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Oro Valley staff are planning several irrigation improvements for town-owned golf courses after the council voted to maintain a 36-hole operation.

For quite some time, golf has been a topic of great interest and discussion in our community, as staff and the council have worked to assess needs and options. Now that council has made some important decisions about golf operations, and a plan is in place, I wanted to take a moment to summarize this process and outline what our residents can expect in the coming months and years. 

Over the past year, the Town of Oro Valley has looked closely at the operations, future capital needs and available options for the short- and long-term use of our 45 holes of golf and Community Center facility. Staff analyzed and presented multiple golf scenarios to town council, projecting expected costs and revenues, and identifying pros and cons for each. The community has been actively engaged in the public discussion, attending numerous meetings and sharing their thoughts and ideas. The two main homeowners associations surrounding the Cañada and Conquistador courses even stepped up to offer financial contributions to demonstrate support for this community asset and a willingness to put some skin in the game.

In October, town council voted to continue operating 36 holes of golf (the Cañada and Conquistador courses in the center of town), with the expectation that the projected revenue increases and cost decreases would materialize as expected. Staff’s projections also included HOA contributions of $625,000 over five years. 

The Pusch Ridge nine-hole course (located on North Oracle Road) is not included in this plan because the town is still in discussions with HSL regarding its operation, which is part of the terms of the original purchase agreement. We hope to have a final plan to share soon.

Now that the decision had been made to continue funding operations for 36 holes of golf, council’s next step was to decide how to fund the capital and infrastructure investments, such as course irrigation repairs as well as facility improvements to the building that houses the Community Center, restaurant and golf support spaces. So in November, council decided that, rather than financing the improvements or temporarily using other town funds, capital improvements would rely on the expected cash savings from the half-cent sales tax projected over the next several years—in other words, pay-as-you-go. 

As you may recall, the dedicated half-cent sales tax was implemented shortly after the town acquired the property.

With these decisions made and a plan in place, town staff is already moving forward with the first of many steps to keep the courses operating in tip-top shape, while also planning for the eventual irrigation replacement and course refurbishment. First on the list is securing a contract for a course operator. Troon has been the town’s golf course management company since the town purchased the property about five years ago. Since then, Troon has improved course conditions and increased rounds of play; however, Troon’s contract expires on June 30. As a government entity, the town follows state rules regarding soliciting competitive proposals for service contracts to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent as wisely as possible. In January, the town will issue a Request for Proposals, opening the bidding process to any qualified firm. We expect to have a contract awarded in mid-to-late spring. 

The irrigation systems on the courses are more than 30 years old, and are in need of replacement. As you can imagine, irrigation technology has evolved dramatically over the past three decades, providing opportunities to improve water distribution and efficiency. That type of system requires expertise to design, so as soon as we know which firm will be operating the courses, we will be tapping into their professional team to work with an irrigation designer. As part of that design and planning process, we will also identify opportunities to reduce turf while still having high-quality courses. These irrigation improvements and turf reduction will also help reduce overall operating costs.

Golf play slows down in the summer heat, so we plan to take advantage of the slower season for construction. Refurbishment and irrigation work on the Conquistador Course is planned for summer 2021, and the Cañada Course work is scheduled for summer 2022. Current estimates for the course investments are $3.8 million.

The golf courses aren’t the only part of the facilities supported by the half-cent sales tax. The aging Community and Recreation Center building is used by golfers and non-golfers alike. While the town has worked very hard to convert this former country club into a Community Center, the layout and structure of this building still reflect its original use. Oro Valley’s Community Center is heavily used, and demands for space continue to exceed what can be currently accommodated. For example, just in the month of November, there were more than 9,000 visits to our Community Center’s fitness, tennis and pickleball amenities. That’s in addition to the summer camps, spring break camps, year-round recreational offerings, special events and other community uses. Renovation is definitely on our radar, but before we invest in major renovations, it’s important we first develop a comprehensive, community-supported master plan. 

To that end, Oro Valley Parks and Recreation is working with a consultant to conduct a needs assessment and develop a Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Community feedback is the crucial first step in that needs assessment, and staff will kick-off that effort in January. But if you’d like a sneak peek, visit www.planyourparksov.com. Once the community has weighed in and the master plan for the Community Center is completed in late 2020, the town can better prioritize investments and start making improvements in 2023, or sooner if additional dedicated funds become available. 

In closing, I would like to personally thank our residents for being so engaged. Your ideas and input are foundational to the work we do. I invite you to bring that same enthusiasm to the table as we now broaden our focus to a comprehensive look at our parks and recreation offerings. Together, we can identify and meet the needs of Oro Valley residents both now and into the future.

Mary Jacobs is the Oro Valley Town Manger.

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