I do not live on a golf course, and I don’t play golf, but I am a concerned citizen of Oro Valley and have been closely watching the golf debate. We have had a four-plus year history of providing 36 holes of golf. We have continued to lose a significant amount of money ($1.7 million in FY2018/2019 and total losses to date of over $9.5 million). Granted, the annual losses have slowly trended lower, but they remain unsustainable. And due to these continuing losses, the town has been unable to complete promised capital improvements, including making the community center ADA compliant.
Keeping 36 holes will require a bond of over $3 million for the necessary improvements which will only add to the ongoing expenditures. The 36-hole option seems acceptable to some if an HOA supplies $100,000 per year through additional HOA dues. Further, the 36-hole option requires an additional 100 million gallons of water per year over the 18-hole option. All in all, 36 holes is more of the same, and will result in continued unsustainable losses.
At a recent town council meeting, Mayor Winfield read a list of requirements in order for him to support a 36-hole option. Noteworthy on that list was a tax subsidy cap of $750,000 annually. This isn’t an unreasonable amount for the town to kick in to support 36 holes. However, it represents an almost 70 percent reduction to the $2.4 million tax subsidy already provided in fiscal year 2018/19.
Troon has gone on record stating that we need to have 40,000 rounds per year per course (80,000 rounds total) in order to sustain an acceptable loss. They have also stated that this is achievable with proper marketing. However, our history shows that 36 holes have not come close to achieving 80,000 rounds. Instead, our best year had 52,000 rounds for 45 holes.
The solution: 18 holes. Specifically, the Conquistador course.
Having the town provide 18 holes of municipal golf offers the best option to limit our losses to an acceptable level. While municipal golf will likely never make money, it’s important to keep in mind that the parks and recreation programs are in place to provide a service to Town residents, and not necessarily to make a profit. Providing 18 holes allows for needed capital improvements without bonding and without strapping homeowners along the courses with additional HOA fees. Further, we can have golfers pay for using the driving range, which on other courses has historically brought in an additional $150,000 per year of income.
With 18 holes, we’ll save money on cart leases, equipment expenses, staff and admin overhead and, as mentioned previously, water. Eighteen holes provides the most opportunity for open space and expanded recreational use of former golf holes, including potentially freeing up areas around the Community Center buildings for future expansion.
Why Conquistador? The town owns the entire course. Conquistador has a new irrigation pump. The Cañada course still needs a new pump. Closing Cañada releases the town from the obligation to care for the five holes south of Lambert which are owned by the Villages HOA, and provided for via an easement. The end result would be that the town would then have to re-purpose only 13 holes instead of 18.
Picture the real estate east of La Cañada—where the lake is located—being repurposed into a park. Envision a park where residents would see a busy playground as they drive by. Imagine sustaining our golf losses and still providing for all the capital needs.
The 18-hole solution provides all of this.
Joe Lauer is an Oro Valley resident.