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City launches plan to pull golf course out of the red

August 19, 2018

By FERNANDO DEL VALLE

Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — The city has hatched a plan to help drive its golf course out of the hole.

City Hall is launching a marketing campaign to offset the Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course’s projected half-million dollar deficit.

“We’ve increased our marketing efforts to try to increase rounds of play,” City Manager Dan Serna said. “By playing more rounds of golf we are assuring the future of our golf course.”

For the city, the golf course, once a stop on the PGA tour, helps draw visitors such as Winter Texans to town.

“That golf course is here for the citizens and visitors,” Serna said.

As part of an agreement, the city will collect 15 percent of revenue generated by an advertising agency to help offset the golf course’s $525,590 shortfall, Serna said.

Rio Shelters, a Brownsville-based advertising firm, will sell advertising on benches at the golf course’s holes and on the flags popping out of its putting greens.

The city does not have projections for its share of the ad revenue, Serna said.

As part of the city’s plan, the golf course is now home to Movies in the Park.

“It’s a great venue, with the driving range being the seating,” Eddie Medlin, the course’s golf pro, said. “People bring blankets and chairs. It’s a really cool deal.”

For the free films, the golf course is opening up its concession area to make money to cut its shortfall.

Serna and Medlin said they did not have the program’s revenue figures readily available.

“It’s not thousands and thousands of dollars,” Medlin said. “It’s really to try to help out.”

Meanwhile, the golf course has boosted the number of tournaments it hosts, Serna said.

“We’re constantly working on trying to gain additional tournaments and maintain the ones we have,” Medlin said.

In the last couple of years, the city’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce along with the San Benito Boys and Girls Club have hosted tournaments there.

“We’ve been doing real good with our tournament operations,” Medlin said. “It gives us a little more exposure.”

Medlin aims to target a young crop of golfers.

So he is ramping up the golf course’s Junior Program.

This summer, the program introduced about 100 youths to the sport, Medlin said.

“We’ve had a really good program for a lot of years,” he said. “We continue to try to introduce golf to as many kids as we can.”

For years, Tony Butler stood as the Valley’s only self-sustaining municipal golf course.

But like many golf courses across the country, it has drawn fewer golfers in recent years.

Since at least 2013, the golf course has operated in the red.

While annual expenditures have hovered at about $1.2 million, revenues have dropped, leaving deficits ranging from $48,324 to $302,587.

Medlin points to a key factor — a drop in Winter Texan players.

Across the Rio Grande Valley, Winter Texan numbers have been falling for years.

Earlier this year, the city cut fees to help draw more players to the course.

From July to September, the course is cutting fees from $23 to $20 for 18 holes of golf, including a cart.

“We’ve seen a slight increase,” Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said. “We hope that increase is sustained.”

From October to December, the city plans to cut fees from $28 to $25 for 18 holes with a cart.

“The objective is to make the course more popular — to make it the course of choice,” Sanchez said.

The golf course boasts unique features.

With six lakes, the 27-hole golf course tests a player’s talent across tight fairways and small, rolling greens.

For many area golfers, the course that opened in 1929 across 230-acres remains sacred ground.

The Valley’s second-oldest golf course, it was part of the PGA tour in the 1930s and 1940s.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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