It’s time for the city of Tucson to get out of the golf business.
The city has struggled with what to do with its money-losing golf courses for several years. Last year it decided to close the east-side Fred Enke course.
At a public meeting last week for the city to hear from Enke neighbors what they would like to see the course become, a few die-hard duffers turned out to argue for keeping Enke open and to argue the merits of keeping the city in the golf business.
While their passion for the storied game is understandable, the numbers simply aren’t there for the city to keep propping up its golf program.
The golf courses are supposed to pay their own way through green fees but for nearly a decade the city’s taxpayers have had to pay about $1 million a year to make up for shortfalls.
In a city that is trying to overcome the financial ravages of the recent recession and facing rising costs for services all across the city, pouring more money onto golf courses is politically untenable.
Despite rosy predictions of golf’s resurgence, it’s likely the city’s courses won’t book enough rounds in coming years to pay its own way.
Golf has been in decline nationwide for a decade with fewer rounds played year over year. As older players become unable to play or die, they’re not being replaced by enough new, younger players to maintain the sport.
In Tucson, there are too many courses for the number of players in the city. Several once-exclusive courses at country clubs and retirement communities have resorted to allowing occasional public play to try to make ends meet because they don’t have enough members to cover operating costs.
There are 40 courses in the metropolitan area, from SaddleBrooke south to Green Valley with six of them true public courses; five run by the city and one county course.
All of them are struggling and a couple have closed and a couple more in danger of closing.
One of the complaints against the city is that it hasn’t managed or maintained the courses adequately, making them less attractive to play in a competitive market where prettier, more challenging private courses are lowering their fees to get more players. Another complaint is that the city hasn’t marketed the courses properly to attract players.
But even if the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars that it doesn’t have rehabbing debilitated courses like Enke and El Rio on the west side and doubled or tripled its $30,000 a year marketing budget, the chances are slim of there being enough players to woo from other courses to make those investments pay off.
Given the trends, there’s no point in continuing to prop up a recreational sport in a community that has too many courses and too few players.
The city should stop trying to find ways to save golf and instead start finding other uses for its five golf courses.