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Saturday, March 19, 2011

John Thrasher cares about golf courses, not children or teachers

From St.


Regarding the headline of Friday, March 11, "Thrasher's golf bill draws fire," I understand that the bill in question has been withdrawn. That being said, I think the residents of St Augustine (and the entire state of Florida) deserve an explanation from Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Patrick Rooney as to what they were thinking when they proposed this legislation in the first place.

In this era of austerity, when local school districts are planning to eliminate all athletic programs, and thousands of state workers are being laid off, one wonders what they were thinking when they proposed spending in the neighborhood of $25 million to build high-end golf courses (in state parks). Shockingly, this was also endorsed by our esteemed governor, who claims to be the king of fiscal responsibility.

I contacted Thrasher's office on Friday [March 11] to inquire if the senator played golf. His assistant who I spoke with assured me that he did. I don't know where he plays, but I guarantee you that his golf course is in the same situation as every other course in the state of Florida (or the rest of the country for that matter).

Since the early 2000s, more golf courses have closed than opened in the United States. Golf participation has continued to decline every year. As a golf professional in two states (Florida and Minnesota), I can attest to the fact that almost every course, public or private, is now starting to compete on price. In St. Johns County, you can now play at some of the better high-end public facilities for a mere $39. These courses were built on a business model that reflected greens fees of up to $100. The St. Johns Golf Club, which is owned and operated by St. Johns County, is closing nine of its 27 holes in May.

The cost to build a signature golf course is approximately $5 million. The yearly operating costs for such a facility would be close to $1 million per year. You need greens fees of $100 to $125 to break even, and the course needs to be booked solid. Since that business model no longer exists, legislators and the public need to understand that this type of facility will lose money every single year.

I have never understood why the public sector feels the need to compete directly with the private sector in the recreation industry. As a former owner of athletic clubs in the Twin Cities, I am very familiar with direct competition from government-owned community centers. Privately owned clubs, be it golf or athletic, pay exorbitant property taxes. Since the majority of public facilities are unable to pay their bills from user fees (greens fees), the debt burden falls directly on county residents. Nowhere in the article does it state that this project would make enough money to make the revenue bond payments.

In addition, they proposed building hotels on site (to compete with the thousands of tax- paying hotels we already have) that would be exempt from all city and county regulations.

It sounds to me like this is a carbon copy of the Robert Trent Jones Alabama Golf Trail, which was originally built by the state of Alabama's public pension fund. No surprise here, they've never made a profit. Why would anyone think the government (at any level) could run a business for a profit? And if it's not profitable, the same taxpaying entities that are competing directly against it will be contributing to their operating costs.

The public deserves a response as to why this idea was even proposed in the first place.

Betsy Larey, an LPGA teaching professional, is director of instruction at Sawmill/Loggers Trail Golf Clubs in St. Paul, Minn., and a weekly golf columnist for the Stillwater Gazette in suburban St Paul. She is a former head coach at Flagler College and former owner of River Valley Athletic Clubs. She divides her time between St. Augustine and St. Paul.


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    Golf the Garden Route

  2. News flash. Passenger trains have never turned a profit either. We need neither trains nor golf courses at public expense.

  3. Eventualy whether we like it or not we are going to have to move away from cars. This train thing seems like a pretty good idea and don't we have to roll the dice on something that brings Florida tens of thousands of jobs...
    The U.S. is going to spend the money somewhere, I would rather it be here...

  4. The management of golf courses is a viable option for courses that seek to develop or regain lost revenue for competitors. The courses often receive counseling for their quality and excellence on and off the green. and new developers are veterans like the perfect candidates for external expertise, for example.