Players are shown at Kittyhawk Golf Center, part of Dayton’s golf system. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

After 100 years, will Dayton get out of the golf business?

Dayton has been in the golf business more than 100 years, but its facilities are deteriorating, losing money and need large investments, according to a new report with findings that raise the question if the city will close some or all of its facilities.

An outside consultant has recommended the city of Dayton close a golf course, subsidize one of its golf facilities through the general fund and invest between $7.9 million to $9.9 million in capital improvements at all three of its facilities.

The consultant says these and other changes could help the golf courses be competitive and viable moving forward.

But city officials say such a hefty investment would require substantial taxpayer subsidies from the general fund for many years to come, and city leaders might decide the price tag is not worth it for a sport that few residents play at city facilities.

Dayton Deputy City Manager Joe Parlette says “everything is on the table” when it comes to its golf operations, potentially including closures.

“It really begins with a question to be answered,” Parlette said. “Does the city need to or want to be in the golf business?”

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In December, the National Golf Foundation completed a report for the city outlining a series of recommendations for its golf division following a thorough and comprehensive review of the city’s three golf facilities.

The city operates half a dozen 18-hole golf courses across three facilities: Community Golf Club, south of the city in Kettering; Kittyhawk Golf Center in northeast Dayton; and Madden Golf Course in southwest Dayton.

The city’s golf facilities are in poor condition and are declining because of age and deferred maintenance, and they need repairs and modifications to remain relevant and viable, the report says.

The city’s golf facilities and courses can improve economic performance through new capital investments and other changes, possibly such as shrinking the golf system and adding new amenities like a learning center at Madden to grow the game, the report states.

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Expensive needs

According to the foundation, Community Golf Club needs between $1.78 million and $2.1 million in repairs and renovations; Kittyhawk Golf Center needs an investment roughly between $4.35 million to $5.47 million; and Madden Golf Course has $2.6 million to $3.43 million in capital needs.

This high level of investment concerns city officials, who say the general fund would have to bear the brunt of covering the capital costs.

Parlette said the subsidy could be $500,0000 to $600,000 per year for the first five years and similar amounts for another 15.

Community Golf Club is the city’s “premier” golf facility and generated about $1.27 million in revenue in 2018, which was 47% of the total revenue from the city’s entire system, the report said.

Community is in a prime location because it is surrounded by “golfer-rich” residential neighborhoods and it has easy access to major roadways, the foundation said.

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Community’s condition is declining, but its irrigation system is newer and just needs repairs instead of replacement, according to the consultant, and the facility’s primary needs include bunker upgrades, cart path improvements and clubhouse enhancements.

However, Kittyhawk and Madden have outdated irrigation systems, which contribute to poor turf conditions, and their clubhouse and support buildings are “severely outdated” and “dysfunctional,” the foundation said.

Madden has the lowest rounds and revenue performance in the city, accounting for just 14% of golf revenue in 2018.

At all three facilities, cart paths are in disrepair, maintenance facilities are inadequate size and function and playing areas have signs of unhealthy, inconsistent or dead turf, as well as deficiencies in the bunkers, trees and water features, the consultant said.

Consultant’s recommendations

The National Golf Foundation recommends investing in the facilities and add a new capital improvement surcharge of $1 per 9 holes on all rounds, which could raise as much as $250,000 annually to help fund improvements.

The foundation also recommends the city move the Madden Golf Course into the general fund, so it is no longer an enterprise fund that is supposed to be self-sufficient. The foundation also recommends closing the Falcon course at Kittyhawk.

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But Parlette says the capital surcharge likely would generate only a fraction of the funds needed to pay the annual debt service costs to the city if it were to make $7 million to $10 million in improvements.

“It’s not even close,” he said.

Golfers who play the city’s courses primarily like that they are nearby and affordable, and fees realistically cannot be hiked high enough to cover the necessary debt payments, Parlette said.

Paying debt for capital improvements would leave less money for other important and valued services, departments and neighborhood investments that likely impact more residents, he said.

About 20,000 unique golfers visit Dayton’s golf facilities each year, and only about 4,284 are people who live in the city of Dayton, Parlette said.

Parlette said city officials are still “digesting” the report, which is 138 pages when the preliminary summary is included. He said the city will want to get community feedback about its golf operations.

But he said the future of Dayton’s golf division comes down to priorities.

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Picking priorities

Golf is supposed to be an enterprise fund like the aviation and water departments, meaning they can only spend as much as they generate in revenue, Parlette said. But the golf division has received subsidies from the general fund for years.

“This is a substantial investment decision, and we have to stack it up with the rest of our priorities,” he said.

2019 was a good year for golf in Dayton, but the city still had to transfer $50,000 from its general fund to cover a deficit.

The Dayton City Commission ultimately is expected to decide what to do with the city’s golf operations, and disagreements are possible.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has said she is worried about golf’s finances and does not want to keep subsidizing the facilities.

Dayton City Commissioner Jeffrey Mims Jr. is a fan and advocate of the sport. Mims says he believes golf is valuable to youth development, teaches skills useful in the business world and is an important recreation option for quality of life.

The future of Dayton’s golf facilities are unclear, but they all have challenges.

Kittyhawk is in a sensitive location on a water wellfield, meaning it cannot be redeveloped into residential or commercial uses.

Community has deed restrictions that could limit its uses. Madden isn’t in a very desirable location since it is next to a wastewater treatment plant, which means it sometimes has unpleasant odors.

Montgomery County is home to 16 golf facilities, 11 of which are public, and eight of them are owned by municipalities.

The Dayton market area (Montgomery County) is home to about 48,100 golfers, who realistically could play about 872,000 rounds of golf each year, the consultant says.

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