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Government With overbuilt golf course market, Fort Worth looks to Rockwood

With overbuilt golf course market, Fort Worth looks to Rockwood

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

By Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

With North Texas golf courses overbuilt and continuing to consolidate, Fort Worth city leaders are moving toward conceding their muni golf courses won’t break even in the current market and should be subsidized like the swimming pools.

At the same time, they’re looking for ways to plow as much investment as possible into the city’s historic Rockwood Golf Course near downtown, pitching it as a big potential attraction for conventioneers.

That should boost the city’s golf fund, which has been declining for years amid high competition and declining numbers of rounds, Richard Zavala, the city’s parks director, told City Council members Tuesday.

“When we redo Rockwood, we’ll be able to get our rounds back up,” he said in an interview later.

The city’s golf courses have operated as an “enterprise fund” since 1983, meaning they’re supposed to be self-sustaioning. The fund had a $3.1 million balance as of 1999, but that’s declined to an $8 million deficit that’s been covered by the city elsewhere.

The city’s Golf Advisory Committee and Parks Advisory Board, in recommendations Zavala concurred with and presented to the council Tuesday, proposed erasing the the $8 million liability and continuing to operate the city’s four courses as an enterprise fund – but with a general fund subsidy to close budget gaps from year to year.

That would essentially codify how the golf fund has operated in recent years, Zavala said. The city’s Pecan Valley course operates substantially in the black, and the Meadowbrook course is marginally profitable, but the Rockwood and Sycamore courses are both in the red. The boards also recommended that future golf-related debt be paid down from non-golf sources.

And although voters on Saturday approved a $292 million bond package that included $2 million for Rockwood improvements, that’s only part of the estimated $4 million plus that parks officials estimate it would take to fully renovate Rockwood.

The golf and parks boards recommended coming up with the full amount.

It’s not clear where that money would come from, but Zavala said he thinks the parks department could get the total project cost down to about $3.5 million. With some gas lease revenue already slated for the project, that leaves the financing gap at about $1.3 million, Zavala said.

If the city comes up with the money, Rockwood would close in November or December 2015 and re-open nine months later. The First Tee program for youth, driving range, and the six-hole River’s Edge course that recently opened would remain open during the 18-hole course closure.

The remake of the 18-hole course would include the use of some land used in Rockwood’s former River course.

Mayor Betsy Price and council members were receptive to the ideas.

“I’m in,” Councilman Dennis Shingleton said.

Councilman Sal Espino, whose North Side district includes Rockwood, said Saturday’s big victories in Fort Worth’s bond and Crime Control and Prevention District elections show “our citizens are saying it’s time to invest….What makes our golf courses unique is in the heart of the city.” “I think what you’re recommending is sound and of best interest to the public,” Councilman Jungus Jordan said. “We’re not really saying we’re going to stop running the four courses as businesses.”

Councilman Danny Scarth said he worried the city could invest so much in Rockwood that it wouldn’t have enough resources to maintain and improve its other courses. He said he could support the recommendations “as long as we ‘re not getting ourselves so leveraged into one course.”

Mayor Betsy Price called the recommendations “excellent.”

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