Government

Cedar Rapids golf rounds hit 10-year low but changes unlikely

Steve Overbeck of Cedar Rapids watches his shot from the seventh tee box at Jones Park Golf Course in southwest Cedar Rapids on Oct. 20, 2017.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Steve Overbeck of Cedar Rapids watches his shot from the seventh tee box at Jones Park Golf Course in southwest Cedar Rapids on Oct. 20, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Municipal rounds of golf hit a 10-year low last fiscal year, but officials say a reorganization last year has put the financially challenged golf department in a much better position than past years.

The four courses — Jones, Twin Pines, Ellis and Gardner — saw 92,097 rounds in fiscal 2018, down slightly from 93,338 in fiscal 2017. Those two performances were the lowest usage years by far in a 10-year review presented by city staff to the Cedar Rapids Parks, Waterways & Recreation Commission on Tuesday.

Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock attributed the 2018 dip to the weather — “A short spring season due to late snowstorms,” he said Wednesday, adding golf play could climb in 2019.

“I am not uncomfortable with where we were, because of the weather, but we do want to bring those numbers up,” Hock added.

Municipal golf in Cedar Rapids has been under fire for years with some calling for the city to sell or close courses or privatize the operations.

This is because taxpayers have been bailing out the department, covering annual six-figure financial deficits. Contributing to this, Jones has been routinely forced into extended closures due to flooding, including shuttering for the season last October. Also, nationally, golf’s popularity has been waning, a trend felt in Cedar Rapids, officials have said.

In 2017, the City Council, under pressure from golfers, rebuffed a recommendation from city staff and the commission to close Jones as a way to stabilize the department. Council members instead voted to explore privatization, but that, too, appears off the table at this point.

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Last season, the department established a new staffing model with an interim operations manager, two golf pros and four course superintendents, down from golf pros and superintendents at each of the four courses, a roving superintendent, and an operations manager.

The new staffing model saved the department money and have pushed off talk of any more serious changes, Hock said.

Hock and the commission considered the reorganization a success, but because they occurred mid-fiscal year, they want a full year with the new model.

City Council member Susie Weinacht, who is a liaison to the commission, said she supports the plan.

“Once we decided to give staff a shot at this, let them have a fair shot to follow through on what they are working on and the changes they’ve made,” she said.

The commission discussed golf performance at the Tuesday meeting.

“I think we are getting very very close to a break-even situation,” said Bill Unger, a commission member who focuses on golf. “It is working. They’ve proved themselves that they can run it and get it to a profitable situation, so let’s let them move forward and run the business.”

Expenses at Jones have been minimized, and with the compensation for the eliminated positions off the books for a full year, the courses would have broken even, Unger added.

City officials did not have budget figures available Wednesday, but numbers provided by the city last fall showed fiscal year 2018, which ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, ended with an operational deficit of $49,063. By comparison, the department lost $200,000 to $300,000 annually each of the previous five years.

Jeff McLaud, chairman of the commission, added, “We want to give this model a few years and see how we go. If changes have to be made, at that time we can make recommendations accordingly. ... At some point, it is the City Council who will have to decide is this an acceptable loss to have for the golf courses.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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