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SLC Facing Green Fee Increase to Cope With Budget Needs

By Derek P. Jensen
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published: September 26, 2011 08:40PMUpdated: September 26, 2011 11:39PM
Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Golfing group takes off at Glendale Golf Course in Salt Lake City on Monday Sept. 26. Golfing at this course could jump to $36 by 2016.
Forget the wobbly knees and sweaty palms standing over that birdie putt — Salt Lake City golfers may face full-blown “sticker shock” if City Hall follows through on its drive to raise more golf revenue.
Mayor Ralph Becker’s group is proposing three spikes in green fees during the next five years to help plug a $20 million budget hole for necessary upgrades across the city’s nine public courses.
One scenario — to take effect Jan. 1 — would translate to a $7 hike to play 18 holes at the popular Bonneville and Mountain Dell courses. That price would sky to $11 above current rates by 2016 after proposed green-fee boosts in 2012 and 2014, along with a new capital-improvement fee.
If the City Council consents, the extra money could immediately fund “lower priority projects” or major course upgrades if the council elects to bond. But city documents also predict a 6 percent decrease in rounds played next year — due to the higher fees — and essentially flat golf growth through 2016.
The increases “will create a small level of customer discontent and sticker shock,” the financial documents read.
No decision will be made before a public hearing — likely next month — and the council has three slightly different fee schedules from which to choose.
Public reaction so far has been mixed. After all, the price for public golf along the Wasatch Front is considered modest compared to other regions. Yet a saturation of courses and the flat-lined economy have taken a toll on the golf industry, making municipalities squeamish about raising rates.
“I can see perhaps one or two municipal golf courses in SLC, although I am not sure why the city is in a business that should rightfully be a private, ‘for-profit’ enterprise,” resident Scott Morham wrote the city’s online forum. “I do not see why taxpayers should subsidize golf. Let golfers subsidize golf. Sell all but one or two of the courses.”
But like many on the forum, Christopher Funk is open to “modest” hikes. “Most of us are concerned about money and an increase in golf fees in this difficult economic time,” he wrote. “But I know that my friends and I would much rather pay a little more for a round of golf than to have the number of golf courses reduced or, just as important, the condition of the golf courses suffer.”
The mayor’s across-the-board recommendation calls for green-fee hikes of $1 to $2.50 per nine holes depending on whether the course is considered beginner, intermediate or advanced. A secondary capital-improvement fee — to be tacked on at least through 2016 — would cost either $1 or $2 per nine holes.
In all, that is expected to generate an extra $1.9 million to $2.4 million during the next five years. But Public Services Director Rick Graham explains the additional revenue won’t solve the overall shortfall.
“This is just one of several options the city will have to consider,” he said, “if it wants to solve that $20 million nut.”
Graham said the “big risk” Salt Lake City faces is raising green fees so high that it scares away regular golfers. “We’re trying to be sensitive to that,” he said. “It’s obvious that when we start adjusting fees, the golfer is going to have to choose. We hope they stay with us.”
Yet starting next year, the city’s courses could top other public venues — in cost. Under the most expensive model, it would be cheaper in 2012 to play 18 holes at Bountiful Ridge or Eaglewood ($26) than Rose Park ($30) or Glendale ($32). Those rates do not include cart rental. And it would be less to play 18 holes at Valley View ($28), Soldier Hollow ($29) or Old Mill ($30) than at Bonneville ($37) or Mountain Dell ($37).
“It’s not unlike fast food,” Graham added. “We have to be good. And sometimes that product has to go up in fees.”
Other changes under the proposal include:
• Adjusting the frequent-player card from $75 for a 30 percent discount to $45 for a 20 percent discount.
• Discontinuing two of the four “passport” options for the junior, regular and senior-age groups.
• Altering the Jordan River Par 3 course to make most of its open space or to use a third of the course for two free par 3 holes, a short-game practice area and an expanded driving range.
Budget bosses project a 12 percent revenue jump next year even though the golf fund hemorrhaged more than a half-million dollars this year.
So why is the golf fund so far in arrears? Officials point to debt payments for Wingpointe and Mountain Dell, a new irrigation system at Glendale, the Forest Dale clubhouse renovation, the recession and soggy springs. Worse, the market’s supply of public golf holes has skyrocketed by 95 percent since 1990.
For the past two years, the city has wrestled with whether to sell off some of its fairways or raise rates. Graham stresses hiking green fees is just one possible solution and notes every government in the golf business is facing the same challenge.
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Becker’s proposedvehicle-idling ban
A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday for Salt Lake City residents who want to weigh in on Mayor Ralph Becker’s proposal to limit vehicle idling to two minutes. Exceptions would include times of extreme temperatures, work crews and emergency vehicles. The City Council hearing is in Room 315 at City Hall, 451 S. State St.

Proposed fee hikes
Under the priciest proposal, here is how much it would cost to golf at Salt Lake City’s courses:
Course Now 2012 2014 2016
Bonneville $30 $37 $39 $41
*Forest Dale $13 $15 $16 $17
Glendale $26 $32 $34 $36
Mountain Dell (Canyon) $30 $37 $39 $41
Mountain Dell (Lake) $30 $37 $39 $41
*Nibley Park $12 $14 $15 $16
Rose Park $26 $30 $32 $34
Wingpointe $30 $35.50 $37.50 $39.50
*Nine-hole course(Jordan Park Par 3 not listed under proposed fee changes)