Printed on: November 26, 2013

City eyes golf fee increases

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

When Greg Weitzel was hired as the new Parks and Recreation director for the city of Idaho Falls, he was asked to tee off on solutions for the city's three financially struggling municipal golf courses.

Higher fees, new software allowing patrons to schedule tee times online, emails reminding golfers of the latest specials and new golf cart management were some of Weitzel's changes. They led to a $28,000 profit for the courses this season, a marked improvement for the three courses, which had lost $265,000 over the previous two years.

"That $28,000 in the black is a very, very welcome (sight)," Councilman Kenneth Taylor told Weitzel during a Nov. 14 council update on the courses.

Now, new fee increases will come before the City Council to cover the cost of maintenance and future improvements for the 2014 golf season. A public hearing will be held for new golf fees at 7 p.m. today during the council's meeting in its chambers at 680 Park Ave.

Tim Reinke, manager of golf operations, said the city has proposed raising green fees by 50 cents for residents and 75 cents for nonresidents. The city will recommend a $1 user fee per round for season pass holders next year.

Daily fees for an 18-hole round for an Idaho Falls resident are currently $22 Monday through Thursday and $23 on the weekend. Season passes for an adult resident are $585, with cheaper options for seniors and youth players. A total of 116,000 rounds of golf were played on Idaho Falls courses this year.

Weitzel said the first year of the city's golf operations five-year business plan has been successful thanks to the hard work of city staff. The city has worked to improve customer service and conduct business more efficiently, allowing the city to continually improve the golf courses in the future, he said.

The five-year plan was analyzed with recommendations from the Golf Advisory Board on a new pricing plan for the upcoming 2014 season. Adjustments in the pricing plan will help cover the cost of maintenance and future improvements.

Plans for the upcoming season include the city's involvement in the First Tee Program, a national program for kids. The city was awarded a $4,700 grant to assist with this program.

Weitzel said municipal golf courses throughout the country have begun to evaluate offering season passes for patrons. The city will maintain the season pass option for next year and hopes to maintain the service for years to come, he said.

"The season pass holder is paying $5.85 on average per round, but it's costing us $20.51 per round," Weitzel said. "Therein lies the rub. That's why you're seeing across the nation season passes go away."

Many municipal golf courses have gone toward a player reward system, in which the more a person plays, the more kickbacks and specials he or she receives. Weitzel said the city is moving toward a new 52-week marketing plan for the courses next year to increase daily visits to the courses.

"We are not, at this point, going to be saying let's get rid of season passes," Weitzel said. "If we can keep a balanced budget, we can make more revenue (so we don't have to eliminate season passes)."