Metro Council Could Raise Fees To Save Unprofitable Public Golf Courses
Most of Louisville’s 10 public golf courses are losing money. That’s why some of them were at risk of closure as city leaders considered cost-saving measures for this year’s budget. Now, officials are considering two options to keep the courses open.
The first, a plan to allow public golf courses to raise greens fees and adjust pricing based on demand, will likely face a Metro Council vote Thursday evening. That's despite a deadline next week for a request for proposals from outside management companies that the mayor's office put out in September.
The ordinance suggests raising daily fees by $5.
With employee pension costs expected to continue rising for several years, officials are looking for new sources of revenue in general. And raising fees could be one way to keep golf courses open.
At a recent Parks and Sustainability Committee meeting, chair Cindi Fowler (D-14) said she wants to keep golf in Louisville as close to the same as it is now.
"The green fees alone will raise $1 million," Fowler said, calling it a conservative estimate. She said finding savings in maintenance costs could also help make up some of the losses.
A third-party report shared in August by the Louisville Parks and Sustainability Department showed that six of the city's 10 public golf courses failed to break even or make a profit in fiscal year 2018. It said the courses lost more than $2 million that year.
When asked by council member Bill Hollander (D-9) whether anyone has analyzed how higher rates would impact rates of play, Fowler said she did not know what the effect would be. Hollander is the sponsor of a different ordinance that would allow Metro to contract with outside management companies.
Jay Karen, the CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association, said the proposed changes are reasonable.
"It makes fundamental sense as a business to do that," he said. "If they haven't been doing it, then they've been missing out probably on revenue for years."
He also said if the city decides to enter contracts with outside management firms, those companies could implement higher fees and dynamic pricing, just like what Fowler's ordinance proposes.
"That's what a lot of management companies do, that's the expertise they're hired for. So it's just a matter of do they want to maintain full control or turn it over to a company that makes its living running golf courses," Karen said.
The deadline for outside management companies to submit proposals to Louisville Metro is Oct. 15, 2019.