Wednesday, December 11, 2013
PORTLAND – Portland's municipally owned and operated golf course can become more profitable and competitive, according to a consultant hired by the city to evaluate the 240-acre property.
Sam Adams of Portland takes a practice swing at the North Course of Riverside Municipal Golf Course in May.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
But in order to improve the operations of the Riverside Golf Course, the city and its residents must make a commitment to spending the money needed to maintain and upgrade the facility.
"The municipalities that go into a death spiral are the ones that don't upgrade or maintain their courses," said Richard Singer, director of consulting services for National Golf Foundation Consulting. "I've seen it all too often. It is a lot less expensive to maintain a course than it is to repair it."
Riverside Golf Course, one of six municipal courses in Maine, has lost almost $200,000 since 2001.
Earlier this year, the city hired National Golf Foundation Consulting to evaluate the course and come up with a list of recommended improvements. Singer met with the public for the first time Wednesday night to offer his preliminary opinions and to gather feedback.
Singer said National Golf's final report will be presented to the City Council in September.
"You are not unique," Singer told an audience of about 20 people, consisting mostly of golfers and golf course workers. "The one thing I can tell you is that municipal golf courses across the country are struggling. It's a tough business to be in, but by the same token it is not a complete dead end."
Singer said about two-thirds of the 2,500 municipally owned golf courses in the United States receive subsidies from their host cities or towns.
"The odds (of turning a profit) are really against us," Singer said.
Singer said the city will face several options -- from privatizing the golf course operation to leasing the course. City officials say they do not intend to sell Riverside, and even if they wanted to there are deed restrictions prohibiting an outright sale.
The city opened Riverside Golf Course in 1932. The North Course is 18 holes while the South Course, which opened in 1969, has nine holes.
In some parts of the country, municipalities have hired a private firm to manage their course. And in some cases, those firms have invested in the course by building a new clubhouse.
"That has worked really well in a lot of places," Singer said.
Don Feeney, who plays the course, suggested that the city put up a sign at Forest Avenue and Riverside Street. He said thousands of cars pass through the busy intersection and it would not hurt to advertise the course.
Chris Chandler said winter usage at Riverside can be intense. He worries that if the course is privatized, it might be closed in winter. Currently, Riverside is used by cross country skiers, skaters, sledders and snowshoers.
"When the snow is good, that place is absolutely packed," Chandler said.
Singer said the city might want to consider charging a winter usage fee to generate revenues. He said many municipally owned golf courses do not remain open to the public in winter.
"I love playing golf at Riverside," said Betsy Sawyer. "It's a great gem. It would be a shame if the city were not to operate a golf course."
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: