Oro Valley

The Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center.

The recent letter to the editor “Make Them Pay” (March 7), along with recent assertions on the local Let Oro Valley Excel blog, contained information about the El Conquistador Men’s Golf Association that was either totally incorrect, or a much-distorted representation of the facts.

It should be remembered: The town purchased a community and recreation center that included 45 holes of golf, but also 31 tennis courts, two pools, racquetball courts, pickle ball courts, the Overlook Restaurant, extensive weight training and cardio equipment, locker rooms, rooms for exercise classes and other spaces used by Oro Valley residents to conduct meetings, play cards and engage in other social activities. There are nearly 1,200 tennis and fitness memberships using these facilities. Those memberships represent 2,350 individuals who, on average, visit the facility 8,563 times each month. This number does not include non-member golfers, card players or restaurant patrons. Therefore, a substantial number of Oro Valley residents utilize the community and recreation center every month in addition to golfers. It has become a valued community asset.

The numbers cited in this rebuttal are factual, accurate, obtained from either Troon or Town of Oro Valley representatives, and are all a matter of public record. Significant progress has been made in the last two-plus years regarding all aspects of the community and recreation center, including the golf facilities. 

The following are some assertions made in the letter to the editor and the Let Oro Valley Excel blog concerning the Town’s golf “losses” and the Men’s Golf Association members having their own private course that costs residents, followed by a response based on facts. A longer rebuttal of these assertions can be found online at tucsonlocalmedia.com.

“October 2017 golf losses were worse than October 2016 losses.”

Response: This is an example of “cherry-picking” data and not telling the whole truth. This anomaly was caused by the amount of water needed in October 2017, as opposed to the previous October. Two factors caused this expense. First we had an unusually warm October 2017, compared to the prior October. Second, there was an early transition from Bermuda to rye grass on the Canada course this year to prepare for outside tournament commitments. These factors required buying more water than the previous October, causing the deficit. Incidentally, water purchased by the golf courses is revenue to the Water Utility Department, so the Town actually benefits on that side of the equation!

What was also not explained by the assertion’s author is that the October 2016 golf revenues were $35,876, while the October 2017 golf revenues were actually $61,996. This represents a 57 percent improvement over the previous year.

Consequently, there was a reasonable explanation why expenses between the compared months were high, but revenues between the two months were considerably better this year; a fact conveniently not reported.

 “Let’s say it costs $1.3 million to run an 18-hole golf course. The Town wants to continue with 36 holes of golf so the Men’s Golf Association members can have their own private course, costing residents $500,000.” 

The Truth: The premise of this assertion is ridiculous, but let’s actually examine the math.

Annual revenue from golf Members is actually $1.25 million in dues, trail and cart fees, and minimum-required food, beverage and merchandise purchases, not the $725,611 cited by the author of the assertion. So, if the author is correct about costs, the 18 holes used by members actually costs $50,000, not $500,000, and that amount is recovered annually by revenue from outside play scheduled on the “member course.” In exchange, the town has the ability, with 36 holes, to generate additional revenue from outside play and tournament bookings, which frequently utilizes both 18-hole courses. 

Part II

This second in a Series of three Articles responds to apparently coordinated editorials in both the “Explorer” and the “Let Oro Valley Excel” website.  Those editorials contained information that was either totally incorrect, or a much-distorted representation of the facts.

The numbers cited in this Series are factual, accurate, obtained from either Troon or Town of Oro Valley representatives, and are all a matter of public record. 

Following are the major “assertions” in the referenced editorials saying the Town should operate only 18 strictly public golf holes, followed by a “response” based upon facts:

Assertion: “Golf operation should be reduced to an 18-hole municipal operation, with no memberships and strictly Fee-for-Play.”

The Truth: This approach would guarantee the Town would lose even more money, not break even.

Immediately, the Town would lose over $1.25 million in revenues annually generated through Membership dues, trail and cart fees, and Minimum Required food, beverage and merchandise purchases.  No scenario exists whereby sufficient Fee-for-Play revenues would offset this loss.  The Consultants hired by the Town to study golf recognized this, and stated it in their Report to the Town delivered last spring.

An 18-hole operation would have very limited opportunity to attract outside Tournaments, losing significant revenue. The Town would still need to replace the antiquated irrigation system, even to operate just 18 holes.

The percentage of operating expenses saved by this approach would not come close to 50 percent of the current operating expenses for 36 holes.  And, as the Consultants explained in their Report, added expenses would be required to convert the eliminated 18 golf holes into other uses.

 Assertion: “Let’s say it costs $1.3 million to run an 18-hole golf course.  The Town wants to continue with 36 holes of golf so the Men’s Golf Association members can have their own private course, costing residents $500,000.”

The Truth: The premise of this assertion is ridiculous, but let’s actually examine the math.

As explained above, annual revenue from golf Members is $1.25 million in dues, trail and cart fees, and Minimum Required food, beverage and merchandise purchases, not the $725,611 cited by the author of the assertion.  So, if the author is correct about costs, the 18 holes used by Members actually costs $50,000, not $500,000, and that amount is recovered by revenue from outside play scheduled on the “member course”.  In exchange, the Town has the ability, with 36 holes, to generate additional revenue from outside play and tournament bookings, which frequently utilizes both 18-hole courses.

Assertion: “The town is attempting to mix public owned and open play golf courses with country club membership.  Operating costs are consistent with a private club, not like public courses struggling to break even. El Conquistador was private when purchased, which is why the town has this unworkable model.”

The Truth:  The entire assertion is simply false.

