Competition, mostly. Poor maintenance. And design of the city’s two courses was bungled, too.
That emerged during Stockton’s bankruptcy trial. The manager of Stockton’s courses, Tom Nelson (quoted in today’s column), gave a direct testimony declaration full of details explaining what’s wrong with the courses physically and economically.
A fairway at Van Buskirk golf course.
• ”Shortly after Kemper took over management of the Courses, there were several important changes to the golf industry in the Stockton area. Elkhorn Golf Club in north Stockton, which had previously declared bankruptcy and ceased operations, was purchased by former members and Sierra Golf Management and re-opened as a public, heavily-discounted facility.
“Similarly, Micke Grove Golf Links in Lodi changed management to Fore Golf Partners, a very aggressive discount firm. Lockeford Springs Golf Course in Lodi also began heavily discounting its fees due to local market pressure. During this period, The Reserve at Spanos in Stockton began discounting its fees for the first time due to market changes.
“Due to these changes, the ability to charge full-price, or “rack,” rate has virtually been eliminated, requiring constant discounts and deals in order to attract play and reasonably compete with the Stockton area golf market.”
See the city’s golf budget here: 2015-16_Adopted_Budget_GOLF
Physically (to cite several examples):
• “The Courses currently have no cart paths. This is extremely unusual for golf course, because carts cannot be used for several days after rain. The result is a loss of cart fees, which make up 20-21% of daily fees. It would cost approximately $1 million to add a cart path to each of the Courses.”
• ”The Courses need new irrigation systems. This will require dredging the lake because the silt would otherwise ruin the system’s pipes. Irrigation and dredging for the Courses could cost upwards of several million dollars.”
• “Both the greens and bunkers at the Courses are of original design and construction. These old, “push up” style greens lack proper drainage and soil composition for optimal turf health. The bunkers’ drainage systems have completely collapsed, preventing proper drainage and sand texture for playability. Restoring the greens and bunkers at the Courses could cost several million dollars.”
Nelson’s assessment: “At a rough estimate, approximately $6 million to $8 million in capital improvements and deferred maintenance would be required to make the Courses profitable again.”
Read Nelson’s testimony here.
It is dismaying that city leaders never invested the funds necessary to make the courses profitable. But the people in City Hall were blase about money-losing endeavors. That was the culture: you could always tax more, juggle the books more, borrow more.
That mentality led to the bankruptcy and the city’s current fiscal straight jacket which prevents investment in the golf courses even if city leaders wanted to make it. City golf courses will remain money holes for years to come. About all Stockton can say is that the courses are popular amenities, and the money holes are much smaller than they used to be.