GOLF

Raise more money or cut courses? Rochester Golf at the Crossroads

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ROCHESTER — Officials here are considering their options for the city’s four golf courses after years of operating losses and a directive from city council to create a sustainable plan for the future of golf in the city.

Now, after several busy meetings, city officials want to hear from residents over the next few months as they formulate recommendations for council. At issue may be the closure or reduction of at least one of the city’s four courses: Soldiers Field, Hadley Creek, Eastwood and Northern Hills.

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Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish told the Rochester Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday that the city’s golf budget routinely faces shortfalls of up to $300,000 a year, though the pandemic has boosted traffic and golf revenues. The courses typically generate between $1.27 and $1.34 million in gross revenue each year.

Additionally, some courses have recently undergone major upgrades while others face millions of dollars in potential fixes over the next few years.

City staff offered three options:

  • The city couldn’t do anything, which would lead to fewer improvements and a drop in quality with each course.
  • The city could make up the shortfall by raising property taxes, increasing fees per round of golf, or a combination of the two. Meeting the estimated future needs would cost about $850,000 per year, or an increase in withdrawals of about 1%. The city could budget more conservatively at $500.00 per year.
  • The city could downsize one of the nine-hole courses, or shut it down and reuse it, or sell it altogether. This could mean housing developments or other community amenities such as arboretums, sports fields or other recreational opportunities, which would reduce the city’s golf-related operating expenses.

“If we could get the money, I would like to keep the four courses and develop more programs,” said Linnea Archer, chair of the Park Board. “If we have to balance our budget and we can’t get more money, then I think we have to decide which of the courses makes the most sense. [to cut].”

Towns in Minnesota are grappling with similar golf course issues, from Ramsey County seeking to sell a course to the city of Maplewood in Duluth closing one of its golf courses in a bid to save the other.

A report by the National Golf Foundation earlier this year on the four golf courses owned by the municipality of Rochester was uncovered, but there is not enough traffic or revenue to justify all four. The foundation recommended the city reduce to two 18-hole golf courses and Hadley Creek, which is used as a learning center.

Although Soldiers Field receives the most traffic, the report outlines issues with the course’s aging infrastructure – it was built in the 1930s and will require significant funding for upgrades. The city council discussed the possibility of closing Soldiers Field about five years ago, but that conversation ultimately came to nothing as golfers pushed back.

Area golfers dispute the report, arguing that it does not reflect the town’s actual revenue from season tickets and overestimates the course’s needs.

More than 50 people filled the park’s board meeting on Tuesday, though few spoke.

In comments submitted, former Park Board Chairman Larry Mortensen pointed out that golf surpasses other recreational activities in annual revenue, with $1.4 million in 2021. He argued that golfers and golf professionals should be included in future city-led course studies.

“The intention would be to ensure that the voices of the golf community are included in the decision-making process,” he said.

City spokeswoman Jenna Bowman said staff plan to survey residents and hold forums to gather public input. The park board should report to council in November or December; their golf course recommendations could be included when Rochester determines its 2023 tax.

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