Oro Valley residents spoke to the mayor and council at a packed study session last Wednesday evening to voice their opinions on what to do with the town-owned golf courses and community center.
As previously reported, the 45 holes of golf, community center and related facilities were purchased in 2014 for $1 million. A half-cent sales tax was also established to pay for capital improvements and offset losses.
These amenities have been operating at a deficit ever since, and a debate over the justification of a town-owned golf course has captured the community for years. The council is now tasked with finding a permanent solution.
The primary concern expressed at the study session was the importance of maintaining property values. Many residents who spoke, a majority of whom have lived in the town for decades, were in favor of keeping the golf courses and implementing further capital improvements.
Representatives from the Homeowners Associations of the Villages at La Cañada and La Cañada Hills spoke to formally express their support for keeping the courses open. Their homes are located along the fairways and would be significantly impacted by any changes made.
One of those residents, Steve Jones, estimates that the homes within the La Canada Hills HOA alone could lose a collective $40 million in property values if the 18-hole La Cañada course is closed or repurposed.
“With proper fiscal analysis of actions to improve revenues and decrease expenses, you will find this community asset can be of greater value to the Town of Oro Valley by generating positive revenues when all factors are considered,” Jones said.
However, the amount of money that goes into maintaining the golf courses is an issue for other residents. Anna Clark, an Oro Valley parent, believes the town’s parks and recreation budget is eclipsed by golf expenses, which does a disservice to the families in town.
“Our parks budget is spent on the golf course,” she said at the study session. “So that leaves just a small portion for all the other recreation that this town offers.”
Clark said the soccer fields at Naranja Park are overcrowded with kids of different ages playing at the same time, and none of Oro Valley’s soccer teams have a field to call home.
“Many people have to host their home games down as far as Udall Park, or even as far away as Scottsdale,” she said. “I would like to see a reduction in the number of golf holes, I don’t think anyone here is advocating for a complete closure of the golf course. We need to make Oro Valley a town for everyone, not just those who golf but those of us who have families who don’t use the golf course.”
Residents Lindsey Hunter and Christine Fapp told the council that the 36 holes of golf are vitally important to the community because of the annual Oro Valley Golf Cup. The OV Cup provides substantial funding to Project Graduation, which provides the town’s high schools an all-night graduation party on school grounds in order to deter seniors from going to house parties and using drugs or alcohol.
If the council closes any part of the 36 holes, there will be no golf cup, and no money to help put on Project Grad.
“This golf course over the past 16 years has helped to protect over 19,000 graduating seniors at Amphitheater, CDO and Ironwood Ridge, and not one senior on graduation night from these three high schools has been lost to or involved in an alcohol related fatality,” Hunter said.
Fapp said some might think the Cup could just move to a different golf course, though she clarified that the move might not be so easy.
“We require 36 holes in order to make the money that we need, especially Amphi, to put on their Project Grad,” Fapp said. “If we lose 18 holes, we probably would be making half the amount of money that we are making now. That’s if we want to keep it in Oro Valley. Sure we could go outside of Oro Valley, but it’s called the OV Cup.”
Several residents have an interest in seeing the nine holes at Pusch Ridge leased back to HSL or repurposing one of the two 18 holes near the community center in order to reduce operational costs.
Resident Kim Krostue told the council that by closing the El Conquistador, the $4.2 million reconfiguration cost identified by the National Golf Foundation’s report from last year could be reduced dramatically, leaving money for community center improvements.
“Plus the move to 18 holes could be done almost immediately, with all required irrigation work completed during this summer,” Krostue said. “I believe moving from 45 holes of golf to 18 is the best option to preserve the property values of all homeowners living on every golf course in Oro Valley and will also allow the La Cañada course to operate in the black.”
Some spoke up just to urge the council to do their due diligence and keep an open mind, since four of the seven on the dais expressed intent to close some or all of the golf course during their campaigns for elected office. Others, after experiencing years of debate over this subject, want to see a decision made quickly.
“It’s past time for Oro Valley residents who don’t live along the golf course or aren’t golf members to have a say in this,” former 2015 recall candidate Shirl Lamonna told the council. “The time for studying golf is over, frankly it should have been over when the NGF’s report came out. We have the history of losses and it speaks volumes.”
Resident Tim Bohen said the golf courses are not drawing in enough players from the community to justify the town’s purchase. He believes the revenue predictions from Troon, the courses’ management company, were too optimistic.
“We always draw a crowd for golf in the meeting room, but where we really expected to draw a crowd for golf to justify this purchase in the first place, was in the pro shop,” Bohen said.
After the study session, Mayor Winfield said he wasn’t surprised by the large turnout, and hopes the community knows the council will listen to resident input and involve them throughout the process.
“I really believe that you have to go slow to go fast sometimes, and I think if we can just be a little patient with ourselves that the more the community can be a part of the conversation, whatever the outcome is, it will be the best outcome for the community as a whole,” Winfield said. “It won’t satisfy everybody. But I hope it’s a decision that folks can live with and we can kind of put behind us the rancor that this has caused for too many years.”
Oro Valley town staff are expected to come up with proposals for the golf courses by September.