Improving golf courses enhances ‘quality of life’

05/14/2014 6:14 PM

05/14/2014 6:15 PM

Based on reaction at this week’s Fort Worth City Council meeting, it appeared that council members are finally seeing the light when it comes to funding golf courses in the city.

A few weeks ago when there was talk of reinvesting city dollars in the 1930s-era Rockwood Golf Course on the north side, several council members balked, pointing out that under the Fort Worth model adopted in 1983, municipal golf courses were expected not only to pay for themselves, but also to make money.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. In the past 20 years, 20 new golf courses have been built in the area, with the peak coming just as there was a downturn in the economy. Municipal courses overall took an economic hit, but the “old, tired” courses like the ones in Fort Worth were especially vulnerable as golfers went to newer facilities in nearby cities, said Richard Zavala, director of parks and community services.

Whereas in 1999 the city’s golf courses brought in “over $3 million to the good,” Zavala said, the city’s golf fund in 2013 was almost $1 million in the red.

While there’s been a lot of discussion lately as to whether golf is an elite sport that should not require city subsidies, the presentation to the council Tuesday emphasized that golf courses are as much a part of the park program as playgrounds, aquatic centers, the nature center, the zoo, and dog and skate parks.

Reinvesting in these facilities is “good stewardship of the assets the public has entrusted to us,” Zavala told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board. “It’s a holistic view of the parks — all are part of the quality of life portfolio.”

If there is no reinvestment, the city can expect subsidies to increase. With substantial upgrades of the course at Rockwood, for example, it’s estimated that the subsidy will be 20 to 25 percent for next three years or so, and then drop to 8 to 10 percent after that,much lower than for other park facilities. Dallas, which is spending $14.7 million on courses this year, provides a 55 percent subsidy.

The council should heed the advice of its Park Board and citizen committees and proceed with operating four courses, upgrading Rockwood, writing off the negative debt and subsidizing golf as it does other parks activities.

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