The seven Minneapolis public golf courses need $34 million in improvements to keep operating financially independently, a golf course consultant told the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Wednesday.
In a report that board President Liz Wielinski described as "brutally honest," consultant Jim Keegan presented a litany of shortcomings -- bald greens, fairways sinking into saturated soil, "pathetic" websites, demoralized (and expensive) staff, and even "dated and disgusting" clubhouses -- the courses need to address to attract golfers and avoid using money from the board's general fund.
Specific recommendations include investing heavily to make Gross National, already a top performer, even more attractive regionally. Gross, Wirth, Hiawatha and Meadowbook should get clubhouse renovations or even expansions. Also recommended were raising green fees at Meadowbrok, lowering them at Columbia, Ft. Snelling and Gross, and raising them for seniors, many of whom, Keegan said, can easily afford it. But Columbia, the report indicated, probably would not repay significant investment.
Parks superintendent Jayne Miller, who said the deteriorating golf courses were one of her first concerns when she arrived in 2010, said the board will need to determine within weeks what improvements it can make this year. She wants to board to develop a long-term plan over the next several months.
Possible options outlined by Keegan include hiring private operators or closing some courses. Privatization of public courses is a significant trend nationally, he said. Meadowbrook and Wirth require the most investment -- nearly $9 million each -- but Meadowbrook is one of two Keegan said have the greatest potential to generate income. The other is Gross.
Commissioner John Erwin noted it could be "a tough sell" for middle-income taxpayers to pay for improvements at Meadowbrook, for example, since it's in Edina, and since, as Keegan's report noted, golfers are typically affluent whites. Keegan said that reinforces the need for Minneapolis courses to be able to cover their own operating and capital costs.
Another interesting challenge noted in the report (page 148): Golf in an older person's game, but Minneapolis population is younger than that in other cities.