Monona Golf Course, Madison (copy)

Madison's four city-owned golf courses sustained large financial losses in 2018.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a task force to evaluate the future of Madison’s four public golf courses.  

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway proposed the task force last month after the Golf Enterprise Fund reported a historic loss of $863,320 for 2018. At the time, Rhodes-Conway said she was frustrated and concerned with the size of the loss.

“Everything needs to be on the table,” Rhodes-Conway said, including closures.

The Golf Enterprise Fund operates Yahara Hills, Glenway, Odana Hills and Monona golf courses and is meant to be fully funded by user fees. It reported losses in nine of the last 10 years and had liabilities exceeding assets in the amount of $888,442 as of the end of 2018.

To address the deficit, the city advanced $813,848 to the enterprise from the general fund. First quarter projections for 2019 indicate an additional loss of approximately $400,000 by the end of the year.

The City Council approved the task force through a resolution adopted Tuesday. 

“This liability on the city’s financial statements creates real and significant financial and budgetary concerns for the city of Madison moving forward,” the resolution states.

The task force will include an alder appointed by the City Council president. Rhodes-Conway will appoint one current or former member of the Board of Park Commissioners, one member of the Golf Subcommittee and six residents, who would represent golfers, park users, non-golfers, neighbors and youth residents.

Among other charges, the task force will review available research, best practices, and operational models related to municipal golf and evaluate all options for the use of the land currently occupied by the golf courses.

The task force will develop recommendations on the future of the public golf courses that put the enterprise and the city in a long-term financially sustainable position. At least one recommendation should not require an annual general fund operating subsidy and no tax levy supported debt, according to the resolution.  

Recommendations are due by May 1, 2020. 

Madelyn Leopold, president of the Board of Park Commissioners, said in a statement that she is hopeful that a “positive outcome can emerge from this process.”

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“I think that the proposed task force offers a great opportunity to consider the issues relating to public golf courses in Madison, especially given the breath of representation proposed for the task force and the comprehensive instructions provided to its members,” Leopold said.

The four golf courses host about 100,000 rounds of golf per year, but the Golf Enterprise Fund has been struggling financially for more than a decade. The fund last showed two consecutive profitable years in 2001 and 2002.

The 72-hole system, which makes up 750 acres of city parkland, also has a host of infrastructure problems and capital needs that could cost between $5 million and $8 million to fix.

David Wallner, most recent past president of the Board of Park Commissioners, said he had hoped to resolve the Golf Enterprise Fund issue during his tenure but the board was unable to before his term ended last summer.  

Wallner said “it’s just not realistic” to keep all four golf courses open.

“I hope (the task force) leads to some rational conclusion,” Wallner said. “It’s way overdue."

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