue over the same period in 2018, Steve Ralston, PGA, the course’s Head Professional and Director of Golf, said at a North Little Rock Parks and Recreation meeting, the Democrat Gazette reported.
Greens-fee revenue at Burns Park in October 2019 was $23,124, Ralston reported. In addition to annual fees of $1,159, cart fees totaling $24,173 and miscellaneous fees of $23.94, total revenue the course was $48,479.94. All of those figures were up compared with October 2018, when greens-fee revenue accounted for $19,025, annual fees accounted for $159 and cart fees accounted for $23,615.50, for a total of $42,799.50, the Democrat Gazette reported.
The bump came at a good time, Ralston noted, because revenue in the first seven months of 2019 at Burns Park was down $51,063.28 compared with the same period in 2018. Course officials attributed that drop to spring flooding along the Arkansas River that left much of the course under water. Burns Park has two 18-hole courses—a par-71 Championship Course and a par-70 Tournament Course—and Parks and Recreation Director Terry Hartwick said 12 of the 18 holes on the Championship Course were under water for two months, the Democrat Gazette reported.
“We lost $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue because of it,” Hartwick said. “If that didn’t happen, we would have been close to our expected revenue already, because our memberships are up.”
Officials cited various reasons for the increase in memberships, the Democrat Gazette reported, but recognized that the closing of two city-owned courses in Little Rock—War Memorial Golf Course and Hindman Park Golf Course—played a significant role in the uptick.
Over the past 10 years, Ralston noted, multiple golf courses have closed in central Arkansas, leaving Burns Park as one of the few remaining public options in the area, the Democrat Gazette reported.
“The courses closing in Little Rock really helped us,” Ralston said. “We are seeing a lot of new faces [and a] lot of those new faces are coming here from the closed Little Rock golf courses.”
The War Memorial and Hindman courses—two of Little Rock’s four city-owned golf courses—were closed as part of budget cuts announced by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., the Democrat Gazette reported, and it was announced that the properties would be repurposed.
The city’s four courses, including The First Tee of Central Arkansas and Rebsamen Golf Course, lost about $1.2 million collectively last year, the Democrat Gazette reported.
Rounds at Rebsamen have since increased slightly, according to city officials, but the uptick hasn’t accounted for the number of displaced golfers from the War Memorial and Hindman courses, the Democrat Gazette reported.
“It’s definitely not equal,” Little Rock Parks and Recreation Director John Eckart told the Democrat Gazette. “There’s [been] an increase, but we’re not absorbing all of those [golfers from the closed courses].”
Rebsamen’s numbers for August paralleled those of 2018, the Democrat Gazette reported, and over the next two months they were slightly higher than the previous year. Golfers played 3,009 rounds in August, compared with 3,095 rounds in August 2018. Ninety-two more rounds were played in September than in the same month a year ago, and about 500 more rounds were played in October compared with the same period in 2018.
George Earls, Facility Supervisor at Rebsamen Golf Course, told the Democrat Gazette that the course has seen “a little bit of an increase” since the War Memorial and Hindman courses closed, but that Rebsamen also lost revenue because of a 30-day closure caused by flooding along the Arkansas River from May 26 to June 25.
“Besides that, we started seeing increases, because we’re still honoring the passes,” Earls said.
For the remainder of 2019, the city will honor a $325 senior membership card that allowed golfers unlimited play at War Memorial and Hindman in addition to nine holes at Rebsamen, the Democrat Gazette reported. Since War Memorial and Hindman closed, the pass has allowed cardholders to play the full course at Rebsamen, although those players aren’t contributing to the park’s revenue, Earls said.
Little Rock did not begin tracking rounds and revenue at The First Tee course until July 2019, which was when the city parks staff took over management of its operations and maintenance from the nonprofit organization, the Democrat Gazette reported.
The course has had between 300 and 1,000 players each month from July to November, Eckart said, but those numbers don’t include participants in the youth program.
Historically, the amount of money Little Rock has spent to maintain its public courses has outpaced the amount of revenue brought in by the courses, the Democrat Gazette reported. In 2018, the city spent nearly $2.6 million to support the four courses, which collectively accounted for about $1.4 million in revenue. The courses also saw deficits in 2017 and 2016.
Eckart said he couldn’t remember the last year that the courses broke even, but it was likely in the early 2000s. “We will subsidize golf this year,” he added. “It will just be at a much lower rate.”
According to a presentation on the 2020 budget that the Little Rock Board of Directors was scheduled to vote on on November 26th, the city plans to spend about $1.5 million on golf in 2020, which is $508,010 less than it plans to spend in 2019, the Democrat Gazette reported.
Golf still isn’t profitable for North Little Rock, either, the Democrat Gazette reported, but city officials there said they are fine with that. “The golf course is a great attraction for the city,” Ralston said. “We talk all the time about how a golf course is one of the only things you have to continually improve, just to stay level.”
North Little Rock’s budget for 2020 calls for golf course expenses of $963,679, with the course anticipated to draw $500,000 in revenue, Hartwick said.
“We budget to take a loss when it comes to the golf course, because it’s an asset to the city,” he said. “The first thing people ask when they come to see the city is how are our parks and how many golf courses do we have. When Caterpillar came here, they immediately asked about our golf courses.”
The Burns Park course has recently undergone an expansive makeover that included resurfacing the golf cart paths, adding new tee boxes, improving greens and landscaping the fairways, the Democrat Gazette reported. Burns Park is also offering discounts to golfers who had previously paid for membership at the closed courses in Little Rock, Hartwick said.
Ralston said he hopes a new membership format and cleaner golf courses will help lure even more of Little Rock’s displaced golfers across the Arkansas River, the Democrat Gazette reported.
North Little Rock has an estimated population of nearly 66,000, making it the seventh largest city in Arkansas. Little Rock, the state capital, has a population just under 200,000.