Today, the Task Force on Municipal Golf in Madison Parks will be presented with an estimate of what Madison’s four public golf courses cost the City.
The report is being presented by the golf courses’ financial group. It includes the cost of maintenance, repair, or replacement of clubhouses, irrigation systems, and various types of lawn equipment.
The projected cost could fall between 37 and 56 million dollars.
Eric Knepp is the Madison Parks Superintendent. He says that the courses haven’t been able to invest in their infrastructure since the early 2000s.
Knepp says 50 million dollars may be shocking, but would cover all the repairs and equipment replacement required over the next 20 to 30 years.
Of Madison’s four golf courses, Yahara Hills has the biggest price tag of 20 to 30 million dollars. That is largely due to extreme flooding.
“Quite frankly, the Yahara course people, you could downplay it to ‘It’s falling apart, it needs all this work,’ [but] it’s lasted fifty years. That’s pretty good,” Knepp says.
“That’s not a bad run of a thing you built. The issue we have is we didn’t have a plan for the last twenty years to start chipping away at those needs, and on top of not having a plan, we didn’t have the luxury of just having resources, because you can get by without a plan when you have a bunch of resources.”
Madison’s public golf courses were intended to be financially self-sufficient. They were designed to cover their operational costs by collecting fees from patrons. The Golf Enterprise Fund has not been able to cover the courses’ costs, so they have needed to borrow money from the general park fund over the past few years.
Golf courses aren’t the only park entities that are meant to pay for themselves. Dog parks in Madison are largely paid for by the yearly registration fees.
Knepp says that a lack of investments, plus the decline of golfers and the creation of more private courses, lead to what he calls a “death spiral.”
“[That happened] because the Enterprise didn’t have enough funds generated to invest in itself and got no resources from the City,” Knepp says.
“The decline in rates of golfing, [and the lack of] growth in absolute numbers of golfers in the marketplace to keep up with the explosion of golf opportunity in Dane County between 1985 and 2003 [were also factors].”
Bill Barker is the chair of the task force. He says key infrastructure on Madison’s courses has been neglected.
“[That extends to] things we wouldn’t normally think about,” Barker says.
“So, a sand trap is this little bowl full of sand, and it’s one of the obstacles [to you getting] your ball onto the green and into the cup. Well, those things are not just a little bowl full of sand, they’re carefully engineered and constructed so that if a rain comes they drain quickly.”
Barker also says the task force is committed to finding the best solution, and that the next step will be to hear from the public in the form of surveys and meetings.
“Here in Madison, one of our great strengths is this transparent and open public participation process in the decisions that get made. I really believe that’s one of the things that makes this city great,” Barker says.
The task force is required to make their recommendations to the Mayor no later than May 1st, but both Barker and Knepp, believe the group will beat the deadline.
Their next meeting is two weeks from today.