Funds going to long-neglected city golf courses

The Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has won initial approval of its plans to invest nearly $1.1 million in reserve funds for capital improvement projects, with the largest portion of that money to be spent on the two city-owned golf courses.

The extra money will come out of two existing Parks and Recreation funds — the general fund reserves and the Parks capital nonreverting fund, said Mark Jones, city parks director.

Jones said his department generally tries to keep a six-month reserve fund based on a recommendation from the city clerk-treasurer’s office. But due to circumstances, such as budget cuts and open positions within the department, Jones said the reserve is currently up to more than eight months, which gives the department the opportunity to invest some of its extra funds.

“This is a great avenue for capital needs,” Jones told council members at Tuesday night’s meeting.

About $550,000 of the total investment will go toward purchasing new equipment for Greenbelt and Par 3, which the city regained control over last fall. The investment in the courses will include purchasing 21 pieces of equipment such as mowers and utility carts, to which users can add attachments to haul equipment.

Greenbelt and Par 3 had been managed by a private company since 2010, but operator Steve Cohen chose not to renew his contract with the city after it expired last year.

When the parks department resumed management of the courses in October 2015, its employees discovered that the overall quality at both locations had deteriorated, with equipment taking the biggest hit.

Some of the equipment was more than 20 years old, Jones said.

The newest piece was purchased in 2008, but even that equipment needs to be replaced because it was completely under water during the flood that hit in June of that year, Jones said.

Councilman Frank Miller questioned the wisdom of investing the largest portion of the money into golf when it is not yet proven if the courses will be financially successful. The councilman said he consulted with managers at some privately owned courses, who reported to him that golf memberships are on a general decline.

If that trend proves true in Columbus, Miller said, then it does not make sense to put such a large investment into Greenbelt and Par 3 when there are also other capital needs within the department.

But Jones said he fully believes the municipal courses will be successful, and new marketing techniques employed by his department have already resulted in a growing number of memberships that exceeds levels from previous years.

However, if the golf courses were unsuccessful and had to be closed, Jones said the majority of the equipment could be repurposed for use in another parks department area. Additionally, the few pieces of equipment that are specific to golf courses could be traded in for general-use equipment, he said.

Miller then asked if it would make more sense to try to lease some of the needed equipment rather than purchasing all of it.

Jones said he thinks the department is being a good steward of city money by packaging all of the equipment together and bidding it out to get the best price. The resulting bid responses will likely come in at a price lower than the requested $1.1 million, he said.

Mark Levett, a member of the Columbus Park Board who attended Tuesday’s meeting, added that it is difficult to find used equipment to lease that is of a high enough quality.

Council president Frank Jerome said he would like to know how much the city is currently subsidizing each round of golf played, an amount Jones said he would have to research and report back to Jerome later.

Levett said when Jones brought the request for the additional appropriation before the park board last month, he shared Miller’s and Jerome’s concerns about investing so much in golf when there was no guarantee that the program would succeed.

The park board had approved the request at its March meeting, but the approval was contingent upon the department developing a financial plan detailing its projections for the courses for the next three years.

Levett said he received a plan late last week that showed the department coming in just under the break-even point for the first two years of golf course operations, then making a profit in its third year. Those projections assured Levett that investing in golf would be wise, he said.

Levett said the projection showed that the department would no longer have to subsidize each round of golf after three years.

Miller told Jones that he had not been able to convince him during the meeting that the city needed to invest so much money in the golf courses. However, the councilman also said he would review the three-year plan, which could change his position.

“You have to justify it,” Miller said.

Levett added that he believes Greenbelt and Par 3 are necessities in Columbus for the middle- and lower-middle class residents who cannot afford a membership at the city’s private courses.

Nikki Montembeault, the parks department’s sports manager who was assigned to oversee the golf courses when the city took back management responsibilities, said the municipal courses provide opportunities for youth golf programs that are currently not available anywhere else.

The council approved the department’s request for the $1.1 million in additional appropriations, with only Miller voting no. Council members will vote on the request a final time at their April 19 meeting.

About the courses

Greenbelt Golf Course

  • Where: 1000 N. Gladstone Ave., Columbus
  • Phone: 812-376-2684
  • Holes: 9

Par 3 Golf Course

  • Where: 3362 Fairlawn Drive, Columbus
  • Phone: 812-376-2687
  • Holes: 18

Prices are available for both courses at columbus.in.gov/parks-recreation/golf-courses/.

Funding breakdown

The Columbus Parks and Recreation Department plans to use an additional appropriation of nearly $1.1 million for the following capital projects:

Replacement of golf course equipment: $550,000

Replacement of 16-foot mower: $83,000

Replacement of irrigation at Par 3: $240,000

Stone repair at city cemetery: $7,000

Trash enclosures: $7,000

Updating fire protection at Hamilton Center: $25,000

Capital equipment – Hamilton Center, parks vehicles: $70,000

Paving, overlay, seal coating, striping of various athletic courts: $47,000

Resealing Foundation for Youth gym floor: $35,000

Sidewalk repairs: $10,000

Repair and replacement of fencing: $25,000

Repairs of the small pool play structure at Donner Aquatic Center: $6,000

Total: $1,098,000

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.