Lease the golf course

April 18, 2002 11:00 pm

There isn't a short-term alternative to the Baker City Council's decision to spend the Golf Course reserve funds to cover overexpenditures on a new building, or dipping into the general fund to make up the difference between the cost of maintaining the course and the revenues it generates.

In the long term, however, the council, Golf Board and the board of the private, non-profit Baker City Golf Club should appoint a task force to plot a strategy for re-integrating the revenue-generating services at the golf course and placing the facility under the management of a private concessionaire.

At present, the clubhouse and pro shop at the course operate on budgets independent of the course. The city can't try to make up a shortfall in greens fees, for example, by adding a nickel to the cost of a drink at the bar, or by selling more tees in the pro shop.

All the Golf Board can do to respond to a projected revenue shortfall from the lackluster sales of greens fees and season passes is raise greens fees or pass prices.

That doesn't allow for an integrated strategy, like the one pursued by several ski areas — lower season pass fees and lift ticket prices in hopes of better pro shop, rental, restaurant and bar sales.

Because of the quasi-public nature of the golf course, however, a simple call for privatization won't work.

The non-profit Golf Club operates the bar as a social club, and the course pro runs the pro shop. We couldn't condone the city bulling ahead toward privatization without the participation of these key players, as well as the course's players.

Privatization doesn't have to mean a total loss of public control. The city negotiates terms of service with the garbage service franchise holder; and most private ski areas are built on public property, subject to the oversight of the U.S. Forest Service. A similar bargain could be struck with a private contractor at the golf course to set standards for course care.

However, we doubt a concessionaire would see much ability to break even, much less profit, in the current de-centralized management and revenue structure of the course.

A concessionaire would, however, think twice before spending money their company didn't have for facilities improvements.

Unlike our volunteer Golf Board.