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Little Rock golf courses become expense; city studying costs, upgrades

by Rachel Herzog | May 1, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.
FILE - A pair of golfers prepare to putt on the 16th green at War Memorial Golf Course Little Rock in this March 2018 file photo.

Amid a decline in the amount of golf being played locally and nationwide, Little Rock is looking at ways to consolidate and improve its publicly funded offerings.

In 2018, the city spent nearly $2.6 million to support four golf courses that made about $1.4 million in revenue. The courses also saw deficits in 2017, 2016 and 2006, according to numbers presented to the city Board of Directors on Tuesday.

The board requested a study on the role of golf in the city during budget discussions last year. Little Rock-based consulting firm 5 Pars got the $48,000 contract.

Golf has been declining on a national scale for years, especially since 2006, consultant Dan Snider told city directors. Last year, 49,800 rounds were played on Little Rock's courses. The facilities would have needed between 120,000 and 140,000 rounds to break even, the study shows.

Publicly funded facilities also now face more competition from country and athletic clubs, Snider said.

"There was a time when municipal golf was the only way for average citizens to have an affordable way to play the game of golf," he said. "Municipal golf had a monopoly in that area."

Though fewer people golf, those who do are becoming younger and less traditional, the study says. Among new golfers, 70% are younger than 34, and 35% are women. In 2018, there were 21.2 million additional golfers at nontraditional "golf entertainment venues" such as Topgolf, and 41% of nontraditional golfers never play traditional golf.

The study presented several options for improving each course. Of the city's courses, three are maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department -- Hindman, Rebsamen and War Memorial. The First Tee of Central Arkansas, located off South University Avenue, is run by a nonprofit.

Rebsamen could be revitalized with a facility to attract all demographics that could be used for hosting events, the consultants said, or Rebsamen could add a low-cost learning center. It could also repurpose some of its land for riverfront development, the study said.

The First Tee course, as well as Hindman, could be examined as part of a "University District" that would include affordable housing, parks, soccer fields and walking trails connected to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The study also presented the option of adding nine holes and cart paths to the First Tee course to make it a high-quality 18-hole facility and a centerpiece to the area. Another suggestion was having the city manage all golf assets and operations, with the nonprofit responsible for unique programming.

The study found flood-related problems with the Hindman course and suggested repurposing the area as a system of retention ponds or other mitigation, which could help surrounding neighborhoods. It could also be repurposed as an open park with paths for walking and a dirt bike or disc golf course.

War Memorial could be reconsidered as a site for a nine-hole course with the remaining land repurposed into a park for families, or as the site of a private, nontraditional golf venue, the study said.

If no changes are made the the courses, "city funding will continue and likely increase," the study states.

Metro on 05/01/2019

Print Headline: Little Rock golf courses become expense; city studying costs, upgrades


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