Utah State Parks and Recreation administrators are preparing a request for proposals that may result in private operation of four golf facilities in the state.
The request, targeted for release in about a month, won’t necessarily lead to the awarding of a contract, officials say. Utah golf organizations have resisted privatizing of state and municipal courses, citing a history of green fees being raised in other states. State Parks official Scott Strong, however, said, “Fees charged by a potential contractor would be very similar to the current greens fees” and would be subject to approval by State Parks.
The division of the Utah Deptartment of Natural Resources operates four golf venues: the 36-hole Wasatch Mountain and 36-hole Soldier Hollow in Midway, 18-hole Palisade near Manti and nine-hole Green River course. If a contract is awarded, it would cover all four courses.
Utah is a rare state where most public golf courses have been built and managed by governmental agencies. The conversation about privatizing the State Parks courses began in 2011, stemming from a Utah Legislative Auditor General’s review of the division. Several legislators have followed up in recent years by asking that the division draft an RFP, according to Strong, the division’s deputy director of business management.
“Legislators aren’t telling us that the courses must be privatized,” Strong said. “They want us to determine whether or not privatizing the courses puts the division in an even better financial position.”
A contract will be awarded only if the division determines a private contractor can meet customer service expectations, maintenance standards and facility conditions while saving the state money, Strong said.
Wasatch Mountain, which celebrated a 50-year anniversary last summer with Gov. Gary Herbert playing in a commemorative event, is one of the state’s most popular courses. Soldier Hollow, a regular host of the Utah State Amateur, is the only Utah course that has staged a United States Golf Association tournament — the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
State Parks golf professionals, superintendents and the courses have been recognized locally and nationally for their place in the Utah golf industry, as Strong noted.