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Mayor says Salt Lake City could fill golf hole by buying land

Published July 30, 2014 8:08 am

Deficit • Selling land around courses to the city could solve problem in short term.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The troubled Salt Lake City golf system needs a short game and a long game to get back to par.

That's what Mayor Ralph Becker told the City Council on Tuesday. And if the seven-member body can't find the strokes, the mayor said he'd do it himself.

"We are going to make decisions," he told the council. "If we can't make them collectively... [then] I will make them."

But the mood in the council's regularly scheduled work session was collaborative. And the council agreed with Becker that a sustainable business plan for the independent golf enterprise fund be developed by Feb. 1.

Rose Park's Jordan River Par 3 will close at the end of this season. No other course closures have been determined, but it's likely more will be closed by next season.

"I don't see another path right now," Becker said in an interview. "But maybe there will be some miraculous ideas [come forward] that have not been considered in the past."

For months, the council has been considering ways to stem the red ink from the eight-course system. By the end of this season, golf enterprise fund is estimated to be running a $1.3 million operations deficit.

The fund earns about $8 million a year in green fees and cart rentals. Both the mayor and the council have ruled out any ongoing support from the city's general fund.

Beyond that, the golf system has deferred maintenance projects totaling well over $20 million.

The goal of a new sustainable business plan would be to ensure that the courses run in the black and make enough money to start tackling the deferred maintenance.

The mayor said the operations budget could be brought back into the black by selling golf system land adjacent to the courses that is not part of the links. Under his proposal, about 67 acres would be sold to the municipality as open space.

"We're operating a deficit today," Becker said. "I'm responsible for operating a balanced budget by law."

Such new open space would be incorporated into the city's open space and recreation master plan. The city would pay for the land from its general fund.

The council will consider adopting the short-game proposal next month. A special Aug. 26 meeting has been scheduled for golf discussions

Two weeks ago, the council, in an unofficial straw poll, determined to raise green fees by $1 per nine holes.

But the mayor advised them Tuesday that would not get the golf program into the black. In the past when the city raised its green fees, total rounds played decreased by 6 percent, Becker explained. If the $1 fee increase brought in an estimated $300,000, most of that – $230,000 – would be erased by a 6 percent decrease in rounds, he said.

But the council again – unofficially – voted to support the green fee increase.

"The $1 increase does not get us there," said Councilwoman Lisa Adams. "But it would bring in something."

Councilman Stan Penfold agreed: "If we don't make changes in the fee structure, it will haunt us in the future."

csmart@sltrib.com