Guest Column: Five municipal golf courses are worth saving; Tucsonans can help

2013-04-02T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Five municipal golf courses are worth saving; Tucsonans can helpMark Schneider Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The TucsonCitizen.com article on March 18, "Tucson must face facts: City golf cannot be saved" implies that the city should stop trying to find ways to save golf and instead start finding other uses for its five golf courses.

The TucsonCitizen.com piece would have us believe that the city has tried everything it could to fix city golf. But what has the city tried before? Asking Parks and Recreation to turn things around? Holding meetings? Waiting for the economy to get better? Perhaps, but what actions were actually taken?

Instead of giving up as the article suggests, this mayor and City Council should be applauded for finally holding Parks and Rec accountable and insisting that the city solicit ideas and suggestions by issuing a request for proposals to privatize city golf operations. It's noteworthy that 21 professional golf management companies responded believing that they can make money on the five city golf courses.

Finding other uses is a worthy exercise. But what other uses are under consideration? More parks? Has anyone asked if parks are more affordable? Or, are more parks needed, and are they needed at the El Rio and Enke golf courses locations?

The article also suggests that the city would save money by converting golf courses into parks. Here are a few facts: In 2012 each city resident paid about $94 to subsidize parks and $1.16 to subsidize losses at the five city golf courses. Parks have little economic impact while city golf's local economic impact for 2012 was more than $26 million, and golf contributed $1.2 million in revenues to the city for reclaimed water.

In a recent comparison of similar cities, Tucson parks were either first or second in the number of game fields, outdoor pools, game courts and park employees per resident. More significant is the fact that Tucson's park subsidy rate (90 percent) was the highest of the cities studied.

If more parks are needed, are they needed at the El Rio and Enke locations? El Rio is in Ward 1, which ranks first with 41 percent of Tucson's total park acreage located within its boundaries. Enke, located in Ward 4, is second with 17 percent and the other four wards have a 14 percent, 10 percent, 9 percent and 7 percent share of Tucson's total park acreage.

Privatization of city golf courses conjures up fears that the city will hire either operators who can't perform or smart private operators who take all the money and leave the golf courses in poorer condition. More realistic may be the concern that golfers will have to pay more to cover the operator's additional costs of corporate overhead and profits.

There is another solution, and it has worked well for more than 30 years in managing municipal golf courses. Privatize as a nonprofit. Tucson Golf Inc. (TGI), a newly formed community managed nonprofit, was organized specifically to address city golf's issues of affordability, financial sustainability, privatization and community control.

Other community members joining me on the board include Jim Ronstadt, former director of Tucson Parks and Recreation; Chuck Ford, former city councilman; Lou Ciurca, CPA; and T. Patrick Griffin, attorney.

We urge you to help save all five city golf courses. For more information, go to www.TucsonGolf.org

Mark Schneider, president of Tucson Golf Inc., is a Tucson Realtor and former manager of the Santa Rita Golf Course. He was a contributing member of Tucson City Golf's Greens Subcommittee, which was organized by the city to develop solutions for the financial problems of the city's golf courses.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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