Hole Tax

The people's right to golf


Let's say you run a business. Demand is down 20 percent from 1997 to 2000, throwing you $3.2 million in the hole. What do you do? If you're a private enterprise, you fail, because no one wants to supply the capital to subsidize your losses. If you're the state of Georgia, which owns seven golf courses, you dip into the taxpayer kitty for $10 million to build two more sets of links.

At one time, Georgia considered getting out of the golf course business. Former Gov. Zell Miller, a Democrat, created a privatization commission in 1995, which brought some change. Two state-run golf courses were dispatched to the private sector and are doing well. Seven others merely contracted out maintenance, which resulted in higher costs, higher green fees, fewer golfers, and larger losses. So with Miller now away in the U.S. Senate, state politicians are declaring privatization a failure and making plans to expand into more unprofitable ventures.

"Some people say it's a waste of money," former Lt. Governor Pierre Howard told The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. As a board member of the state's Department of Natural Resources, the bureaucracy responsible for the golf courses, he voted to build the two new greens. "But others say you are giving people an opportunity to have a quality of life."