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Salt Lake City may have a play on deficit sand trap

Published July 15, 2014 9:11 pm

Raising green fees $1 eyed as way to stem red ink, which may total $1M.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's not like the Salt Lake City Council is in the rough as it deals with how to save its troubled golf system – it's more like in the weeds.

One thing is sure, however, the council has positioned itself to raise green fees by $1 per nine-hole round come Sept. 1. It does not apply to junior golfers.

The hike at all eight city courses is designed as a one-year pilot program, in part, to determine whether it would chase away golfers.

Councilwoman Lisa Adams doesn't think it will

"I have had an overwhelming number of golfers tell me, 'Charge me more, but don't close my course,' " she said.

In addition, the council signaled it also will adopt a measure to stop the practice of allowing multiple discounts per nine-hole round. Beginning Sept. 1, only one discount can be applied to green fees.

The action comes as the council waded again into the uncertain ground aimed at stopping the financial hemorrhaging at its links. The system is on track to lose about $1 million this season. Over the past decade, it has racked up more than $20 million in deferred maintenance.

The independent golf fund earns about $8 million per year in green fees and cart rentals. Any ongoing funding from the city's general fund is not a possibility, council members agreed.

The council discussed whether it should issue bonds for a one-time influx of cash, but decided it would be too rushed to get on the November ballot.

"I'm concerned we'd have a hard time being solid about what we're bonding for," said Councilman Stan Penfold. "Let's take time and incorporate golf with open space and recreation" for a potential bond.

While the council did not foreclose the notion of putting a bond before voters in November 2015, it did determine that it would not close any more golf courses without a plan for what to do with that open space.

Earlier, the council voted to close Rose Park's Jordan River Par 3 course at the end of this season.

Tuesday's discussion did not change that. It remains unclear what will become of that open space.

In an unofficial straw poll, the council voted unanimously to mail an opinion ballot to Salt Lake City residents that would ask them about preferences for golf courses, open space and recreation.

The endeavor would cost at least $100,000. The ballot questions and time frame for balloting have not been determined.

Among the problems facing the golf system is that five of its courses use culinary, rather than cheaper secondary water.

Last season, the golf water bill was $1.3 million. The council asked its staff and the Ralph Becker administration to investigate the potential to switch to secondary water systems.

But Councilman Kyle LaMalfa warned that developing new water systems could be too expensive to make economic sense.

"Some of these secondary water systems take 40 years to pay off," he said. "We need something with a 10- to 15-year payoff."

Finally, the council signaled it wanted outside help developing a business plan that would keep the golf system self-sustaining in the long term.

That could include a national contest, according to LaMalfa.

"The golf system is bankrupt. It cannot operate the way it is," he said. "We should have a prize contest for business plans. We need great ideas."

csmart@sltrib.com —

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