Dwindling fans of Meadowbrook Golf Course fighting proposed closure

opposition to Mayor's proposal on upswing

bfortune@herald-leader.comMay 9, 2011 

Playing at Meadowbrook Golf Course, the city's only 18-hole par-3 course, is good practice for his short game, Frank Rambo of Lexington said Friday during a round.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF

Ron Reinhardt understands the city's need to reduce expenses, but he doesn't think closing Meadowbrook Golf Course is the right way to help balance the budget.

"I'm disappointed Meadowbrook would be targeted," said Reinhardt, a retired minister who has played Lexington's only 18-hole, par-3 course twice a week with his wife, Nada, for more than a decade.

"It is a non-intimidating atmosphere for golfers who are not particularly fast or not particularly good golfers," Ron Reinhardt said. "How are we going to grow another generation of golfers unless we have courses like this where they can learn."

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has proposed dealing with a projected $27 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1 by laying off 28 workers, abolishing 215 vacant positions, slashing spending on police and firemen, and closing two swimming pools and Meadowbrook Golf Course.

A committee of the Urban County Council has rejected Gray's proposal to close swimming pools, but the fate of Meadowbrook remains uncertain.

Meadowbrook is one of five city-operated courses. During the last budget year, the city lost $58,000 on the golf course: It cost $196,000 to operate but generated just $138,000 in revenue. The course lost almost $86,000 in fiscal year 2008 and $43,000 in fiscal year 2009.

The number of rounds of golf played there has declined for six years, from almost 15,000 in 2006 to 11,000 in 2010.

Despite the declining numbers, Reinhardt is organizing opposition to the decision to close the course. Opponents held a meeting Tuesday to plan strategy. They are circulating petitions, urging supporters to contact their Urban County Council representatives and planning to go before the council to present their case.

"We're going to bombard council every way we can," Reinhardt said.

The future of Meadowbrook has been in doubt before. Then-Mayor Jim Newberry proposed closing it in his 2007 budget, but the council voted to keep the course open.

Fayette County Public Schools, which owns the 27-acre course on Wilson-Downing Road, tucked between Southern Elementary and Southern Middle schools, wanted to sell the course to the city in 2007 to help pay for $290 million in school construction and renovation projects. The city leases the course from the school system for $1 a year.

The pressing need to sell was lessened when the school board approved an increase in the school property tax, from 54.1 cents per $100 of assessed value to 59.4 cents, in 2007.

School Superintendent Stu Silberman said the district has no plans for the property.

"As soon as we receive official word from the city that they'll be closing the golf course, we would then have to make a determination about what to do with the property," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Shari Gatewood, manager of Meadowbrook, said attendance has declined because of bad publicity; many people think the course already has closed, she said.

On busy days, the clubhouse will receive as many as 100 calls from people checking to see whether Meadowbrook is still open, she said Wednesday.

She called it frustrating that the possibility of closing has surfaced again.

Urban County Councilman Julian Beard, whose district includes Meadowbrook, said the course was a "community asset without a doubt."

"All our courses lose ... about the same kind of money, between $50,000 to $80,000 a year, except Kearney Hills and Lakeside," he said.

For the city to subsidize its golf courses is no different than underwriting other facilities like swimming pools and tennis courts, he said.

The council will continue to scrutinize the mayor's budget recommendations and make final decisions about what to cut in June. Beard said he was working to keep money in the budget for Meadowbrook.

Gray called for closing Meadowbrook as a money-saving measure at the recommendation of the parks department, city spokeswoman Susan Straub said.

Jane Driskell, the commissioner of finance, said Gray, in putting together a budget, focused on providing core services like roads, traffic lights and public safety.

"We're moving toward a cost-of-service model for all city services," she said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251

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