Golf opener

Rick Maahs, front, Thorten Horten, middle, and John Pyle walk up the fourth fairway at Glenway Golf Course April 2. 

Capping years of financial struggle, Madison’s four public golf courses experienced a record net loss of $863,320 in 2018.

The financial loss highlights the uncertain future of the Golf Enterprise Fund, which operates Yahara Hills, Glenway, Odana Hills and Monona golf courses. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she will be pulling together a task force to develop recommendations for the city's golf operations.

“Everything needs to be on the table,” Rhodes-Conway said, including closures. “These are significant pieces of land in the city’s parks portfolio and what is the highest and best use for them. I think that’s really the question.”

Rhodes-Conway said she is frustrated and is concerned with the size of the loss.

“I don’t want to be in this position next year,” Rhodes-Conway said.

In a memo sent to the mayor, alders and the Board of Park Commissioners, Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp called the loss “alarming,” though not unsurprising, and said the current model is unsustainable.

“It’s very problematic for the fund. It actually puts the fund in a position where its liabilities exceed its assets for the first time,” Knepp said. “For the city, it’s especially problematic because we’re facing a situation where the Golf Enterprise Fund owes the general fund a sizeable amount of money.”

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 2001-2002.

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.

In the, Knepp called for prompt action from policymakers.

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“Given the significant financial issues facing the (Golf Enterprise Fund), inaction is not an acceptable outcome for the city and I will be recommending that all options be contemplated,” which he said includes all financial and operational models, hole reduction, course closure and evaluating the best long term purpose of the park land.

Knepp thinks the task force should take a step back and consider big picture questions like whether the city should be in the golf business or not. If so, he said the city should consider to what extent and whether it would be subsidized by city funds.

“We need to start from those big questions with a task force with this specific issue on their plate and frankly, with some clear parameters from policy makers and clear deadlines,” Knepp said. “There’s no easy win here.”

The Golf Subcommittee is expected to discuss the financial information for 2018 and the future of Golf Enterprise Fund at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Goodman Maintenance Facility, 1402 Wingra Creek Parkway.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.