Following direction from the state legislature, requests for proposals are being solicited by the Division of Parks and Recreation for a 10-year lease agreement to operate four courses, including the popular 36-hole Wasatch Mountain property, along with the Soldier Hollow, Palisade and Green River venues. Interested parties must make formal site visits between October 17-19 and submit proposals by November 7. Officials expect to make a decision by mid-December.
A private management firm may take over operation of State Parks golf courses in Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, following a four-week bid process.
The State of Utah’s Division of Parks and Recreation has posted a request for proposals (RFP) for a 10-year lease agreement to operate four courses, including the popular 36-hole Wasatch Mountain property in Midway, Utah, the Tribune reported. Others that would be part of the agreement would include the 36-hole Soldier Hollow property in Midway, the 18-hole Palisade Golf Course in Sterling, Utah and the nine-hole Green River, Utah course.
Interested groups are required to make formal site visits between October 17thand 19th and submit proposals by November 7, the Tribune reported. Officials expect to decide by mid-December whether or not a contract will be awarded, and then make their choice of firms.
The Golf Alliance for Utah (GAU), an organization that brings together governing bodies of the sport, is not generally opposed to privatizing, Scott Whittaker, the GAU chair, told the Tribune. Yet in the case of the State Parks venues, the GAU would worry about an outside firm’s commitment to all four courses, he said.
Whittaker wonders, for example, if the lure of running the highly successful Wasatch Mountain would drive firms’ interest in obtaining the contract, and if they would be as interested in funding improvements to the other courses, the Tribune reported.
“They’re in it to make money,” Whittaker said. “The reinvestment back into the product is very important, as it forces you into a long-term view.”
State Parks officials say they are following the state Legislature’s direction to determine whether private operation would financially benefit the state, the Tribune reported. The GAU successfully opposed a 2014 bill that would have mandated privatizing, basing its stance on a National Golf Foundation study that said the courses were being managed adequately.
Several legislators recently followed up by asking the State Parks division to draft an RFP, said Scott Strong, the State Parks’ Deputy Director of Business Management.
“Legislators aren’t telling us that the courses must be privatized,” Strong said in March when the process began. “They want us to determine whether or not privatizing the courses puts the division in an even better financial position.”
An increase in players’ fees is always a concern about privatizing, but Strong has said the rates would remain “very similar,” if a contract is awarded, the Tribune reported.
Utah’s golf market is different than in most states, the Tribune noted, with an unusually high percentage of public courses owned by city, county and state governments. In the past 20 years, private firms created Stonebridge in West Valley City and South Mountain in Draper, and later sold those facilities to public entities.
In other recent cases, however, management companies have taken over public-access courses in Utah, owning and/or operating them, the Tribune reported. Such firms have purchasing power for equipment and goods and can apply a standard of operation and increase efficiency across multiple courses.
Wasatch Mountain observed a 50-year celebration in 2017, when Gov. Gary R. Herbert played in an anniversary event and said, “I’m pleased that somebody had some foresight and some vision.” The course is a popular destination for corporate and charity groups, thanks partly to having two 18-hole courses on the property, the Tribune reported.
Soldier Hollow, at the other end of Wasatch Mountain State Park, is in the Utah Golf Association’s rotation of State Amateur venues. In 2012, Soldier Hollow staged the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the only United States Golf Association championship ever held in Utah.
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