Fayette County

Lexington’s golf courses lost $1 million last year. Now changes are coming.

Golfing at Lexington’s five public courses will get more expensive in January as the city tries to stem $1 million in annual losses in its golf program.

The city will raise the eligibility age for a senior citizens discount from 50 to 57, eliminate some other discount rates altogether and bump up the price for an annual pass to driving ranges.

If the changes don’t produce enough savings for the program, which has been mired in personnel and financial problems, the city may have to look at closing or re-purposing one of its courses or handing over golf operations to a private management team, said Monica Conrad, the director of Parks and Recreation.

Conrad told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council’s General Government and Social Services Committee on Tuesday that the current senior citizen age of 50 is the lowest for any local golf course.

“Last year, 26 percent of our rounds were senior discounts,” Conrad said.

The city also will eliminate the use of loyalty cards — which can be purchased for $100 a year — on top of other discounts, Conrad said. In addition, there will be no special dusk rate beginning Jan. 1. Twilight rates — which apply three to four hours before sunset — will be eliminated at Meadowbrook.

Conrad said there has been no specific time frame for a dusk rate, creating confusion about when the steep discount should be applied.

An annual pass for unlimited driving range use will increase from $150 to $200, Conrad said.

Golf cart fees were increased $1 per 9 holes and $2 per 18 holes at each course in August.

Conrad said the golf cart fee increase is projected to generate an additional $109,000 a year. She said it’s not clear how much savings the other changes will produce.

The changes are in response to a consultant’s report that recommended the city tighten financial controls, increase prices, nix some discounts and make other changes to cut losses.

Consultant J.J. Keegan told the council in July that Lexington’s public courses lost $4.5 million from 2012 to 2016.

All of the courses — Tates Creek, Meadowbrook, Gay Brewer Jr. at Picadome, Kearney Hill and Lakeside — operate at a loss, meaning tax dollars subsidize each course. Over the past four years, the city has implemented cost-saving measures that cut annual losses from $969,719 in 2012 to $853,527 in 2016.

In 2017, because of an increase in retirements, losses climbed to just past $1 million, Conrad said.

Keegan recommended several changes, including increasing green fees, decreasing pro golf shop hours and increasing maintenance staff hours. He also suggested halting the use of multiple discounts, which allowed some people to pay as little as $2 per round when the cost to the city is $36.

He recommended boosting the age for senior discounts to 60. Conrad said the city decided on 57 because some private courses in the area start senior discounts at 55. Others begin discounts at 60.

“We felt this was in the middle,” she said.

No council member opposed the changes during Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilman Kevin Stinnett said the city has been trying to stem losses in golf since 2007.

He said it might be time for the city to look at re-purposing one golf course for other uses, noting that there is growing demand for additional space for other youth sports.

Conrad, though, said time is needed to implement the changes before considering more drastic changes.

The state Labor Cabinet also has an ongoing investigation into time card issues within the golf department. In May, an internal investigation found time cards had been altered to cheat lower-level employees of overtime pay. The report recommended an 80-hour suspension of the director of golf operations and suspensions for five other golf professionals for altering time cards. The director of golf operations has since retired and the city has hired a new director.

General Government Commissioner Geoff Reed said the city is working with state officials to determine how much in back pay some golf employees are owed.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall