Elizabethton Golf Course faces financial challenge

Published 8:42 am Monday, January 14, 2019

Many municipal golf courses are in a fight for their lives, and the Elizabethton Golf Course appears to be nearing that point. City Council continues to wrangle with the same age-old question. Should tax dollars be supplementing golf? If so, how much?
For a number of years, Elizabethton taxpayers have subsidized the golf course annually with a $150,000 allocation. True, there are few city taxpayers who use the golf course, but it is a city asset. Among the biggest users of the golf course are local schools and Milligan College, who play their matches there. It also hosts several tournaments during the summer.
Taxpayers expect the golf course to be self-sufficient. Most do not see the need to subsidize the golf course especially if they do not use it. Yet, other types of recreational activities, such as minor league baseball, city parks, pools, the rec center, and library are supported by taxpayer funds.
The City has a finite number of dollars available, and it must decide what level of support, if any, it is willing to give the golf course on an ongoing basis. We give our tax dollars to support all of our parks. The question is: To what degree do we do that here?
The City originally appropriated $90,000 to pay management fees to Hampton Golf, which took over management of the city-owned golf course last year. Well, that $90,000 is now gone and more money is needed to cover the cost of maintaining the course and its operation.
The Elizabethton Golf Course through the years has come under scrutiny as dwindling usage, infrastructure in need of repair and constant maintenance and collected debt have increasingly become unavoidable issues. These problems and the course’s long-term sustainability are certainly questions of concern for the Elizabethton City Council. The hiring of a management firm was supposed to have taken care of some of those problems, but apparently it has added to the problem. Thus, the greens have become a burden rather than a boon.
Depending on how the city chooses to treat the golf course, either as an enterprise or more similar to the way it treats all other recreational uses and amenities, a decision needs to be made on the value of the golf course to the community. The question then becomes, does the course provide enough benefit to justify the cost it requires.
There’s no doubt that the golf course is a long-time asset to the community. It’s a beautiful course and is attractive to golfers. Yet, too few golfers play at the Elizabethton Golf Course. Perhaps the question we should be asking is: Why?
In the past, some golfers complained that management catered to a few golfers, who got choice tee-off times every day, leaving other golfers with whatever times that were left. Perhaps, that is still a problem. If so, it needs to be fixed.
It comes down to a judgment call: Do we think we’re getting enough rounds and providing enough service for the cost?
Municipal golf will always have a place, but there will always be challenges. Municipalities have to collect garbage and pay police. If they can’t make the case for golf, they have to strongly consider to live without it. Has golf become a luxury we can no longer afford?

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