Should Local Governments Be In The Golf Business?

By my count there are seven golf courses located in the Town of Amherst, NY (a suburb of Buffalo, population 116,000). Four of the courses are privately owned and three are owned and operated by the Town of Amherst. As reported in the Buffalo News, since 2009 the town owned courses have lost $1 million since 2009.

The reasons for the loss of money according to town officials are:

– lackluster course maintenance and customer service;
– inflated revenue projections;
– questionable expense allocations;
– competition from private courses;
– a long bout of rainy weather last season;
– Part of one course was under construction in 2010, inhibiting golf play.

In addition to losing $1 million over three years in 2011, $1 million was spent for course irrigation and drainage improvements and the creation of a new driving range at one of the courses. Over the years the number of golf rounds played at Town owned courses has declined from 100,845 in 2001 to 50,825 in 2011.

The problems with golf course maintenance are attributed to the fact that “…employees who care for them have no formal training in course maintenance.” The Buffalo News article points out “Until recently, course maintenance has been the combined responsibility of employees working at the Highway Department and the parks division of the Youth and Recreation Department. Aside from the unwieldy scheduling issues associated with this setup, the relative lack of accountability associated with overall course maintenance expenses was a problem, said some course advocates.”

Why is a Town government running three golf courses? In my opinion government should focus on its necessary and essential services such as police, fire, education, streets etc. Tax dollars are being lost that could be directed elsewhere. Across the country many local governments are getting out of the golf business due to the financial losses they are suffering.

Stephen Goldsmith as the Mayor of Indianapolis implemented what he called the “Yellow Pages Test”, if the phone book lists three companies that provide a certain service, the city probably should not be in that business. Local governments have a lot of core services they need to focus on and golf should not be one of them.

In your opinion should local governments be in the golf business?

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Corey McCarren

I don’t think government should ever compete with private industry where avoidable. So no, it should not.