Rochester council doesn't have any 'gimme' on golf questions
Review of consultant's report leaves options to be weighed as city looks to optimize its golf program
ROCHESTER — A majority of the Rochester City Council said Monday they’re willing to consider changing or closing one of the city’s four municipal golf courses, but most aren’t ready to say which one.
“We just can’t do everything,” Council President Brooke Carlson said of recommendations to fund $3.6 million in golf course improvements and adding maintenance staff.
“That’s just not something we can do as a city of this size,” she added.
The proposed improvements over five years are part of a report from the National Golf Foundation, which the city contracted to evaluate its operations.
“The city of Rochester is in the golf business, and it’s a tough business to be in,” said Richard Singer of the foundation as he presented the report to the City Council and Park Board.
The findings offered a variety of suggestions, including upgrading technology to addressing delayed maintenance. Singer said they are aimed at attracting more golfers to what the foundation considers an abundance of courses.
He said a typical successful ratio is 4,000 golfers per 18 holes, but Rochester has an estimated 1,242 per 18 holes.
While closing a course was offered as an option, Singer emphasized alternatives to attract more participants, which could include improving Soldiers Field Golf Course or changing it to a 9-hole option. Either way, he suggested the city take time to study the options.
Mayor Kim Norton said she’d be opposed to closing the course, which has more rounds of golf played than the city’s other courses and is considered more accessible to older residents and visiting patients who may have limitations.
“I support a golf course on Soldiers Field and will fight for it all the way,” she said, noting the city had four courses when its population was 70,000. The latest census shows the city has nearly 120,000 residents and is expected to keep growing.
Council members Shaun Palmer and Mark Bransford agreed, but other council members said it’s too soon to take such a stance.
“I think there’s a lot to figure out here,” council member Nick Campion said, including determining how the city would fund future operations, since golf revenue can shift from year to year.
Park Board President Linnea Archer agreed.
“If we look at the facts, we don’t have enough golfers to afford four courses,” she said.
Campion and others said it’s too early to focus on cutting or changing a specific course, despite the foundation report’s details on potential savings if the Soldiers Field course closed.
“I don’t want to pick a specific course at this point,” he said.
Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said she’d like to see the focus shift to finding innovative ways to run the city’s courses, but also suggested a specific cut.
“I think it should be Hadley Creek,” she said. That 9-hole golf course has extensive practice amenities and has traditionally had the fewest rounds played during a season.
Singer called Hadley Creek a “loss leader” due to its ability to grow new generations of golfers through specialized programming for young people, but Kirkpatrick suggested such programs could be added to the city’s other three courses.
While the council members offered differing approaches to consider, they agreed to look at ways to improve golf operations.
“This process will take a while,” Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said. “It’s not something that will happen quickly.”
He suggested conducting surveys to determine whether residents value the city's golf amenities.
The outlined process will keep the city’s four golf courses operational through this year, with the potential for a recommendation to the Park Board by the end of the year and a final council decision by Jan. 15, 2023.