Salt Lake City struggling to maintain golf courses

Published: Monday, June 6 2011 4:05 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Irrigation systems need to be replaced at the Bonneville, Nibley Park and Rose Park golf courses, and drainage streams along the fairways at Forest Dale require piping.

Those four golf courses, as well as Glendale, also are desperate for new restrooms.

Then there's the need for a new boiler system at Mountain Dell, lake bank stabilization at Wingpointe, a driving range extension at Jordan River and much, much more.

In all, the nine Salt Lake City-owned golf courses — including the two 18-hole courses at Mountain Dell — require $22 million in maintenance and improvements. And city leaders are looking for ways to fund them.

"Our preference and our goal is to do every one of these improvements," Rick Graham, Salt Lake City's public services director, said of the 66 capital improvement projects proposed for city golf courses. "These are things that need to be done."

City officials have come up with several options for funding the improvements and renovations, including a proposal in which the city would sell surplus golf course property — 14 acres at Glendale, 10 acres at Bonneville and 3 acres at Rose Park.

Other options include increasing the cost to play at city courses, bonding for all or part of the needed money or even shutting one or more of them down. The Salt Lake City Council is expected to review those alternatives in the coming weeks.

Mayor Ralph Becker's office also plans to sponsor a study group in hopes of coming up with additional ways to improve the long-term viability of city golf courses.

"A broader analysis needs to take place to evaluate the future of municipal golf courses," said Art Raymond, spokesman for the mayor's office. "It's the mayor's goal to come up with a long-term strategic plan for golf courses, without any predisposition of what that might look like."

Lean city budgets brought on by the struggling economy and a sharp decline in sales-tax revenue have prevented city courses from moving forward with renovations and improvement projects over the past few years.

"We've been able to maintain the revenue to cover our annual golf course operations," Graham said, "but when it comes to these capital improvements that in some cases cost a significant amount of money, we haven't been able to keep up with that."

All of Salt Lake City's golf facilities operate through enterprise funds and are self-sustaining, meaning they're able to get by with the money they bring in — a rarity among public courses. By comparison, Salt Lake County's 2011 budget included a $1.4 million collective subsidy for its six golf courses.

But city officials say "getting by" isn't enough. Courses need to be improved — or in some cases better maintained — to continue attracting players.

"Golf courses are like any other business," Raymond said. "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. It requires constant improvement."

In a letter sent May 24 to Becker and the City Council, the Salt Lake City Golf Enterprise Fund Advisory Board opposes the idea of charging more to play at city courses. Across-the-board increases in green fees went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, marking the first time in six years city courses raised their prices.

The advisory board cautions that raising prices again could worsen the situation by driving golfers to other public courses in the area.

A better solution, the board states, would be to sell off land bordering some of the golf courses and use that money to make needed repairs and improvements. City officials estimate the sale of surplus property will bring in about $15.5 million.

Of the $22 million in improvement projects, $9.6 million worth are proposed for Bonneville — including $2.8 million for three new holes, new greens, bunkers, trees and perimeter fencing; $2.5 million for a new clubhouse; and $2.2 million for a new irrigation system.

City officials say much of the existing irrigation system at Bonneville is the original cast-iron pipe that was installed when the course was built more than 75 years ago. Then, in the early ′80s, irrigation upgrades were made using thinner-than-required piping, which has resulted in costly repairs over the years, city officials said.

"In some cases, these improvements will actually save us money in the long term," Graham said.

A new clubhouse at Bonneville also could be a revenue generator, he said. The existing clubhouse isn't large or functional enough to host many of the corporate events it would otherwise attract.

"We would take every opportunity to build a facility that gives us multiple options to generate money," Graham said. "It would be more than a concession stand and a pro shop. It might have banquet facilities, which would open up new opportunities for us."

City leaders are asking residents to weigh in on what changes, if any, are needed at Salt Lake City golf courses. Comments can be posted on the city's Open City Hall website, www.slcgov.com/opencityhall, emailed to council.comments@slc.gov or left as voice messages on the city's 24-hour comment line, 801-535-7654.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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