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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Early morning golfers warm up on the putting green at Rose Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City Thursday March 20. A new report reveals that Salt Lake City's golf courses lack financial viability. Among the money losers is the Rose Park 18-hole golf course. The consultant said the city should close it entirely or completely revamp it.
Salt Lake City golf program in danger of 'death spiral,' report says

Revenues won’t be able to keep up with costs of maintenance unless city officials act quickly.

First Published Mar 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jun 02 2014 11:11 am

If dramatic changes aren’t made soon, Salt Lake City’s golf program could slip into a "death spiral," in which revenues can’t keep pace with maintenance, leading to fewer golfers and even less revenue.

That’s the finding of a 206-page report commissioned by the municipality to enhance the eight-course system that has racked up $22 million in deferred maintenance and capital improvements.

At a glance

Recommended green fee* changes

Mountain Dell » Increase from $49 to $72

Wingpointe » Increase from $47 to $50

Glendale » Reduce from $44 to $30

Nibley » (Nine holes) Reduce from $34 to $31

Bonneville » No change from $49

Forest Dale » No change from $37

Rose Park » (If it remains open) Reduce from $42 to $32

*(18 holes plus $14 cart)

Source: NGF Consulting

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One of the most striking options outlined in the report by Florida-based National Golf Foundation is the recommended closure of Rose Park Golf Course and nearby Jordan River Par-3, which has nine holes. Those courses provide less revenue than the city’s other courses.

The city’s golf courses operate through an enterprise fund that is not subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Its annual revenues of about $8 million keeps pace only with day-to-day operations, said Rick Graham, director of public services.

But according to the report, all the city’s courses are in "declining physical condition" and have a lack of adequate amenities, such as clubhouses and food and beverage services.

"Our review showed that Salt Lake City golf courses generally do not compare well to their immediate competitors, with playing conditions and clubhouse amenities that are below standard," the report states. "However, despite the conditions, Salt Lake City golf courses tend to offer a comparable pricing schedule. ... The overall value received for the green fee paid was low."

Nonetheless, the consultant said there is "a lot of reason for optimism" because "the issues that led to declining financial performance are correctable."

Millions in upgrades • The report lists at least $11 million in upgrades that should be made in the near future. Where the city will find the funding, however, is unclear.

The City Council will begin discussing the matter at its March 25 work session at 2 p.m. in Room 326 of City Hall, 451 S. State.

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The report is a call to action, according to Graham.

"I’m glad we got the report," he said. "It was very enlightening and thorough and drilled down into the core of the issue — the fund can’t survive without investment."

The consultants also offer an alternative to closing Rose Park. The city could "re-configure the property to a more manageable, efficient and market-appropriate mix of amenities," the report states. A so-called "executive course" that is shorter is one consideration.

The report also said the cost of water far exceeds national benchmarks and "threatens the ongoing financial viability of the golf courses."

The city’s courses operate on culinary, rather than secondary water, and pay the full rate, even though Salt Lake City operates the water system. Last year, the golf water bill was $1.3 million.

Despite their shortcomings, Salt Lake City’s golf courses are popular, the report states. And revenues could be improved with better technology for setting tee times and the creation of databases, better marketing using that data, website marketing, better branding with a Salt Lake City golf logo, more advertising and more tournaments. In addition, the program could enhance revenues through naming rights, donors and partnerships, the report states.

Not least, the city could sell land adjoining courses for a one-time infusion of money.

For years, Graham said, city officials have planned such things as new irrigation systems and clubhouse upgrades, but because the golf program was set up to be self-supporting, most of those plans were financially beyond reach.

"The golf fund needs money," Graham said. "This [report] takes us to the place we’ve hoped it would" as the Becker administration and City Council begin budget deliberations for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Course closing, fee hikes? • Salt Lake City golfers want better maintenance, but they don’t want to lose the Rose Park course, said avid golfer Ron Cohn, who often plays those links. Closing or redesigning the course makes no sense, he said.

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