Four city golf courses were scheduled to close for the winter season on Dec. 1, with one of the four – Whitehaven – to close permanently.
That was the decision the Memphis City Council made last spring as it set the city budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
But just about halfway through the fiscal year as Dec. 1 approached, some citizens who play at Whitehaven appealed to City Hall to change the decision and the weather got unseasonably warm.
With temperatures at or near 70 degrees as the winter closing date came, city Chief Administrative Officer George Little decided to keep Whitehaven and the other three city golf courses at Pine Hill, Riverside and Davy Crockett, open for golfers a bit longer.
It was what Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn would call “context” as the council debated Tuesday, Dec. 4, whether to close all four for the winter and review the permanent closing of Whitehaven in the spring. Then it became whether to open up that and other budget decisions like flowers blooming in the unseasonable warmth.
The council and the administration decided during the budget season last spring that the four golf courses would close Dec. 1 with Whitehaven not reopening in the spring because the four generated the least revenue of the eight city golf courses.
The decision would save the city $42,099, according to city Parks and Neighborhoods division director Janet Hooks.
This fall, the city administration attempted to change the permanent closing from Whitehaven to Davy Crockett in Frayser.
Some on the council moved to keep Whitehaven open at least through the winter and to raise golf cart fees and charge nonresidents of Shelby County an additional fee to play the courses to cover the expense. But decisions on all of those have been delayed since November.
“Every day that goes by that we do not close these courses erodes into that $42,099,” Hooks said of staying open past the Dec. 1 closing date.
The council debate Tuesday included questions by council member Joe Brown about why other golf courses weren’t affected.
“It’s either all or none or some,” Brown said at one point as he pushed for the two-week delay in any decision that the council eventually settled on. “All these golf courses that you are talking about closing in the African-American community – that’s just not right.”
“Why don’t we close all of the golf courses during the winter that do not make money?” council member Jim Strickland asked.
“We have essentially reopened the budget process,” Flinn said after council member Wanda Halbert followed Strickland by proposing to keep all four golf courses open during the winter at an estimated additional cost of $350,000 to $400,000.
“I find this completely unbelievable,” Flinn said. “It just goes to show you the power of context.”
Halbert withdrew her proposal after council member Lee Harris talked about getting into whether the money spent for golf could be better spent on libraries and community centers.
“It’s not clear to me that golf courses are core services,” he said. “We’re talking about the people who use the golf courses. What about the kids and the people who want to go to check out a book?”
Even as Halbert withdrew her move, she and others indicated there will be much more discussion when council members take the matter up again in two weeks.
“I do agree that there is an equity issue,” she said of Brown’s point.
Little began to get a bit nervous about what else could come up.
“I just want to point out that as we go down this path, that there are a lot of other folks standing in line with millions of dollars in requests,” he said.
With the council then on the path to a two-week delay, Little admitted keeping the courses open through Dec. 1.
“I did it, OK?” he said. “As of Sunday when they closed down the operations that was supposed to be it.”
Little assured the council the courses would close for the winter effective Tuesday evening.