Springfield wants out of golf business after $1.1M in recent subsidies

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Nathan Xavier doesn't want to lose Reid Park Golf Course.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews


In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides complete coverage of government spending, including extensive coverage of the city’s general fund budget and a projected $930,000 budget deficit.

By the numbers

104,595: The number of holes played at the three city-owned golf courses in Springfield in 1998, including Snyder Park and the two 18-hole courses at Reid Park.

44,479: The number of holes played at the three city-owned courses in 2013.

99: The number of public golf holes in Clark County in 1995.

162: The number of public golf holes in 2003.

Source: National Trail Parks and Recreation District

The rounds of golf played on city-owned courses has plummeted — a 65 percent drop in the past 17 years — leaving Springfield leaders to say they have no choice but to sell or lease the remaining two courses at Reid Park.

The sharp decline is likely due to increased competition with other courses for fewer players, local leaders and golfers said.

The city closed the 104-year-old Snyder Park Golf Course in 2014. Now it wants out of the business altogether after spending more than $1.1 million subsidizing golf between 2012 and 2015.

“Given our budget situation, I can’t continue losing money on golf courses when we’re talking about some of the cuts we have to make in other areas,” Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.

The city will ask voters for a 0.4-percent earned income tax increase on Nov. 8.

Last month the city of Springfield issued a request for proposals to either sell or lease the 36-hole, 380-acre Reid Park Golf Course, located at 1325 S. Bird Road. It’s appraised at about $2.2 million, including facilities such as the clubhouse and restaurant.

It’s disappointing to reach this point, Copeland said, and he hopes someone will come forward to manage or buy the courses.

“Since I’ve played these courses a lot, they’re like friends in a sense,” he said. “But the financial situation with the golf industry these days is tough.”

Springfield resident Mark Siemon has played golf at Reid Park for about 35 years. Fewer people are playing golf recently, which he believes is a sign of the economy.

“People just don’t have the disposable income like they’ve had to go out and play golf,” Siemon said.

The golf boom

In 1995, Clark County had 99 public golf holes, including the city’s 54 holes. Eight years later, as rounds continued to increase across the nation, more courses were constructed in the county, including Rocky Lakes, National Links and Windy Knoll — increasing the total number of holes to 162.

Clark County currently has nine golf courses for a total of 189 holes, including 45 private holes.

Reid Park and Locust Hills each have 36 holes, while National Golf Links, Rocky Lakes, Sugar Isle and Windy Knoll all have 18 holes — all open to the public. Springfield Country Club and the Elks Lodge each have an 18-hole course, while Mitchell Hills has a nine-hole course — all private.

Local golfers played more than 104,000 rounds on three 18-hole golf courses owned by the city of Springfield in 1998. Last year that dropped to about 36,000 rounds on the two remaining courses at Reid Park.

Through July 31 of this year, the Reid courses are at about 19,860 rounds — an increase of about 360 rounds from the same time a year ago.

The golf industry likely over expanded in the late 1990s when it boomed thanks to the emergence of Tiger Woods, Copeland said.

“A whole lot of people took up the game,” Copeland said.

Several golf courses have closed in recent years in surrounding counties, including Tree Links in Bellefontaine and Gem City Country Club in Fairborn. Other courses are open this year, such as Weatherwax in Middletown, but may close at the end of the year.

Less people are playing because it takes too much time, Copeland said.

“It’s a difficult game to be good at,” he said. “They usually decide to get their exercise some other way.”

The future

Reid Park Golf Course opened in 1967. The National Trail Parks and Recreation District currently runs it for the city.

Proposals to buy or lease it are due by Sept. 2. The city may accept one or more proposals or reject them all, according to the request. It also has the right to negotiate changes.

City Manager Jim Bodenmiller would like to keep the courses open, he said, but is concerned about subsidizing golf when the city has other challenges, including the conditions of the streets and public safety.

“I recognize the need to have the amenities that we have and I hope it can continue in some way,” Bodenmiller said. “If we can get a private party to come and operate it, that would be wonderful.”

