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Tribune Reports on SLC Golf Hearing

By CHRISTOPHER SMART | The Salt Lake Tribune [connect]

First Published Feb 03 2015 08:42PM    •    Last Updated Feb 03 2015 10:40 pm

Golf is not a matter of life and death — it's far more important.

More than 100 golfers packed the chambers of the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday evening to sound off on the possibility that the troubled golf system could close some of its eight courses.

The golf program is losing money. It's more than $1 million in debt and has racked up about $23 million in deferred maintenance.

The golf-enterprise fund typically earns $8 million per year.

Last spring, Mayor Ralph Becker told the council to balance the budget of the independent golf fund — or he would.

Since then, the council has considered a plethora of proposals that would bring the system into the black, as well as addressing improvements that have been put off, in some cases, for years.

Resident Lew Hanson said the city does not promote its golf courses enough.

“Golf is not a matter of life and death; it's far more important,” he told the council. “It's a quality of life issue.”

Hanson said the city should sponsor more tournaments and use its clubhouses for dances and concerts. “You have to make the golf course more of a social gathering place.”

Tom Cordova told the council that golf courses enhance the quality of life for all residents — not just golfers. He asked the council why golf has to be 100 percent self-sustaining when other recreation modes are supported by taxpayers through the general fund.

“We should make sure that golf courses are available to all citizens,” he said. “Not just the affluent.”

Scott Whittaker, the executive director of the Utah Pro Golfers Association, said in decades past, Salt Lake City set the model for municipal golf for the nation. But the city's lack of investment through its general fund in its golf program over the past decade has led to the current crisis.

“Re-invest in golf and the problem with take care of itself,” he said. “It's not subsidy; it's an investment.”

It's incredible that Salt Lake City taxpayers are spending more than $200 million on a Broadway-style theater, said George Chapman, but won't spend any general fund money on golf. “What are we thinking?”

West-side resident Ray Wheeler said that Salt Lake City's golf courses need a huge injection of money to keep them viable. Both the golf courses and other open space could be saved by a general obligation bond that would consider a broad range of recreation needs, he said.

Kent Miles told the council the golf discussion reflected a “defeatist attitude.”

“We're not talking about how to bring more golfers in; we're just talking about closing courses,” he said. “If we close courses now, how will we ever build new ones when the population and demand increases?”

Other speakers suggested myriad ideas, such as switching from culinary water on the courses to secondary water; streamlining management; marketing Salt Lake City golf nationally, like the ski industry; raising green fees; and using courses for such things as disc golf.