Discounts part of strategy to cut golf courses’ deficits

Meadowbrook Golf Course would have closed under the budget plan offered by Mayor Jim Gray in 2011. The effort to close the 18-hole, par-3 course, which loses about $80,000 a year, was turned back. MARK CORNELISON ‚ Mark Cornelison

The Lexington Urban County Council’s General Government Committee on Tuesday reviewed a proposal to close two public swimming pools and heard about a new management strategy for the five city-owned golf courses.

The pools targeted for closure are Berry Hill and Constitution.

Mike Fields, manager of golf services with parks and recreation, presented the management strategy for the golf courses, which he said incorporated suggestions from the head professionals at each course.

The proposals will “untie our hands to run the golf courses as business centers,” Fields told committee members. The courses lost $1.2 million in fiscal year 2011, which amounted to a $13 subsidy per round. In his proposed 2012 budget, Mayor Jim Gray recommended closing Meadowbrook Golf Course to save money. Council members voted to keep it open.

“This plan, if all goes well, would cut the subsidy … to $700,000 in fiscal year 2012 and possibly lower in the future,” Fields said.

All the changes Fields described Tuesday can be initiated immediately. Council approval is not required, committee chairman Ed Lane said.

A key step is to increase the number of golfers playing each course, Fields said.

Each course will be allowed to increase or decrease rates 20 percent based on demand. The same 20 percent rule will be implemented for promotional discounts and to promote and fill vacant starting times. Restrictions on specialty rates will be loosened: Ladies’ Day rates, now offered only on Tuesdays, will be in effect Monday through Friday, and senior rates will be offered to those 50 and older.

Discount cards and driving range memberships will be introduced. Discount rates for special groups such as city employees and University of Kentucky students will be offered. These promotions will generate revenue upfront while creating loyalty among golfers, Fields said.

Because of fixed labor costs, there is no savings to closing courses during the winter, Fields said; courses will remain open year-round, and winter rates will be introduced.

The lengthy list of changes also includes starting corporate leagues, selling alcohol at the Lakeside course, and having happy hours, night golf events and ladies’ team championships.

Courses will begin to aggressively use email and social media such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Google Plus to market themselves and communicate with golfers.

By providing loyalty incentives and enticing groups to play city courses, Fields said, the parks department is projecting “a conservative revenue increase” of $120,000 for summer 2012 over last year.

As for the two swimming pools, a plan for fiscal year 2013 recommends taking them out and turning the space at Berry Hill into a skate park and building a softball field on the Constitution site.

Timing will be “tricky,” Brian Rogers, deputy director of enterprise for parks and recreation, said after the meeting. The council must decide the futures of the two pools in the next couple of months, Rogers said.

“We think we have the money for demolition, but we don’t have the money for construction,” Rogers said. “We don’t want either park to sit there with a big hole in the ground.”

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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