All of us should want to see public officials who are making decisions to close golf courses be subjected to better due diligence.
I’m always amazed by the questions that don’t seem to get asked of public officials—or if they do get asked, don’t seem to get any kind of response that bears repeating.
There have been several reports lately about how various cities around the country are getting ready to dump golf courses they own. (By the way, all of these reports have been included in our daily online news postings and e-newsletters; if you don’t subscribe, go to www.clubandresortbusiness.com/enewsletter—like the magazine, it’s free.)
These situations, as reported by local newspapers, all seem to follow the same pattern: The city’s in a budget crisis. The course has been losing money year after year.
The city can’t justify continuing to operate something like a golf course when it’s cutting back on essential services and laying off police, firefighters and other civil servants. So, even though a fair number of citizens have come forward to say they value the course as a low-cost recreational option and would much prefer that the property be used for that purpose vs. seeing it turned into another strip mall or apartment complex or become dangerously vacant and uncared-for land, the city has no choice but to start the process of closing the course and putting the land up for bid.
Then there are usually projections for how much the city expects to get from the sale of the course, plus how much it will save by not having to pay (either to its own employees, or to a management firm) for its continued unprofitable operation.
What these reports never seem to include, however, are any indication that questions like these have either been asked, or answered:
- How much has been done to measure the competency and performance of the people who’ve been in charge of the course operations while it’s lost money? (And for that matter, if the city was in charge of the operation while it was tanking all of that time, why should the public trust it to now make any better decisions about its future fate?)
- Was any effort made to study industry best practices and consider changes that might have a significant, positive effect on either the revenue and expense sides of the operation—or both?
- Why do other cities seem to be able to run municipal golf course operations successfully and consistently, but this one can’t?
Even if you’re far removed from the lower end of the market that many of these courses represent, all of us in the industry should want to see the public officials who are making these decisions at least be subjected to some better due diligence and held more accountable in this fashion. These courses can not only contribute to the “grow the game” initiative that we all feel is important, they can also serve as good training grounds for potential hires in all areas of club operations (like New York, if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere).
So if you hear that one of these situations is brewing in your community, it might be worth your time to go to any public meetings that are being held about it—just to be prepared to ask some tougher questions, in case no one else is inclined to.