Monona Golf Course

Golfers enjoy a late summer round at the Monona Golf Course in September.

City staff warned the Madison Parks Commission on Wednesday that municipal golf courses would have to close if no significant investment is made.

Commission members heard from concerned citizens, delved into reports and questioned city staff to help guide a recommendation on the future of the municipal golf system, which is facing millions of dollars in repairs.

The closure of Yahara Hills Golf Course or Monona Golf Course and selling some of the land have been floated as ideas to support the operation.

“I just think it’s an impossible decision,” said commission member Madelyn Leopold. “I simply cannot bring myself to sell park land.”

The city’s Golf Enterprise, which is supposed to be self-sustaining, operates Yahara Hills, Glenway, Odana Hills and Monona golf courses.

Infrastructure problems and capital needs are plaguing the 72-hole system. Repairs are estimated between $5 million and $8 million across all four courses — including up to $4 million at the waterlogged Yahara Hills Golf Course on the Southeast Side.

“The sale idea is not one we like. It is an idea that theoretically addresses a lot of the issues,” said city parks superintendent Eric Knepp. “Not planning for closures is just denial.”

For several months, the city’s Golf Subcommittee wrestled with options to shore up the Golf Enterprise. Ultimately, the body came up with a list of advisory preferences to first close 18 holes at Yahara Hills, then close all 36 holes at Yahara Hills, and finally close the nine-hole Monona Golf Course.

A financial analysis by Madison Parks Division staff found these options would reduce operating costs to varying degrees, but none would do enough to get the system above a net loss or provide the money needed for repairs.

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“The numbers are here, and none of them get us out of the hole,” Charlie Romines, assistant parks superintendent, said of the financial analysis.

Romines said that if no reinvestment into the system is made, either through selling part of a course for private development or city subsidization, he expects the Golf Enterprise would eventually drop down from 72 holes to 27 holes to stay afloat.

The Golf Subcommittee and several public speakers at Wednesday’s meeting said they prefer city subsidization over any closure and land sale, but Mayor Paul Soglin is against subsidizing golf.

Knepp said he would include plans for closing courses in the Parks Division’s 2019 proposed budget if no financial investment can be found.

Assistant city attorney Doran Viste said in an email that any decision to permanently close a golf course would need to be approved by the City Council as it would have “numerous budgetary impacts.”

The commission offered no recommendation Wednesday, but instead, the Parks Division staff will work on several business models to see what could make the system viable.

  • In other action, the Parks Commission supported a proposal to purchase an additional 31 acres for $2.36 million to expand the Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park on the North Side. That money would come out of a separate fund that isn’t available for use by the Golf Enterprise.
“The sale idea is not one we like. It is an idea that theoretically addresses a lot of the issues. Not planning for closures is just denial.” Eric Knepp, city parks superintendent

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