The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

One thought on city golf. What’s yours?

In City Hall, Viewpoint on March 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

The Twin Pines Golf Course Task Force issued its report last week.  Suffice to say, no one is talking about selling 20 acres of the 150-acre course anymore. The task force said it was a lousy idea.

Much of what the group concluded was determined pretty early on in the seven-member task force’s six-month run of existence. The task force featured several devoted golfers with an accountant as chairman. This wasn’t a group with their heads in the clouds. If there was to be a revolution, it would have to come from elsewhere. This group sided with a no-frills, status-quo solution: Keep all four of the city’s public golf courses in operation. Make only essential renovations at the Twin Pines course – irrigation, drainage, clubhouse. See if the story line on golf changes. 

But will it? Will there be a turnaround that will get more people golfing. The story of late has been the opposite. Fewer people have been golfing here, in Iowa and nationwide. It’s a trend even Tiger Woods’ celebrity hasn’t been able to change.

A key finding of the task force is that the city’s four-course golf operation is financially strapped because of annual debt payments, now at about $400,000, that will continue until 2023. Those payments are the result of $5 million in debt taken on to renovate two other cities courses, Jones and Ellis. The expectation was that nicer courses would mean more would golfers to help pay off the debt. But the golfers didn’t materialize.

Paying off the debt and paying for the Twin Pines improvements was the dilemma that City Hall knew it faced last summer before the task force idea ever surfaced.In the face of the cash crunch came City Hall’s willingness to float the idea of selling at least 20 acres of the 150-acre Twin Pines course to raise the money to fix the course. A Chicago-area developer was interested in buying.

Some might say this was imaginative thinking. On the 20 acres to be sold would come a new amenity for the city, a “lifestyle center” of upscale shops, which supposedly have become all the rage in cities on the move. At the same time, a reconfigured Twin Pines course would be shorter and quicker to play and fill a new niche in the local golf scene. A training center for young golfers also was on the table.

But by mid-summer, it was hard to find anyone willing to give up a blade of any city-owned golf course.

If nothing else, City Hall’s creation of the Twin Pines task force slowed the discussion down, cooled tempers and, in the end, diverted attention. The task force kept meeting, winter came, and the City Council turned its thoughts elsewhere.

Last week, the council kindly thanked the task force for its work. But no one on the council rushed to embrace two of the task force recommendations for raising money for golf courses – a local option sales tax or using property-tax revenue for a golf operation that long has paid for itself with user fees.

Everyone on the task force and, seemingly, on the council agreed to forget the lifestyle center and the sale of 20 acres. In any event, City Manager Jim Prosser seemed to suggest that the Chicago-area developer had moved on, too.

And this City Council has other fish to fry – revitalizing downtown with new housing, a RiverWalk park and perhaps a riverfront amphitheater, for starters.

Meanwhile, out of the city’s fairways, Prosser and Lisa Miller, the city’s golf operations manager, are trying a new round of targeted fee increases to try to raise extra money from  “prime time” golf without driving the numbers of golfers down. Stay tuned for the result of that.

There is still the idea, too, of selling three acres of the Twin Pines course for, maybe, $2 million to help renovate the course without much disruption. It’s an idea that the task force said was one possibility.

Maybe Jan Kvack is correct. She’s a golfer and one of a core group of people who organized around the idea to Save Twin Pines. Baby boomers are now set to begin retiring, Kvach says, and they’ll need golf courses more than ever. We’ll see.

As for the golf task force, its members — Steve Hammes, Dr. Scott Carnes, Jim Healy, Mike Thomson, Julie Bush, Bob Bruce and Steve Atherton — invested as much as any group of citizen volunteers can. They met on an every-other-week schedule for six months. They took it seriously. It was a joy to look on, to see how people with plenty of other things to do found time to devote to a city.

By the way, look here for a thought-provoking  discussion in The New York Times about the status of golf in America.  



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