This is the second part of a 2-part article. Part 1 was published yesterday.
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“This facility is aging and has seen declines in activity and is now operating at a deficit, up to $2.1 million+. The loss on operations is a result of several influences…a recent recession, increasing competition, declining physical condition, and declining interest in golf.”
“The local golf market has changed dramatically in the last decade and as we look to the future of golf in Oro Valley, there is genuine concern that the full 45-hole allotment may not be a good match for the current state of golf demand. The cost to properly maintain a complement of 45 holes is large and growing. The National Golf Study (NGF) review in 2017 shows that the cost to maintain El Con Golf is much higher than any standard, mostly a result of high utilities expense that is caused, in part, by an antiquated irrigation system.”
“The current financial condition [of El Con Golf] is worse than most public sector golf operations in the U.S. where 67% of municipal golf course operations are able to cover on-site expenses.
“Given this and the change in demand, the NGF sees a 27-hole facility at El Con Golf and a modified par-3 golf course (possibly 12 holes) at Pusch Ridge as a much better option for Oro Valley to provide a more sustainable golf facility for the longer term going forward.”
Given the above noted findings, it is clear that the Town will not be able to continue the operation “as-is” and changes will be required.
The most important and actionable recommendations made by the National Golf Foundation are listed below, noted in priority order:
1. Improve the physical condition of El Con Golf, including clubhouse enhancements.
2. Take action to reduce the amount of irrigated turf on all golf courses.
3. Upgrade the irrigation system to include new controls and in-ground piping.
4. Reduce to 27 holes at El Con Golf, with three 9-hole courses of equal quality and appeal.
5. Lease out (or concession) the Food & Beverage operation to a third party.
6. Implement the plan to renovate Pusch Ridge into a “Dirty Dozen” concept.
7. Enhance marketing and implement new activities that appeal to less traditional golfer segments, especially female golfers.
Golfers within a 10 mile radius
In its 2009 publication, “The Future of Public Golf in America,” the National Golf Foundation hypothesized that the best predictor of a public golf course’s success was the number of golfers per 18 holes within a 10-mile radius, with 4,000 identified as the key number for projected financial stability. The NGF has estimated that there are only about 1,400 golfers per 18-hole course in the Oro Valley Community Center market, thus lowering chances for successful golf operations.
The location of both facilities suggests to the public that the facilities may be private. The location within a large residential community conveys a private club operation. The Pusch Ridge course proximity to the Hilton Resort leads most to believe the course is only available for use by hotel guests.
The configuration of the property is wide and physically diverse, leading to challenges in managing the full 36-hole property. There are four separate parcels separated by major roadways and require golf cart crossings at several points. Thus it will always require a larger-than-standard operating staff.
It is expected that there will always be a higher-than-standard maintenance expense at El Con Golf and Pusch Ridge, even if the total irrigated acreage can be reduced.
Numerous changes to land ownership, development plans, and golf corridors contributed to the awkward routing of the courses. In several locations, the distance between holes is significant and it is often difficult for players to know where to go next. Further, this awkward routing mandates cart use and contributes to extra management and maintenance challenges.
Irrigation remains the greatest area of maintenance concern and has shown considerable decline since the original development. The aging system is a mismatch of controls, heads, and inefficient pipe sizes that have been patched together over the years…and is costing the Town considerably in terms of inefficient irrigation.
The conclusion of the team is that a major investment in irrigation replacement must be made regardless of how the courses are to be reconfigured.
Closure of all 36 holes of golf
Probable cost is approximately $3 million and includes removing managed turf areas, revegetation of desert varieties, reshaping to allow for natural surface drainage, applying a hydroseed mix of native desert seed and a bonding agent that will help prevent erosion and allow the seeds to germinate. Twenty percent of the cost ($600,000) would be for design and engineering.