Edina prepares for a hard talk about the future of city golf courses

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2013 - 3:04 PM

A significant drop in revenue this year has the city considering changes to its operations.

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Workers made final preparations for Thursday’s opening of the Braemar Golf Dome, which should bring in some badly needed revenue.

Photo: Mary Jane Smetanka , Star Tribune

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After a golf season that officials call the worst ever for the city’s two public golf courses, Edina is preparing for a public conversation about the future of its golf operations.

Bad spring weather, combined with the lack of the city’s Golf Dome, had a disastrous effect on golf revenues, said Ann Kattreh, city parks and recreation director.

“Nationally, rounds of golf began to rebound after the lows of 2008 and 2009, so we were feeling fairly optimistic coming into this season,” she said. “But the poor weather this spring was really devastating to our budget this year.”

As of the end of September, net earnings from Braemar and Fred Richards golf courses were down about $325,000 over the same time last year. That’s despite city moves to save about $175,000 at the two courses by cutting costs.

The city’s Golf Dome burned in February 2012. In the past, the dome always turned a profit, Kattreh said. A replacement dome will open Thursday and its hours of operation will be 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

“We’re hoping excitement over the Golf Dome will generate some added revenue that will offset some of our losses for the year,” Kattreh said.

Golf is considered a city “enterprise activity,” meaning that ideally the golf courses and dome would be financially self-supporting. The city has subsidized golf operations with profits from its municipal liquor stores and, more recently, from an operating surplus in the city’s general fund.

Now the city is studying golf operations “to make sure we’re doing the best we can to operate as efficiently as possible,” Kattreh said.

She said recommendations on the future of golf operations may be made to the City Council in the next few months. There also will be a public conversation with Edina residents, she said.

Braemar is the more challenging of the city’s two golf courses. The city has owned the smaller Fred Richards course for about 20 years. It was formerly a private course and was combined with Lake Edina Park when the city bought it, Kattreh said.

With par-three and par-four holes, Fred Richards has shorter fairways and is a favorite especially among seniors, young people and club golfers who feel they can play a more relaxed game there. Rumors that the course is in jeopardy have circulated for months, with some golfers writing letters to City Council members pleading for them to keep the course open.

Kattreh confirmed that the future of Fred Richards will be one of the issues the city discusses.

Golf courses general manager Todd Anderson said this year’s poor financial results are a deviation from the past. In 2012, revenues were up from the previous year but lower than those in 2010.

Anderson said managers knew early this year that golf operations couldn’t recover from the terrible spring. They tried to save money by sending employees home when it was slow and not spending money on “anything but the bare basics.” No employees were laid off, he said.

“The one place we did not cut is course maintenance,” Anderson said. “That is our product, and we would not cut back on that.”

To build Braemar’s business, there are plans to make the driving range wider and deeper. Anderson said technical advances in equipment means balls fly farther, so people taking lessons on the far end of the range that opened in 1964 are now in danger of getting beaned.

City officials have expressed support for expanding the driving range, and Anderson expects the project to happen.

“We’re really hoping that the driving range improvements will generate a lot of revenue for us,” he said. “That’s our front door, in effect.”

Eric Roggeman, the city’s assistant finance director, said the city already has transferred $300,000 from an operating surplus in the city’s general fund to golf. Exactly how big any remaining financial gap is beyond the additional $25,000 that existed at the end of September will be clearer at year’s end.

“The gap is bigger than we planned on, so that’s a conversation we’ll have to have about how to handle it,” he said.

In recent years, publicly owned golf courses have struggled in many cities as passion for the game seemed to wane. In St. Paul, the City Council is considering whether to look for private companies to operate two of its golf courses.

But Kattreh said that recent statistics nationally and in Minnesota indicate that the number of rounds played is going up again. That, she said, should add a bit of optimism to the coming city discussion.

 

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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