March 13, 2014

Editorial: Fort Worth public greens are too much in the red

The city’s $1 million annual golf-course subsidy cannot be sustained for long.

The four public golf courses in Fort Worth have for decades helped turn an otherwise expensive and elite sport into an accessible and affordable pastime for almost everyone.

According to city’s site, fortworthgolf.org, the Rockwood, Pecan Valley, Sycamore Creek and Meadowbrook courses offer golfers of various skill levels “a quality, enjoyable, safe and comprehensive golf program” that promotes “golf as a lifetime sport.”

On a weekend morning, the fees at the Rockwood course are $21; they’re $24 or $31 at Pecan Valley, depending on the course. And there are discounts for juniors (17 and younger) and seniors (62 and older) alike, making the playing the sport a family-friendly event.

Compare that to the weekend fee at the private Colonial Country Club, which is $190.

Yet with all the private courses, fewer people are taking advantage of the opportunity to test their skills on the municipal greens.

According to the Parks and Community Services Golf Division, over the last several years the number of rounds played has been in decline, from 180,000 in fiscal year 2009 to an estimated 136,000 in 2013.

In 1982, the city approved operating the golf program as an enterprise fund, designed to be self-sustaining. But declining attendance equals declining revenue. Now the city’s golf courses are $8 million in the hole, so to speak.

The city projects that attendance on the courses will increase in 2014 by about 25,000 rounds.

It also expects revenues from the courses will exceed expenditures in coming years. But not enough to make a dent in the sizable deficit the program has accrued.

This week, WFAA/Channel 8 reported and the city confirmed that it is using about $1 million a year in taxpayer funds to keep the courses open.

This kind of program underwriting for municipal programs is not unheard of, but such a large subsidy will not be sustainable forever.

City spokesman Bill Begly told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that the city manager’s assessment of the golf program’s feasibility and sustainability is expected in April.

Keeping golf accessible to all is a worthy pursuit, but it may be time for the city to look at other means to do it.

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