Brooklyn Park is considering investing $6 million in the city's 26-year-old championship golf course although, like most municipal courses in Minnesota, it has seen revenue and rounds played decline for most of the past decade.
Edinburgh USA, designed by the noted Robert Trent Jones II, has generally earned enough to cover operating expenses. But debt and capital costs have left the 225-acre course in the red since its 1990s heyday.
City Council members last week discussed how much to spend to restore the course to its former level, which had been eroded by budget cuts and deferred maintenance over the past decade. They also heard from residents Sam and Liz Goff, who estimated that about 1 percent of the city's population plays golf. The couple asked why city taxpayers should contribute about $6 million to subsidize often well-off golfers.
"Don't spend money on a losing business proposition," Sam Goff told the council. He suggested investing the funds in a high-speed Internet system to help attract technology jobs to the city.
Mayor Jeff Lunde said the council will decide at its Monday meeting how much to invest in its courses. He noted that Edinburgh has made the city a destination location for golfers and also attracts business executives whose companies the city seeks for its Hwy. 610 corridor.
Annual rounds of golf played at Edinburgh have declined from a peak of more than 40,000 in the 1990s to about 30,000 this year, said Jon Oyanagi, Recreation and Parks director. In the past decade, rounds peaked at 35,750 in 2007 and hit 35,000 again in 2012.
In Minnesota, only six out of 41 city-owned courses made money in 2011, according to the latest data available from the state auditor's office. The number of U.S. golfers peaked in 2003 at 30.6 million and dropped to 25.7 million in 2011, according to the National Golf Foundation.
In Brooklyn Park, the $6 million fix was recommended in a consultant's report and in a golf plan approved by the city's parks advisory commission. The plan suggests spending $4.5 million in course, parking and clubhouse improvements and forgiving about $1.4 million in internal loans that the city has made to improve the golf program since 2001. Course improvements would total nearly $2 million, to upgrade greens, fairways, sand traps and other areas at Edinburgh and the city's nine-hole Brookland Golf Park.
The city also expects to raise greens fees about $3 a round, Oyanagi said. Resident rates would increase from $43 to $46 for a round at Edinburgh and by $1 per 9-hole round at Brookland Golf Park. Rounds played at Brookland dropped from 20,000 in 2003 to nearly 12,000 in 2012.
In October the council endorsed a vision of Edinburgh remaining a top-quality course to enhance the city's image, Lunde said. Brookland is viewed as an entry-level course, offering double-wide cups on its greens, to attract new golfers and those who don't have about four hours to play Edinburgh's challenging 18 holes.
Most council members spoke favorably about forgiving the $1.4 million balance on the internal loan to Edinburgh because the course had diverted $2 million of revenue over a decade to pay off bonds for a city hockey rink. Members also agreed with the idea that course manager Don Berry should have the full authority he has lacked to run the program and be fully accountable for its results.
Oyanagi said the $2 million in course improvements could be covered by the city's Heritage Fund, a levy-supported account for infrastructure repairs. He said the $2.5 million for clubhouse and parking upgrades could be covered by bonds issued by the city's Economic Development Authority, or by a new levy that would cost the median-value homeowner about $8 a month for 15 years.
Several council members opposed the level of clubhouse spending proposed by the consultant, Golf Convergence of Castle Rock, Colo. They also wanted to speed improvements to shorten the five-year period the firm suggested before the golf program should have a positive cash flow.
Council Member John Jordan and others said they would like to explore leasing the course to a private golf management firm if the improvements don't produce stronger financial results within several years.
Lunde said upgrading Edinburgh is not just for golfers, but to maintain an asset that promotes economic development and that has increased property values and taxes on homes surrounding the course.
"Is a city park supposed to break even?" he asked. "Some city services can't be measured in return on investment. They are an amenity," like the water parks that some cities have.