The Oak Ridge City Council agreed in a 5-2 vote on Monday to provide $120,000 to continue operating the Tennessee Centennial Golf Course, which the city owns in east Oak Ridge off Edgemoor Road.
The request this year was smaller than it was in 2015, when Council approved a $325,000 transfer, but the golf course is still short of money needed to operate, despite all marketing efforts, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council members in a memo before Monday’s meeting.
Most of the $120,000 in funding—or $70,024 of it—will be used for accounts payable. The rest will be used for cash flow and salaries, Watson said.
“The slow winter season now requires funding to pay necessary costs and salaries through the winter quarter (January-March 2017),” Watson said.
He said the city’s current contract with Billy Casper Golf says all golf course expenses are ultimately a city responsibility. The course is owned and operated by the city, and it’s managed by Billy Casper Golf.
Voting for the funding on Monday were Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and City Council members Kelly Callison, Jim Dodson, Ellen Smith, and Hans Vogel.
Voting against it were Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn and Chuck Hope.
Watson said more rounds have been played, and people are pleased with the service they receive. He described efforts to examine the golf course’s prices and attract more golfers, including through email communications and by working with the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce to talk to major industries in Clinton about using the course.
About 50 percent of the golfers come from Hardin Valley in west Knox County, across the Clinch River, Watson said.
“That’s good outside money coming into our golf course,” he said.
But Chinn described the $120,000 as “throwing good money after bad.”
The sport has changed a lot in the past five to 10 years, Chinn said, and the city-owned course is competing against private courses. There is another private golf course in Oak Ridge that is also struggling, Chinn said.
“I think we need to look at other alternatives,” he said, before suggesting other potential uses of the property, possibly for green space, homes, or a preschool.
With budgets tight, “there are opportunities to do other things,” Chinn said.
“When Tiger Woods went down, golf went down,” he said.
But other city officials said it would cost about $250,000 to terminate the contract with Billy Casper Golf, which is in effect for two more years.
Callison said city officials received a plan about two years ago, and the golf course is on track, expected to break even next year. Marketing has been successful, Callison said.
“We’re getting back to where we were before,” he said.
The city will be paying the mortgage regardless—the course will be paid off in 2021—and the property, which has lots of hills and slopes, is not suitable for other uses, Callison said.
Vogel said the $120,000 for the golf course this year was half of what was approved in 2015, and it’s in the same order of magnitude as money recently approved for the swimming pool and the Secret City Celebration.
But Hope pointed out that, compared to other recreational facilities, the golf course funding is being used for operations, as opposed to capital expenses.
Smith said the city’s Budget and Finance Committee has spent a lot of time over the past 1.5 years talking about the golf course and meeting with Billy Casper Golf and the municipal staff. The community has been split for years over building the course in the first place, Smith said. Oak Ridge is still paying for its construction, so there has been some reluctance to spend money on capital expenses, she said.
Other options have been considered, including shutting down the course, terminating the contract, and using the land for something else, Smith said.
But, “it appears to me that that wouldn’t save us any money right now,” Smith said. “We own a golf course right now. We’re paying for it. Let’s make the most of what we have.”
It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s also not a serious problem, Smith said, pointing out that the $120,000 is less than other city-subsidized activities.
The golf course, one of two in the city, remains controversial two decades after it was built and opened in 1996, part of the Parcel A development in east Oak Ridge. Some critics raise questions about whether the surrounding residential development has been significant enough to justify building the golf course and continue paying debt on it. But current city officials point out that the decision to build the course was made under a former City Council and former city manager.
You can see the resolution approved Monday in the City Council meeting agenda.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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