Lexington’s five golf courses and seven pools continue to run in the red, but parks and recreation department officials told a committee of the Lexington council Tuesday that attendance has climbed in the past three years.
Golf’s losses have declined since 2011, when the courses lost $1.1 million. In 2016, the golf courses lost $853,000.
Although attendance increased 14 percent and revenues were up 18 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, the city’s pools lost $782,425. That’s more than the city’s pools lost in the prior two years.
An increase in maintenance costs and some costly repairs drove up expenses, which resulted in the loss, said Monica Conrad, director of Lexington’s parks and recreation.
“Older pools are costly to maintain,” Conrad told the Urban County Council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee.
Conrad gave an overview on how the city’s golf and aquatics programs have tried to drive up revenues and clamp down on expenses.
The profitability of Lexington’s pools and golf courses has long been a concern. In prior years, the city has proposed closing golf courses and pools to curb losses. No one proposed closing any of the pools or golf courses during Tuesday’s meeting.
In 2012, the city’s golf courses instituted a new marketing strategy that included more discounts and aggressive social media marketing to increase the number of rounds played. Although golf’s losses have shrunk, it may be time to look at increasing fees to play at the city’s golf courses, Conrad said.
Conrad said the last time the city looked at its rates, it lowered them to increase attendance. That was in 2012.
The city’s golf courses are Gay Brewer Jr. at Picadome, Lakeside, Tates Creek, Meadowbrook and Kearney Hill.
Councilman Kevin Stinnett, who chairs the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, agreed and said it has been several years since the city looked at rates charged at private golf courses to determine if the city was competitive. Stinnett also recommended parks look at selling more advertising on golf carts and other areas that private clubs sell advertising.
Councilman Richard Moloney said golf courses traditionally don’t make money — unless they are private clubs that can charge members thousands of dollars.
Others on council said the city has to balance needs of its citizens with recreation trends. Nationwide, golf is on the decline.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe said she started to play golf as a child. But many kids today don’t play golf.
The city is beginning a new parks master plan. That plan needs to look at golf courses and determine if a golf course is the highest and best use of that land, Bledsoe said.
“We also need to look at land use,” Bledsoe said.
Pool attendance has increased over the past three years.
Pool attendance was 197,747 in 2012. It dipped to 138,030 in 2014. It climbed to 170,030 last year. Pools brought in $642,740 in 2012. In 2016, pools generated $611,588. Pool’s expenses were $1,394,043 in 2016. That resulted in a loss of $782,455. Those pools are at Picadome, Douglass, Shillito, Castlewood, Southland, Tates Creek and Woodland.
The city closed two pools in 2012 — Berry Hill and Constitution. It has not closed any pools since then.
But the city has committed $3 million this year to upgrade some of its pools, in an effort to boost attendance. Some of that money will pay for four spray grounds, two of which are expected to be completed this summer.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay asked Conrad to provide the council with a breakdown of the park’s department budget the next time she comes before the council. Kay pointed out the city subsidizes other park programs, not just golf and pools.
“We subsidize all parks, not just golf and aquatics,” Kay said.