December 12, 2012

Golfers don't want Portland course privatized

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Norm McDonald of Gorham watches his approach shot on the 10th hole at Riverside Golf Course in Portland on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Mark McCarthy of Portland watches a chip shot go onto the green on the 7th hole at Riverside Golf Course in Portland on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2012.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

COURSE REVENUE STEADILY DECLINING

Year – No. of Members – Revenues from Annual Passes

2012 – 380 – $232,926

2011 – 398 – $235,654

2010 – 488 – $265,302

2009 – 543 – $300,783

The City Council's Finance Committee met with the National Golf Foundation on Tuesday to review the report.

Richard Singer, a company principal, said courses throughout the country are seeing revenues fall, but Portland's decline is more severe. Complicating the issue is the short golf season, local competition and flooding that occurs because of its location near the Presumpscot River.

"The city is in the golf business," Singer said. "It's a very tough business to be in right now."

He said the city should not expect a large cash payment from a private operator, but should require a significant investment in the course in exchange for a lease of 15 years or more.

If the city chooses to continue operating the course, it should stop reducing the operating budget to meet revenues, Singer said. That habit has led to deferred maintenance, which has made the course less attractive to golfers, he said.

"You get into this death spiral you're teetering on the edge of," Singer said. "You risk reducing the quality of a public asset."

He said the manager should report to the Recreation Department, rather than Public Services. The course should also have a strong on-site manager who can make decisions without interference from City Hall, Singer said.

With 20 courses within 15 miles of Portland, Riverside needs to better market itself. It also has to manage expectations and entitlements of members, who the group says can make newcomers feel unwelcome, Singer said.

"I have seen that (entitlement) in a lot of places," he said of municipal courses with memberships. "You have to be careful with that. Members are your lifeblood."

Councilor John Anton, who leads the committee, directed city staff to study the different options for running the course and report back to the committee in January or February.

Councilors Nicholas Mavodones and Jill Duson said they would like to see the city treat the course like its ball fields and ice rink and invest in it without concern about profit.

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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