Keep Golf For All Of Us

Finally, we get to talk about golf in LEO.

The game of golf is widely considered to be a leisure activity for the wealthy. That is certainly the case for members of golf and country clubs, where it costs tens of thousands of dollars just to get into the club and thousands more every year once you’re a member. It’s also true of serious golfers who spend thousands on clubs, balls, shoes, lessons and more. It can be stuffy, prestigious, exclusive, pretentious.

That isn’t Louisville Metro golf.

Metro golf courses are for those who don’t have thousands of dollars or won’t spend it. They’re for those who still have 10-year-old clubs that were handed down to them.

Metro courses are for people who just want an outdoor activity, somewhere to be with as many as three friends for a few hours. They don’t necessarily care about green speeds and tightly mown fairways.

They’re for people who want to wear jeans, T-shirts, cut-offs and cargos and turn their hat around backwards.

Metro courses are for high school golf teams.

Most important, these courses are for those who don’t have the opportunities elsewhere.

Oh, and you’ll find serious golfers out there, too, every day.

With the city facing budget cuts because of our ineffective governor and state legislature, the operating deficit of the city’s golf courses has come into focus. Mayor Greg Fischer offered in his budget address in April that the city could save $500,000 a year by bidding out the city’s courses to be managed by private operators or by closing four of the city’s courses.

The Metro Council has responded with two proposals:

The first — a bipartisan proposal from council members Cindi Fowler and Kevin Kramer — is a plan that would raise revenue by increasing greens fees, give courses more control over prices going forward and avoid turning the course operations over to private, outside management groups.

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The second proposal, sponsored by Councilman Bill Hollander, strips the existing rules that govern city courses, and replaces them with: “Metro Parks may contract with a private entity or person for the management of any Metro-owned golf courses.” Essentially, this proposal says: The city doesn’t want to deal with golf courses anymore… someone please come do this for us.

Hollander’s proposal does raise some good questions for the city — like whether or not these rules make sense. Does every city course need its own professional? However, Hollander and Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed path, which lead to private management of city courses, raises more questions and concerns..

The most important question is: Would  private management have revenue interests in the courses? If so, then this is a non-starter, because the cost of greens fees would likely increase, and we — the city — would lose all control over operations and quality.

Meanwhile, raising the price of golf is an easy solution… but perilous.

The Fowler-Kramer proposal would immediately raise greens fees at all courses by $3, create a $5 redeemable-online booking fee and allow for dynamic pricing — meaning the professionals at each course could manage the price, increasing for peak hours and reducing it at other times. It would also permit fee increases up to $1 each year, as opposed to the current limit of 25 cents every two years.

The Courier Journal reported that Kramer had talked with golf pros who indicated that a $3 increase would bring Louisville courses in line with other city’s municipal golf courses.

The dynamic pricing is important. The professionals at each course understand ebbs and flows of their players better than anyone. Allowing them to manage the cost of greens fees would increase revenue, while still preserving the low-cost opportunities for others.

Ultimately, public golf courses, like other city amenities, are not revenue generators. The city should not try to make money off of its golfers, just as it doesn’t make money off of swimmers at its public pools or basketball players on city courts.

The goal must be to provide the largest number of people an opportunity to play golf.

Metro golf courses have to be for everyone, regardless of skill level, age and attire.

And it has to be affordable.

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