Two golf courses owned by Ramsey County will need millions of dollars worth of upgrades in the coming years if the county wants to keep them profitable, according to a study completed in December.
The good news is that play at each of the county’s five courses has held relatively steady or even increased since 2012, and all but one course — the nine-hole Ponds at Battle Creek — has been returning an operating profit, the study showed.
“We’re in a healthy place,” said Mark McCabe, the county’s Parks and Recreation director. “We know we’re going to need to make some improvements, and move things like women’s tee boxes around to hopefully attract a more diverse audience.”
Irrigation and drainage systems need to be replaced at the Manitou Ridge and Goodrich golf courses, in White Bear Lake and Maplewood respectively. Both courses need extensive work replacing greens and tee boxes and removing dead trees, the study found.
The study, completed by Georgia-based Sirius Golf Advisors, also found that the county has not been serving as many women, beginning and casual golfers as it should.
County Board members commissioned the study to show how the county’s public courses and its indoor golf dome are faring in the market as the game of golf has slipped in popularity nationally over the past several years.
One reason why women golfers aren’t being better served, the study said, may be that many of their tee boxes are too far from the greens, making the courses tougher and slowing down the pace of play.
The courses also need more flexible prices than the fees currently set by the County Board, the study said.
The study found that some of the most pressing needs are at Manitou Ridge, which long has been the county’s busiest course. The infrastructure needs to be entirely replaced, according to the study, including the course’s irrigation system and drainage. Several of its holes could be redesigned, and sand traps should be replaced.
The study estimated the total cost to renovate Manitou Ridge would be about $8 million. But with the upgrades, according to the study, Ramsey County could expect to bring in an additional $600,000 annually from increased play and higher fees.
Repairs to Manitou Ridge and Goodrich have priority, said Sara Ackmann, the county’s director of arenas and golf. “They have extreme failing infrastructure needs, so those are coming first,” she said. “Improving playability for women is also going to be important for us.”
The study found that the food vendor at the county’s historic Keller Golf Course in Maplewood was dragging down the experience, saying that staffers had an open “disdain” for serving golfers and focused instead on catering events at the clubhouse.
The vendor has already switched out general managers and is working with the county to make sure golfers get good food and drink service, McCabe said.
The parks department will review the recommendations and ask for any fixes during the budget process, which will begin over the coming months, McCabe said. The county can make some recommended fixes as soon as temperatures warm and the courses reopen.
“The market has seemed to stabilize,” he said. “I think we are doing things well, and now we need to make some strategic investments to make sure we’re healthy for the long term.”