Mayor Proposes Closing 27 Holes in Tulsa to Reduce Subsidy

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor today recommended closing 18 holes at the 36-hole Page Belcher Golf Course complex in west Tulsa and nine holes of the 36-hole Mohawk Park complex in north Tulsa as ways to cut into a $1.7 million subsidy the city paid this year for golf course operations and debt service.
The move, which would have to be approved by the Tulsa City Council as part of the 2007-08 fiscal budget, would eliminate approximately $500,000 of the subsidy, according to the mayor’s proposed budget.
Tim Thornton, maintenance director for both facilities, told Ken MacLeod of South Central Golf Magazine that city employees who staff the maintenance departments for both courses were called to a meeting at a city rec center this morning with Susan Neal, a member of the mayor’s staff, who delivered the news that at least 16 jobs would be eliminated if the plan goes forward.
“It was a shock to a lot of them,” Thornton said. “The city did say they would try to help all of them move to other areas.”
The city has been subsidizing golf for years but the levels have increased as play has declined due to increased competition as well as maintenance issues and rebuilding efforts.
However, the city has recently completed more than $4 million in improvements to the courses, including complete renovations of the Stone Creek and Olde Page courses at Page Belcher under the direction of Tulsa golf architect Randy Heckenkemper and paid for by third penny sales taxes designated for capital improvements.
Ironically, under Thornton’s direction, both the Page Belcher and Mohawk facilities have rounded into terrific condition this spring. Rounds, however, are still lagging. The two courses at Page Belcher would generate nearly 96,000 rounds in the early 1990s, but combined for just over 55,000 last year, according to George Glenn, director of the city golf courses.
Glenn’s operations would also be affected by the move. He hires all pro shop, restaurant and range workers at each facility and pays for the cart fleets. To pay for his operation, he receives all cart rentals and money from the restaurants, ranges and pro shops. The city receives all greens fee revenues plus a lease payment from Glenn at each course.
Those payments have equaled approximately $1.4 million, whereas the maintenance budgets for the 36 holes, including utilities, combine to be about $2.2 million. Then there is an annual payment to retire the debt from the revenue bonds purchased to build Stone Creek, which opened in 1987. These payments exceed $450,000 annually.
The city has analyzed leasing the courses to a private golf management firm. Some feel that the elimination of all city labor union work from the maintenance crews would offer enough of a savings for a private group to make a profit at the courses. Glenn doubts that would be true.
“There just aren’t enough rounds to go around,” he said. “Every course in town is searching for more rounds. Nobody is doing as many as they need to, that’s why you see a lot of these specials advertised.”
At Mohawk Park, it his highly likely that the nine holes currently used by the First Tee program, the original back nine of the Pecan Valley course, would close. This nine, a par 34 at just 2,775 yards, was redesigned by Jerry Slack after the original 17th and 18th holes were taken to make a driving range. The First Tee would keep its learning center, still have access to the range and use the back nine of the Woodbine Course for play.
At Page Belcher, it is uncertain as to which course would close. Stone Creek was designed by Don Sechrest and for many years after its opening was thought of as the best public course in the state. It hosted the 1988 USGA Women’s Public Links Championship. Yet it has experienced frequent problems with its greens, making it the more likely course to close.

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