College golf courses cater to students, donors and public

Face many of the same problems as municipal sites

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If athletics are the front porch of a university, the University of Iowa wants its golf course to be the welcome mat.

But it costs a lot to keep that welcome mat looking good.

Finkbine Golf Course lost $320,000 in the last three fiscal years as course managers tried to reduce rounds played to maintain the quality of the course for college play and tournaments. The UI Athletics Department, which does not get tax money, has covered the deficits.

“I don’t like losing money, but we know the benefits that are derived from it,” said Mick Walker, chief financial officer for UI athletics. “The Finkbine Golf Course is an outreach facility for the Athletic Department and the university.”

Iowa State University’s golf course, Veenker Memorial, lost $178,500 in fiscal 2011 and 2012 combined, but the course made a profit in fiscal 2010, and officials expect to be about $80,000 ahead in the year that ended June 30, said David Miller, associate vice president for facilities.

“Our expectation is that we will break even on a five-year basis,” Miller said.

Same pressures

College golf courses face the same market pressures as municipal courses, with a declining number of golfers overall.

Parts of Veenker were underwater for five weeks in the summer of 2010, Miller said, which put the self-supporting enterprise in the hole for fiscal 2011. Finkbine doesn’t have to worry about flooding, but dry summers — like 2012 — can mean increased water costs.

Finkbine, an 18-hole course known for bentgrass fairways and a signature island hole, went from 29,000 rounds of golf in fiscal 2011 to 25,700 last year. Fewer golfers came out because Finkbine raised prices, Director of Golf Jeff Moore said. He expects fiscal 2013 will be down another 2,000 to 3,000 rounds.

“We made a conscious decision not to have as many rounds last year,” Moore said. “We’re not trying to milk every nickel.”

Moore hopes that fewer rounds will maintain Finkbine’s quality, so it can compete with nearby courses like Blue Top Ridge, the course at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, 20 miles south of Iowa City.

About one-quarter of Finkbine’s total rounds for fiscal 2012 were from the UI Athletic Department, which includes collegiate golfers, donors and car dealers.

“Part of what we do out here is hard to measure,” Moore said. “The Foundation brings donors out here to play. We have so many events. I can’t put a price tag on that kind of thing.”

The new Hoak Family Golf Complex, a $2 million training facility for intercollegiate golf teams, opened in February adjacent to Finkbine, but did not affect play on the course or driving range.

Veenker had 25,800 rounds in fiscal 2012, a slight increase from the previous year. The ISU course does not get tax money and must cover its own losses, Miller said. The course’s $1.2 million annual budget has received about $10,500 a year from athletics to provide services to Cyclone golfers, but that payment will end now that ISU has built a new practice facility south of Ames, he said.

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