CHELAN — After losing money for two years, the Lake Chelan Municipal Golf Course may be in for a few changes.
The Chelan City Council will look at options to manage the 18-hole golf course privately instead of with city-hired workers.
The discussion has raised concern among some longtime golfers who worry their public course could become private, or might cost too much for retired golfers on a fixed income, said Mayor Bob Goedde. Located at 1501 Golf Course Drive above the lake’s north shore, the city has owned and operated the course for more than 35 years.
“We’re not selling it. We’re going to make it work,” Goedde said Monday. “We just need all the options on the table.”
The city will hear about a variety of alternatives — from leasing the course to hiring a private firm to manage it to continuing as a city-operated venture — at a workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 6 at City Hall.
Representatives from the private firm, CourseCo, Inc., in California, will be there to answer questions about private management, but no decisions will be made yet, he said.
“What we’re doing is looking at the golf course as a business, and we’re looking at it to pay its own way,” said Charles Sablan, city parks and recreation director.
He said it’s unclear exactly why the course is losing money. Some say the course isn’t as well maintained as it once was, while others blame declining revenues on the recession, fewer golfers, the low cost of a season pass or the lack of marketing, Sablan said. Weather also plays a big role in how many rounds of golf are played each year, he said.
Chelan isn’t the only city with a golf course that’s having trouble staying in the black, said Ed Getherall, senior project director at the National Golf Foundation’s consulting services.
“It’s definitely a trend that municipal golf courses are struggling, and not just recently but over the last decade,” he said. Some are definitely turning to professional management companies, or lease agreements, for help, he said.
Getherall said that it’s largely a market issue. Across the country, many new golf courses were built in the 1990s, causing an oversupply of golf courses in some markets, he said. The sluggish economy hasn’t helped.
Getherall added that golfing fees won’t necessarily go up if the city decides to lease or hire a private firm to manage the golf course. Public employees tend to require more wages and benefits, he noted, so a privately-run course can save money on labor costs. Four full-time employees — including a golf pro and an assistant golf pro, a greenskeeper and a maintenance employee — along with several part-time seasonal employees, are currently paid by the city.
Cheryl Grant, the city’s finance director, said the financing issues at Chelan’s city course are complex, but when looking solely at maintenance and operations at the city-operated course, it lost more than $23,000 in 2010, and nearly $40,000 in 2011. The city has also spent more than $900,000 for equipment and capital improvements over the last 10 years, and for the golf course to be truly self-supporting, it must also cover those costs, she said.
Grant added that an embezzlement from the course’s pro shop in 2009 and 2010 didn’t help its revenue issues, but isn’t at the root of the problem.
A former Cashmere resident pleaded guilty last year to stealing as much as $10,000 from the shop to help finance her schooling. The city reported that almost $20,000 was missing.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512