Lexington’s five public golf courses have cut losses slightly in the past year but the city’s golf program is still running more than $960,000 in the red, officials said Tuesday.
The city has been trying to stem losses from its golf program for more than two years. Those efforts include raising the eligibility age for a senior citizens discount from 50 to 57, eliminating some other discount rates altogether, bumping up the price for an annual pass to driving ranges, and adjusting cart fees. Those changes went into effect Jan. 1.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the golf courses lost $969,961. That’s down more than $50,000 from the $1,0202.258 it lost for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017. But it’s an increase from fiscal year 2016, when the golf program lost $853,527.
An update on efforts to increase revenue and decrease expenses in the city’s golf program was given at a meeting Tuesday of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council General Government and Social Services Committee.
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Monica Conrad, director of Lexington Parks and Recreation, said the city has been able to shave nearly $300,000 in expenses from the golf program over the past year. Marketing also has been increased in an attempt to lure more golf tournaments to the city’s public golf courses.
The changes have only been in effect for six months, so “it’s not enough data to make future recommendations at this time,” Conrad said.
Revenue was down from the prior fiscal year at the five golf courses: Gay Brewer Jr. at Picadome, Lakeside, Tates Creek, Meadowbrook and Kearney Hill.
“Weather was a huge impact on our rounds and revenues,” said Curtis Mitchell, the city’s golf services manager. “We had a large increase in the number of unplayable days and a decrease in playable days.”
Raising the senior discount rate also may have contributed to a decrease in rounds, said Mitchell, but it’s too early to tell.
The city has considered for several years whether it should close or sell one of its golf courses. A proposal to shutter Meadowbrook golf course in 2011 was vigorously opposed by many local golfers. It remains open.
“We are going to continue to evaluate rates and promotions,” said Mitchell. “We are also looking at increasing the amount of programming ... to build the next generation of golfers.”
They are also looking at adding more sponsorships for golf tournaments, golf score cards and carts.
Golf will never be self-sustaining, said Councilman Amanda Bledsoe. Many parks programs are subsidized, including the city’s pools.
“We are always going to subsidize it,” said Bledsoe. “But the question is: Are we going to continue subsidizing it at nearly $1 million a year?”
Conrad said a consultant recommended several changes in July 2017 and encouraged the city to track those changes for at least two years. The consultant found that the majority of rounds played were discounted. Some people used multiple discounts and could get a round of golf for as little as $2.
“We have to give those changes time,” Conrad said.
Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton said in its best year of operations — with really good weather — golf’s losses were $800,000.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said the city should wait two more years before making any further decisions.
“We have to wait and be patient,” Lamb said. “It’s still early.”