The city has continually discussed the future of its golf courses over the past few years during budget meetings and its annual retreat. The decision now isn’t related to the upcoming request for a 0.4-percent income tax increase, Bodenmiller said, rather a result of the city’s dwindling budget.

“We’re just trying to be responsible with the public’s tax money,” he said. “The reality is there are multiple other public golf options in the area. There is less golf being played, not just here but in almost every town across America.”

‘I would be in tears’

A local group, including Springfield lawyer Alan Collins — the son of longtime Reid Park golf pro El Collins — was in discussions this spring with the city about a lease deal to take over managing the courses.

The city isn’t legally required to go through a public process, Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said, but opted to ask for proposals out of fairness to the rest of the community.

“We thought it was a problem because we hadn’t given anyone else a chance,” Copeland said.

Alan Collins is unsure if his group will move forward with another proposal, but doesn’t want to see the course close anytime soon. He still calls Reid his home course.

“I literally grew up at Reid Park,” Alan Collins said. “I would be in tears if it closed. It’s two solid golf courses and it’s the last city public golf course we have in town. My motivation is simple: I want the doors to stay open.”

The course, if managed properly, could break even, he said. The group had planned to lease the entire 36-hole property and equipment from the city.

“If we lost money, we lost money,” Collins said.

Every market is local

Every golf market is local, Colorado-based golf industry expert J.J. Keegan said. He played the Springfield courses many years ago while stationed as a lieutenant in Dayton.

He ranked the profit potential of Reid Park as 11,621 out of more than 15,200 golf courses nationally, based on variables such as age, income and population density.

Locally there are 1,027 golfer per 18 holes, Keegan said, well below the national average of 1,731. About 80 percent of golfers come from a 10-mile radius, unless it’s a nationally known course.

With the number of holes in Springfield, “the golf course exists in a market that’s 41-percent oversupplied,” Keegan said.

Residents who live within 10 miles of Reid Park spend a total of about $743,000 per 18 holes annually on golf, including green fees, carts, and food and beverages.

By comparison he ranked the Ohio State University golf courses 659 nationally. Residents in a 10-mile radius there spend about $3.4 million annually on golf per 18 holes.

The biggest difference is the economy of the two locations, Keegan said.’

Economic growth in Springfield and Clark County will be limited over the next few years, reducing the demand for real estate, according to an appraisal of Reid prepared for the city.

Since 2005, Clark County has lost about 2,700 jobs. It also shows 17 percent of people who live in Clark County are college graduates with four-year degrees, 8 percent less than the state average. The county’s median household income in 2015 was also about $41,400, about 14 percent less than the state average.

As the local economy continues to rebound, more disposable income will be available to spend on golf, increasing the demand for courses, the appraisal says.

But the highest and best use for the property is for probably a developer who can the hold the land for future single-family residential use, it says.

If Reid is run properly, Keegan said it could probably make money.

“The courses are a cut above what you’d find (other places),” he said. “The challenges of the golf course, not withstanding its location, might come down to management. It might come to down to how well they’re marketing.”

However, someone must pay for deferred maintenance and make enough money to pay for capital expenses in the future.

“It’s probably a steep hill to climb,” Keegan said.

The closure of Snyder Park was disappointing, Siemon said, and he would feel the same way if Reid closed. He hopes new investors will keep the courses intact, especially Reid North, one of the most challenging in Clark County, Siemon said.

“It will really limit our options around here to play good, quality golf courses,” Siemon said. “It’s pretty disheartening to say the least.”

The closing could lead to higher rates at other courses, he said.

“The options are limited and it’s supply and demand,” Siemon said.

With two courses, Reid Park serves a variety of golfers, Springfield resident Craig Yontz said. It’s also affordable, he said.

“It’s such an asset for the golfers,” Yontz said. “They serve a lot of golfers not just from this county, but others.”

Springfield resident Kevin Kite plays at Reid Park about three times per week. He won the Springfield City Amateur’s senior division last month.

Local golfers had a feeling the city wanted to get out of the business, he said, and he would like to see the park district spend more money on the courses instead of other sports and facilities.

“This place can make money,” he said.

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