Businesses may soon be able to advertise products and services at Lexington’s five public golf courses.
The city of Lexington is considering sponsorships and selling advertising to increase revenues at its five public golf courses that have long run in the red.
Monica Conrad, director of Lexington Parks and Recreation, told the Urban County Council Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday that the city is exploring a host of different advertising options including logos for golf carts, sponsorship of scorecards and tee sign sponsorships.
Lexington parks and recreation officials have said that the city’s golf operations have increased revenues over the past several years and losses have shrunk. Still, in 2016, golf’s losses were more than $800,000.
Conrad told the council that the parks department is still in the early days of exploring sponsorships and advertising.
“We are working to develop an RFP (request for proposals) for all golf sponsorships,” Conrad said.
Councilman Fred Brown said during Tuesday’s meeting he thinks the city should explore it.
“We need more revenue,” Brown said.
Other council members urged the city to make sure it does sponsorships and advertising right.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe said she is conflicted about the sponsorship idea. Parks needs more revenue, but she doesn’t want to see inappropriate or garish sponsorships.
Conrad said that’s why officials want to take their time. They are looking at how other cities use sponsorships and advertising on public courses.
Fees for the city’s five public golf courses are in line with many private golf courses if golfers pay full rate. But the city’s golf courses offer lots of discounts. The discounts include those for veterans, seniors and kids. With a discount, the fees are much lower than private golf courses.
“There are many, many discounted rates,” Conrad said.
A breakdown of all city parks and recreation programs show that golf isn’t the only money loser. Taxpayer dollars subsidize nearly every parks-related program including city festivals such as the popular Halloween Thriller Parade and the Woodland Arts Fair to the city’s seven pools. Only rentals of park shelters and other buildings make money, according to information provided by the city’s parks department.
In 2016, parks and recreation generated a little more than $4.2 million in fees and other revenues, but cost more $20.6 million to run. The city allocates about $16.4 million to parks each year.
Golf generates more than half of that $4.2 million with $2.7 million in revenue in 2016, parks numbers show. Golf has closed the gap between revenue and expenses since 2011, when losses topped more than $1.1 million.
Conrad said parks and recreation were not meant to break even or make money. It’s a city service, she said.
“Our parks are one of our city’s most popular services,” Conrad said. “Like most city services, parks activities are not designed to make money. We stretch our dollars as much as possible, and work to be efficient. But it’s also important for parks activities to be affordable for everyone.”
In prior years, there have been efforts to close one or multiple golf courses but those efforts were stymied after golfers came out swinging.
General Services Commissioner Geoff Reed said they are also looking at hiring an independent consultant on municipal golf operations to get an objective assessment of how to improve revenues and efficiency in golf. As general services commissioner, Reed oversees parks.
“I think it would be good to get an outside look at it, as we move forward,” Reed said.
The city’s golf operations are also under investigation for irregularities involving time cards. That investigation by the city’s human resources department and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet should be concluded soon, city officials have said.