Would city residents be willing to pay $54 for 18 holes of golf with a cart at Bobby Jones Golf Club? Would state residents pay $62 for a round? How about $82 for out-of-state golfers?
Members of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environment Protection Advisory Board think so — and they think a price increase may help steer the municipal golf course on a path toward financial sustainability.
At its Sept. 20 meeting, the parks board discussed potential changes to the fee structure at Bobby Jones. The operations of the 45-hole golf complex have been the subject of extended scrutiny. The facility’s reserves have dried up, requiring a general fund subsidy of more than $1 million in the past two city budgets. And the city is considering embarking on a multimillion-dollar renovation to improve the course’s aging infrastructure.
Decisions regarding long-term improvements at the course are still forthcoming. In the meantime, however, parks board members believe the city could charge more to play at Bobby Jones during peak season. The board discussed a tiered pricing structure that would charge a lower rate to city residents and a higher rate to golfers from out of town.
The price to play 18 holes at the course is already slated to increase $5 beginning Dec. 1, money that will go toward paying for renovations. The city has invested $150,000 into improving drainage on the American Course, which is scheduled to reopen Dec. 1. The city will improve the drainage on the British Course after season.
But, responding to more significant price increases outlined in a proposal from parks board member Leo Fitzgerald, Bobby Jones Manager Sue Martin said she believed golfers would be willing to bear those expenses — in season, at least.
Because Bobby Jones currently has varying price points, it can be hard to draw a one-to-one comparison to existing rates. The $32 18-hole rate — sans cart — for city residents would represent a $3 increase over the city resident rate currently set for Saturdays and Sundays in December and April. It would represent a decrease from the $40 rate set for Jan. 2 to March 31.
The state resident rate of $62 for 18 holes and a cart would be an $8 increase over the current peak rate. The out-of-state rate of $82 would be a $28 increase.
Although Fitzgerald advocated for more straightforward prices, Martin said there would need to be some flexibility built into the rates. Golfers would expect lower rates than Fitzgerald proposed out of season, she said, and courses usually offer discounted prices for golfers who begin their round after midday. The parks board said it was amenable to some adjustments, but the group said Fitzgerald’s proposal should be used as a baseline for a new fee structure for the course.
“The objective is to put a pricing system in, flexible or not, that will move us toward profitability,” parks board member John Tuccillo said. “The number is irrelevant. The goal is not.”
A representative for the parks board will present the proposed price changes to the City Commission for further discussion at at a future meeting. The board suggested the city should be determined to find a way for Bobby Jones to return to profitability. The course has lost money for six straight years.
“Whenever I hear that Bobby Jones is an asset, I cringe internally,” Tuccillo said. “It’s a liability. If you look at the numbers, it’s a liability, not an asset.”
Officials have expressed optimism the course could become sustainable if the city chooses to invest significant resources into improving Bobby Jones. The city has worked with golf consultant Richard Mandell to produce a plan for renovating the course. Improving the entire property could cost more than $16 million, Mandell said.
At a series of workshops this summer, golfers said they’d like to see the city upgrade Bobby Jones — and that they’d be willing to pay more if the course was improved. Martin said staff hoped to return to the commission in December to discuss future investments into Bobby Jones, at which point she hoped there would be more clarity on the long-term plans for the facility.