Public golf courses undergo renaissance
As overall golf course construction settles after the ‘90s building boom, cities and counties continue to focus on the sport as a vehicle for revenue and community building. Many are designing new courses or sprucing up existing ones to anchor residential developments and tap into the lucrative recreational market.
“Golf is really a means to an end for us,” says Mark Weiss, La Quinta, Calif.’s assistant city manager. “We want hotels to come to the city and open new tax channels to support our general fund.” The city recently opened Arnold Palmer Classic Golf Course at SilverRock, designed by Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based Palmer Course Design, and plans to build another course when hotel development is secured. The courses are part of a 500-acre economic development plan administered by the city’s redevelopment agency and paid for with tax increment financing.
La Quinta’s project stemmed from a formal economic development plan, which included recreational golf, adopted in 1996. Studies generated from the plan projected about $700,000 per year in golf revenue and up to $2 million per year in transient occupancy, sales and property tax revenues. The studies helped the city negotiate its purchase agreements for the property. Land comprised 42.5 percent of the $100 million project’s overall cost, with an additional $13 million dedicated to the first golf course.
In 2001, Pelham, Ala., Mayor Bobby Hayes led his city into the golf business when a local developer was unable to build a golf course promised to residents of a subdivision. The developer proposed a deal to the mayor: he would donate the land if the city built the course. The city agreed and financed the project with a $10 million, 20-year bond that includes $6 million for the golf course, $2 million for the clubhouse, access roads and a 1.3 million gallon water tank to support the 3,800 homes that eventually will be built around the course. Atlanta-based Cupp Design completed the project in June 2004. According to Hayes, residents appreciate the recreational facility and the course “has made Pelham a destination instead of a pass-through city.”
Besides building new courses, cities are renovating to increase revenue. Late in 2000, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was concerned that its four municipal golf courses were deteriorating and could be made safer, says the city’s Golf Director Tom Lavrenz. The courses had been built on small parcels of land with narrow fairways that caused a few golfers to be hit by balls. One of the courses was actually losing revenue because the back nine was too hilly and difficult to navigate. As a result, the city decided to remodel three courses and add nine holes to one. The courses were overdue for improvement, so the city began to phase them in over eight years, starting in 2001.
The first two renovations, developed by Marengo, Ill.-based Lohmann Golf Design, were Jones Park Golf Course, where nine holes were added to an existing nine, and Ellis Park Golf Course, which was remodeled. The city invested $1.7 million and issued a $2.1 million bond to pay for the project. “We enjoyed a 25 percent increase in rounds the first year, which was 2001, and a 15 percent increase at Ellis Park Golf Course since completing the renovations in mid-2003,” Lavrenz says.
The increase in rounds reported by Lavrenz is reflected in Jupiter, Fla.-based National Golf Foundation statistics released last month. Rounds played nationwide were up almost 1 percent, and up even higher for public courses at 1.9 percent, reversing a downward trend for the past three years.
Bill Love is president of the Brookfield, Wis.-based American Society of Golf Course Architects.