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City eyes half-million-dollar loss at golf course

August 2, 2018

HARLINGEN — Officials who supervise the Tony Butler Golf Course told the City Commission last night the patchy greens problem that rose up in April has been solved and the course looks great.

What their action plan didn’t address was what to do about a projected $525,590 financial loss at the city course spread over the next two or three years.

While the course’s struggles are not new, the extent of the losses revealed this week in City Manager Dan Serna’s fiscal year 2019 budget workshop was eye-opening.

“We acknowledge that this is a big number but we have a plan for the next fiscal year that will start dealing with that,” Serna told commissioners.

The issues Tony Butler Golf Course confronts are not unique to the Harlingen facility. Across the Valley and indeed the nation, the number of people participating in golf has dropped from an all-time high of 30 million in 2008 to 24.1 million in 2015, according to the National Golf Foundation.

That latter number is holding steady, but the sport has been targeted by some critics as being too time-consuming, too elitist, too difficult and too expensive.

With some new Callaway drivers — a single club which may be used a dozen times a round — costing $699 today, some of the criticism seems valid.

“We’re trying to get current numbers from the auditor to figure out what our losses are,” said Javier Mendez, the city’s parks and recreation director, after he presented a golf action plan to fix greens and fairways yesterday.

“I think what we’ve figured, and of course it’s not audited, but it was like $190,000 in losses this year. I’m thinking the $500,000 is over a span of years.

“There was some revenue loss over our projections and so what usually happens is that the city will have to supplement through the general fund,” he added.

Mendez’s department took over oversight of the golf course a couple of years ago, and so far the partnership has worked well to help maintain the course. Mendez said since nearby Victor Park uses the course’s irrigation system, parks maintenance crews have helped out at the golf course as payback.

“We cut about $62,000 (this year) and what we did was just general operations on the pro shop side from ordering inventory and it’s just sitting there in the pro shop to chemicals,” Mendez said. “We postponed some repairs to some equipment and have tried to manage a lot of little things.”

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to manage, or budget for, has been the decline in Winter Texans over the past few years. That has been a problem for all of the Valley’s courses.

Recently the City Commission, which sets greens fees at Tony Butler, allowed the course’s board to lower rates charged to Valley golfers. As more competition for fewer golfers heats up, competing courses and country clubs have slashed their rates, particularly in the off-season, and Tony Butler has been scrambling to catch up.

“We’re trying to think outside the box and see how we can increase revenue, whether it’s through golf or any other game we can use at the golf course,” Mendez said. “We’ve been struggling; we’ve seen the numbers go down. We don’t know all the contributing factors but a couple of the courses are feeling that.”

rkelley@valleystar.com

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