Madison golf courses in ‘crisis-level financial situation,’ officials look to make changes

Madison golf courses in ‘crisis-level financial situation,’ officials look to make changes

“Everything is on the table,” officials said as they look for solutions after Madison’s four public golf courses took on historic losses in 2018.

According to Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp, the Golf Enterprise Fund, which was designed to sustain itself, took on a net loss of $863,320 last year. Combined with over a decade of up and down financial instability, the fund’s liabilities rose over its assets for the first time in its history.

“We are now in what I would call a crisis-level financial situation,” said Knepp. “With the results of last year coupled with the 15 years before that, I now don’t think it’s rational to say there’s a chance for recovery with the current model.”

According to the Parks Division, 2018’s wet weather contributed to the historic losses. Other factors, including rising operational costs and increasingly competitive golf business across Dane County, have made the financial hurdles insurmountable without subsidizing the courses with taxpayer funds.

In response to the bleak financial picture, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway created a golf task force asking the question of what role, if any, the city has in providing golf courses. Some potential solutions include reducing the number of holes or closing courses entirely, according to officials.

“There are definately other options to explore to balance recreational needs across the system if we live in the world we are in, where there’s no way not to subsidize golf and sustain (the public course’s) 72 holes,” said Knepp.

Recreational golfer Don Davidson plays at Madison’s public courses frequently and helps train local youth with the First Tee of South Central Wisconsin. He thinks that Madison’s golf courses are valuable resources but understands the need for financial balance.

“If this means closing a course or two, I’m all for that,” Davidson said. “But you need to keep the courses for the seniors and the kids at an appropriate level.”

According to Knepp, while the Parks Division values the courses and their impact on the golfing community, the financial situation demands compromise.

The city’s Golf Subcommittee will discuss the Golf Enterprise Fund’s finances in a meeting tomorrow.

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