Debate over golf heats up as Fort Worth bond deadline nears

12/03/2013 9:17 PM

12/03/2013 9:18 PM

Mayor Betsy Price said she wants to take a deeper look at the city’s golf program, which is about $8 million in the red, even as city officials consider making a $4.4 million investment in Rockwood Golf Course.

“It has to be fiscally responsible. The dollars have to work,” Price said about the golf fund, adding that the goal is for golf to be self-sustaining, or as close to it as the city can get.

The golf fund, however, will need an 18 to 20 percent annual subsidy from the city to continue operating, according to Parks and Community Services reports, spurring a debate about the future of golf.

The Fort Worth City Council heard recommendations Tuesday from the Parks and Community Services Advisory Board supporting the golf program.

Sheila Hill, parks board chairwoman, encouraged the council to continue operating municipal courses, recommended subsidizing the golf fund and asked for $4.4 million in renovations at Rockwood Golf Course to be included in the 2014 bond package.

“I’m sure we all agree that losing almost a million dollars a year in the golf program is not acceptable,” Hill said. “If there cannot be a viable solution on what needs to be done so as not to lose these large sums of money yearly, the board agreed that closing down the golf program should be considered.”

But Hill said she is confident that the subsidy and the renovations at Rockwood could make the program “run like any lucrative business.”

The investment in Rockwood, which would include new greens, a new layout and a new irrigation system, could help make the golf fund sustainable, she said.

Price was not as certain.

“Rockwood is a historic golf course, but I don’t know if it will ever be something to sink $4.4 million into,” Price said. However, she said, the partnership with First Tee of Fort Worth, which has invested over $1.5 million at Rockwood, is valuable to the city.

Kevin Long, executive director of First Tee, said at the council meeting that the organization sees 34,000 kids a year. The goal is to make golf and those programs accessible throughout the city.

Richard Zavala, director of the Parks and Community Services Department, was scheduled to present an update on the future operating model of the municipal golf fund Tuesday, but that briefing was delayed.

The $292 million proposed bond package primarily addresses infrastructure needs, but the parks board has recommended increasing funding for parks if money within the package can be shifted from other areas.

Charles Rand, chairman of the planning commission, also presented that group’s recommendations for the bond package.

He said the City Council should preserve the current funding for urban villages — proposed at $9 million — and for enhanced community facilities agreements — $3 million — because of the return on investment those programs leverage.

The planning commission also recommended adding bicycle infrastructure improvements at $2.7 million to the bond package.

A bond workshop is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 11 for the council to decide the contents of the bond package that would be put before voters in May.

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