At a meeting on Monday December 9, the Board of the National Trail Parks and Recreation District was scheduled to review the financial outlook for Snyder Park GC in Springfield, Ohio. “I really don’t know that we have much of a choice [but to close the course],” said one Board member. “The numbers are talking pretty loudly.”
The fate of Snyder Park Golf Course, established in 1920, was hanging in the balance as a review of its financial outlook was scheduled for the 5 p.m. meeting on December 9 of the Board of the National Trail Parks and Recreation District (NTPRD) in Springfield, Ohio, reported the Springfield News-Sun.
Snyder Park was closed for the winter on December 1, but whether it opens again will depend on whether the Board thinks that is feasible given the prospect of a reduced subsidy from the financially troubled city, the News-Sun reported. During annual budget meetings last month, the city told the NTPRD that it would receive approximately $340,000 less for the course next year than the $1.29 million it received this year, which included a $190,000 subsidy to cover shortfalls for both the golf and swimming pool operations.
NTPRD Board Chair Maureen Massaro said the Board does not want to be the group to close the golf course, the News-Sun reported, but members also have a responsibility to “ensure the diversity of programming in place to meet the needs of the entire community.”
“I really don’t know that we have much of a choice at this point,” Massaro said. “I haven’t talked with my fellow Board members, but the numbers are talking pretty loudly.”
NTPRD Director Leann Castillo echoed that no one wants to close the golf course, but added that she cannot see where the money can come from.
“It kind of puts us in a spot where we need to make a decision,” Castillo said.
Board member Jack Simonton told the News-Sun that he is still lobbying to keep the course open, because he’s “not comfortable” rushing through the process of closing. Simonton said he plans to vote in favor of keeping it open one more year, but added that he understands there’s no wiggle room in the district’s budget.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s a slam dunk that we’re going to have to close [the course],” Simonton said. “I am not in favor of it. My personal opinion is that it’s a decision that needs to be made a year from now, and not now, but I don’t think budget constraints are going to allow us to wait at all.”
Simonton would like to find a benefactor or raise funds to keep the course open, the News-Sun reported, but he doesn’t think any potential savior want “to talk about a half a million dollars.” He added that he was caught unaware that the reduction in the city’s subsidy would be so large.
“It’s sad, but there’s a lot of sadness in bad economies,” Simonton said.
The district is in the first of a three-year plan to make golf self-sustaining, the News-Sun reported, and has completed several of the plan’s goals, including improving course conditions and cutting payroll. However, the course had approximately 44,000 rounds played this year, falling short of its goal of 60,000.
Massaro said she’s been contacted by golfers who stand on both sides of the issue. “We’ve made good progress, but I think it’s nearly impossible to secure the number of rounds we would need in order to have a balanced budget, especially with such a significant cut coming from the city,” she said.
Mike Bostick, Board chairman of the Springfield Golf Association, which has more than 300 active members in the county, told the News-Sun that he believes the NTPRD was simply “blowing smoke” with its three-year plan to make the golf budget break even.
“They didn’t have any reason to keep Snyder Park open,” Bostick said.
While he would hate to see Snyder Park close, Bostick added, given the circumstances he has felt it was going to happen sooner or later. Loyal Snyder Park golfers will go elsewhere, he felt, and not move to the Reid Park course that is also operated by the NTPRD.
The city of Springfield budgeted $1.1 million in operating money for the NTPRD in each of the last two years, the News-Sun reported, but shortfalls at both the golf courses and the Splash Zone Aquatic Center prompted the city to actually pay $1.27 million in 2012 and $1.29 million this year.
With the city suffering its own budget issues — it will dip into its reserve fund to pay a projected $1.3 million shortfall next year — commissioners said they cannot bail out NTPRD again in 2014.
This year, the NTPRD set aside $250,000 in its reserve fund and earmarked $50,000 of its $1.1 million operating subsidy from the city for course improvements, the News-Sun reported. However, shortfalls of approximately $400,000 for its golf operation and another $100,000 for its pool operation created a need for additional money.
The NTPRD must have a reserve fund in place for next year, Castillo told the News-Sun. “[The city commission] was very clear in that meeting that they would not be able to pay for any subsidy at the end of the year next year,” Castillo said.
And without funding in place, it would be tough to move forward, she added. “We can’t operate on assumptions,” she said.
Since 2004, the city has spent $2.24 million on NTPRD golf-fund subsidies, the News-Sun reported, and a combined parks tax levy passed in 2011 paid NTPRD approximately $964,000 in 2013. The levy sends 72 percent of the money to NTPRD and the rest to the Clark County Parks District. However, the money can only be used for parks and green spaces, not golf operations.
Since the green space levy was passed, the district has introduced 30 new programs, including nature and family-oriented activities, the News-Sun reported.
Castillo said the NTPRD could delay its decision on Snyder Park until January, but it needs to be made soon because of the budgeting process. The district also sells golf gift certificates for the holidays, which could hurt sales if a decision is not made. The district also needs time to prepare the course in the coming months.
“The sooner we can make a decision, the better for everyone,” she said.
The course closed for the winter December 1 and would reopen when the weather breaks next spring, Castillo said. The closing was scheduled months in advance, she noted.
The NTPRD is not alone in its struggle to make golf self-sustaining among among Ohio communities, the News-Sun noted. Early last year, Columbus, Ohio closed Walnut Hill Golf Course because of finances, while other cities, like Middletown, Ohio are paying to keep courses open. Last month, leaders in Middletown said the course was budgeted to receive a $400,000 subsidy, including $220,000 to pay debts, the News-Sun reported.
A newspaper investigation this year showed that taxpayers in the Ohio cities of Beavercreek, Centerville, Miamisburg and Springboro spent a total approximately $3.8 million to pay down debts at municipal golf courses.
According to an informal study by the NTPRD, approximately 350 holes of golf are within a 29-mile radius of Springfield, Ohio. People who golfed in the past are finding other ways to spend their time, especially retirees, Castillo noted. “The options are so much broader at this point,” she said.
The golf committee of the NTPRD that created the three-year plan in 2012 studied every facet of the district’s golf operation. Based on the study, Castillo said it would make the most sense to pool resources at Reid Park, which has two 18-hole golf courses, Reid North and Reid South, rather than close one of the Reid courses and keep Snyder Park open. “There’s no cost efficiency there,” she said.
Massaro said the district could direct all the golf resources to Reid Park and make improvements that may not have been possible otherwise. Course conditions at the district’s facilities have made great strides under a new superintendent, Chris Flick, she noted.
“Our intention would be for Reid Park to be the premier public golf course in the state of Ohio,” Massaro said.
The city of Springfield’s $16 million Erie Express sewer project, which will cross through the Snyder Park Golf Course, is expected to begin construction in the winter of 2015-16, but is not expected to hurt play, the News-Sun reported.
The city’s service department and golf course personnel mapped out the trench last year. It will run perpendicular through four holes, none of which will be disturbed. The sewer will run through mostly rough and some fairways, but will not affect any greens or tee boxes.
“There’s going to be some impact to the course, but it’s going to be minimal,” Chris Moore, the city’s Service Director, told the News-Sun. “It’s going to be at a time with little or no play and it will be repairable.”