The El Conquistador property operated for decades with a Club Membership component and open play.  This was true when Sheraton owned the facility, and continued when Hilton purchased it.  In fact, an “open play” component was very important to both prior owners, so they could market golf to their hotel clientele.  When the economy plummeted, this became considerably less valuable.  However, the ability to generate revenue from both Club Memberships and Fee-for-Play golfers always existed.

Saying operating costs are “consistent with a private club, and not like public courses struggling to break even” also makes no sense.  It doesn’t cost less to water fairways, tees, and greens at a public course than at a private club.  Likewise, it doesn’t cost less at a public course than at a private club to cut fairways, roughs and greens; operate the pro shop; or provide restrooms.  If the property attracts golfers because it is well-maintained and well-designed, the costs to achieve these ends are no different at a public or private course, except at the highest-end, private properties, which El Conquistador never attempted to emulate.

Finally, saying the facility was “private when purchased by the town” simply isn’t true.  Again, for literally decades, public play was encouraged at El Conquistador.  Fee-for-Play golfers played at El Conquistador during its entire existence.  Golfers not only came from the El Conquistador Hotel, but stayed during the high season (sometimes for extended periods) at the Golf Villas, came from other hotels, or simply from “off the street.”

Part III

This third in a Series of three Articles responds to the apparently coordinated editorials in both the “Explorer” and the “Let Oro Valley Excel” website.  Those editorials contained information that was either totally incorrect, or a much-distorted representation of the facts.

The numbers cited in this Series are factual, accurate, obtained from either Troon or Town of Oro Valley representatives, and are all a matter of public record. 

Below are the major “assertions” contained in referenced editorials saying a public golf course should charge everyone the same, and that all golf operations should cease, replaced by parks and connected trails.  A “response” based upon the facts follows.

Assertion:  “A public golf course charges everyone the same daily fee every time they play.  No amenities or unlimited play are included in daily fees.”

The Truth:  This assertion isn’t true and suggests those making it have little or no understanding of the public golf industry.

Literally every public golf course, whether owned privately, or by a municipality or county, offers differentiated fee structures to play.  Fees to play in early morning, on weekends, or during high season are higher than to play in late afternoon, during off-season, or mid-week.  Also, these facilities frequently offer discount cards for multiple rounds; reduced rates for junior or senior players; and if owned by a public entity, provide discounted rates for municipal or county residents.

Also, literally every public course offers a wide variety of amenities.  These include “membership” programs that maintain a player’s handicap; provide opportunities to compete in special tournaments; and provide discounts for lessons or pro shop purchases.  Many public courses also organize Junior Golf Programs for young people that include group lessons and playing opportunities designed to “grow the game.”  In addition, most public courses provide food and beverage operations well beyond a “sandwich and beer” booth, to encourage players to have breakfast before play or stay for lunch after playing.  Also, in many cases, lunch or breakfast “vouchers” are part of the “Fee-for-Play” as a promotional incentive to attract business.  The sophistication level of food and beverage operations may vary, but to suggest they don’t exist is nonsense.

Assertion:  “Adopt ‘Option D’ from the Consultant’s Report to close the golf operation and convert the property to neighborhood parks, connected by trails and pathways, costing $3 million.”

The Truth:  This assertion is a fabrication on a number of levels and implementation would require significant resources.

First, no “Option D” exists in the Consultant’s Report.   It contains two paragraphs that briefly discuss closing all 36 golf holes and re-purposing the land.  However, nothing in those paragraphs describe conversion of the property to “neighborhood parks, connected by trails and pathways.”

Additionally, the $3 million is mentioned in the paragraphs as the approximate amount it would cost “to remove managed turf areas and, at a minimum, plan and establish revegetation desert varieties to areas removed from turf.”  In other words, the $3 million would return the property to desert, not establish neighborhood parks, connected by trails and pathways.

The Consultants do describe in other sections that it would cost a considerable amount, initially, and on a continuing basis, to convert the property to public parks.  That is not disclosed in the editorial.  For example, the antiquated irrigation system would have to be retrofitted and improved to provide irrigation to maintain converted greenspace. Otherwise, current irrigation repair costs that keep the system operating would continue into the future.  When the system ultimately failed, it would need to be replaced, at substantial cost.

Also, maintenance costs for the greenspace would still exist, such as mowing, weed control, landscaping, lighting, security, etc., costing significant resources on a continuing basis.  The Parks Department may be able to project these costs, but the costs would be significant.  Finally, no revenue would be generated from such a conversion to offset these costs.

In the Introduction to this Series, it was stated this response was stimulated by the apparently coordinated editorials in the “Explorer” and “Let Oro Valley Excel” website that were either totally incorrect, or a much-distorted representation of the facts.  Those editorials presented the golf facilities at the Community and Recreation Center as a “wedge” issue with Oro Valley citizens against the Mayor and Council members.  There is evidence this effort is a precursor to the November election for Mayor and the three current Council Members who may run in that election.  Information in those editorials was either false or a distortion of the facts, because it would not be in the interest of the authors and their supporters to have citizens understand that real fiscal progress has been and is being made at the Community and Recreation Center to achieve a break-even or better status at the facility, including the golf component.  Such progress is being made.  Those who suggested when the property was purchased that it would take from five to seven years before it was reasonable to expect the facility to be fiscally sound are being proven more correct than their critics.  Once that fact is understood, the premise for the critics’ attacks falls apart. 

John Gorman is the President of the El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Men’s Golf Association.

(1) comment

thinkLike Me

John Gorman boasts of the 1,200 members to the "community center."

Well, there are 41,000 residents of Oro Valley, so >97% of the town's residents have nothing to do with the town's "community center."

My question: Why so few members?

Isn't the "cc" more of a country club than a community center?

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