Monday, January 30, 2017

Guest View: Dick Leonard ~ My take on the El Con Golf Courses

Today we present one resident’s views on the state of our municipal golf courses. Tomorrow we will publish a response by former councilmember Mike Zinkin.
My background in municipal golf
I was a golf member at El Con since moving to Oro Valley almost 20 years ago. I also have close knowledge of municipal golf, as having been and continue to be on the staff at a municipal city course in Minnesota where we spend our summers.

As such, I know the role that municipal golf should play in providing an affordable recreational experience to its residents, people in the surrounding communities, plus the many visitors who use the course for short term activity. This is in addition to supporting first time golfers and students with access to group lessons, leagues, and practice areas. Without such  affordable facilities, many would not have any access to the sport of golf.  For example, our Minnesota municipal course hosts a free golf program for the disabled one afternoon per week, along with providing local high school golf team practice facilities.

Current user base is inadequate for course size
This is why I believe that a town the size of Oro Valley deserves a municipal golf facility. That being said, it must be operated within an appropriate business model that does not upset the budget of the local Parks and Recreation funding. Because maintenance is such a significant portion of the operating cost, the size of the course must match the needs of the user base, and the user base must be significantly high enough to provide the revenue to support the operating cost.

In my opinion, both of the above requirements need quick resolution. Having 45 holes of golf in two locations with an extremely low user rate is not a long term solution. Unfortunately, Oro Valley has passed these cost overruns on with local and visitor sales tax increases in order to provide an affordable golf experience to those who cannot afford the expense of a private golf membership.

Any open tee time is a loss of revenue
I question the monthly user rate "forecast" figure of 23.4%, (the comparison of available times per month vs. actual tee time bookings). A solution includes changing the rate structure to significantly increase usage to at least 75%.  Does management not realize (or care) that ANY open tee time is a LOSS of revenue?

Special resident rates promised but never implemented
Many of my golf friends and neighbors are playing nearby courses with more affordable rates. Every effort should be made to keep golfers on our courses. In fact, when the original idea was explained to the Oro Valley public, it included a special "resident" rate (which is very common for municipal courses) but it was never implemented.

A public debate is needed
Regarding the course size, two 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course is a maintenance nightmare, in my opinion. I am told that we have fewer than 250 golf members. Common knowledge says that an 18-hole course needs around 350 members, meaning that we are way above any reasonable course size. Since all of the fairways are bordered by residential property, eliminating a course or reducing fairways, (which likely will cause a loss of property value) will pose a significant public debate, but one that needs to be discussed or the budget problems cannot be solved.

As repairs and renovations continue, excuses for low memberships are running out
It’s true that there were very significant initial capital costs that were known as part of this purchase. Some of these repairs are complete or are in progress. The El Con courses are now in, perhaps, the best condition ever in our memories. Because of this, the previous excuse of low golf memberships being due to the poor conditions at El Con will soon disappear.

It seems to me that the immediate use of very affordable rates and short term membership programs, will bring (and bring back) golfers of all ages to achieve the goals of the Oro Valley Municipal Golf Course Facility.
Dick Leonard is a long-time Oro Valley resident and reader of LOVE. We welcome his comments.