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VOL. 128 | NO. 57 | Friday, March 22, 2013

Golfing Options

City golf courses survive budget cuts for new season

By Bill Dries

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Al Patton doesn’t expect the real golfers until the weather gets warmer, more consistent and past the spring showers.

Marcus Hart, 7, practices his golf shot with grandfather Larry Hart, and Vander Moore, back, at The Links at Whitehaven. The public course recently reopened by popular demand. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Since the Links at Whitehaven, the city operated golf course at 750 E. Holmes Road, reopened March 1, Patton has seen the start of a normal cycle in golfers.

“What you’ve got now are the diehards who are just glad that it is warm enough to get out of the house,” said Patton, the pro of the golf course that was originally slated to close for good during the winter and not reopen.

“They like the summer heat,” he said on the first day of spring of the larger groups that are still to come. “It isn’t warm enough yet. It’s not consistent. At the beginning of the season it’s usually wet. You get a lot of rain and a lot of wind. Once we get through the first month of spring, then that’s really when you get your crowds.”

The city administration changed its mind about closing Whitehaven late last year and instead proposed closing Davy Crockett, the city golf course in Frayser. But none of that got approval from the Memphis City Council.

Davy Crockett and Whitehaven as well as the city golf courses at Pine Hill and Riverside closed for the winter this past December. All are open again.

And that is likely to happen again, said Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland, chairman of the council’s budget committee.

“My hunch is that we’ll probably continue that. We’ve looked into private operators. It hasn’t worked out,” he said. “Funding of golf courses is always a challenge because most of them do not make money. When you take golf operations as a whole it loses money. So, obviously we have to make up that money from somewhere.”

The council will have a clearer picture when Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. presents his city operating budget to the council next month, just as the numbers at Whitehaven and the other seven city courses begin to pick up.

But council members had trouble getting an accurate accounting of the comparative finances of the individual golf courses especially after the administration proposed the change.

Greg Walton, right, and Homer Cody greet a fellow golfer on the ninth hole of the Links at Whitehaven. The public golf course recently reopened by popular demand. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

“It’s not always been accurate,” said council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr., who pressed the administration for detailed audit numbers and found some discrepancies.

“I showed that there was not really any parity when you looked at particular line items,” Ford said of his comparison of expenses and revenue generated across several of the golf courses. “This is where the audit committee that we have could have done a lot of work getting us ready for this budget.”

Whitehaven is one of three nine-hole golf courses the city operates. The other five are 18-hole golf courses. The Whitehaven operation also includes a clubhouse that is rented for parties and other events that bring income to the city as well.

Strickland said part of the council’s discussion over several years about the future of city golf courses has been whether golfers prefer the longer courses to the shorter ones.

Patton argues Whitehaven has everything golfers need and are seeking.

“We have a short game practice facility. We have a driving range. And we have putting greens,” he said. “So we have all facets of the game broken down into these three parts.

"You tee it off. Then you hit another shot and you have basically the short game and then you putt. We have all of those facets of the game broken down to where you can work on whichever one you feel you need to work on.”

And all of the city courses have another factor – loyalty among a core group of players who favor a particular course and the other golfers who gather there.

When the budget deliberations at City Hall venture into the specifics of the city-operated golf courses, that loyalty can manifest itself in the council’s committee room on the fifth floor of City Hall.

That was the case late last year when the question was whether Whitehaven would reopen at all, much less in March.

Ford said it is a part of the council’s consideration of a city budget that must balance revenues with expenditures.

“If you’re taking a service away from a particular area, of course there is going to be discussion,” Ford said.

And Ford and Strickland agree the council will likely not have a unanimous vote as it discusses and then votes on funding priorities for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We’ll disagree amongst each other on what we believe are core services, defining them and how much we fund them or if we do fund them,” Ford said. “Whatever the majority decides, we go with that.”

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