Boondoggles

Portland's City-Owned Golf Courses a Hot Mess of Deferred Maintenance, Ballooning Pension Costs, and Falling Revenue

Rather than sell its money-losing golf courses, city officials recommend trying to sell more Portlanders on the joys of golf.

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Portland's network of city-owned golf courses was supposed to earn enough to pay for itself. Instead, it has required bailouts to survive.

"Intended to be self-supporting, the program required an infusion of $800,000 of taxpayer funds in 2017 to remain solvent," reads a report released today by the city's auditor. "While Parks has taken steps to cut costs and increase the number of golfers, it is fighting a national trend of a sport in decline and past ineffective program management."

The report detailed problems at the five city-owned golf courses (one of which is actually in the neighboring town of Beaverton). Like many government-owned pieces of infrastructure around the country, the courses suffer from deferred maintenance, poor oversight, and ballooning wage and benefit costs.

The annual budget for these city-run golf courses is $9.6 million. Some $1 million of this was spent administering the golf program. Another $3 million when to staff salaries and benefits, the largest single expense.

Ballooning staff costs were reportedly a driving factor behind that 2017 bailout of the golf courses. "Some conditions that led to the bailout remain and are projected to worsen, for instance, employee retirement and health benefits," says the report, which also projects that those benefits will outpace inflation.

The golf courses have also apparently fallen into another common problem with government-run services: bold, debt-funded initiatives that suffer from cost overruns and disappointing revenue.

In 2014 the city bought the Colwood golf course, its fifth, with borrowed funds. The plan was to restore wetlands on a portion of the land and build a redesigned nine-hole course on another, which would then generate enough money to pay back the loans that financed the purchase.

Construction delays and disappointing earnings meant the city was unable to pay back these loans and was forced to refinance. Four of the five courses now generate enough business to cover their own operations, though not enough to pay for the city's administrative costs. But the Colwood is still losing money.

Deferred maintenance on the courses has also turned off golfers, cutting down on revenue even more.

The report also notes golf's waning popularity with the public—and suggests solving this problem through an effort to "increase the game's appeal to more Portlanders, across age, gender, race, physical ability and more." But rather than trying to sell minority communities on golf, the city could just sell the courses themselves. Indeed, the decline in the public's love for the sport could be taken as hint that there isn't a huge public purpose in maintaining a bunch of government-owned golf courses. Surely entrepreneurs in a growing, desirable city could fine better uses for the land.

 

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  1. call Jaworski he likes to buy golf courses

    1. +1 Eagles Nest

    2. Privatization is EVIL. Must not sell public golf course, even if it becomes an unusable eyesore.

      /sarc

  2. This is the perfect posterchild for why government should be involved with as few things as possible. This is a microcosm of government vs. free enterprise.

    1. Idiots couldn’t run a lemonade stand.

  3. Charge a $2 fine every time a golfer uses a line from Caddyshack. Those courses will be turned around in no time.

    1. $2 for “I bet you slice into the woods” 18x @3 other people = costly

    2. Is this Russia?

      1. In Soviet Russia ball slices you!

  4. I used to work at an asphalt plant two blocks from Colwood. There is a trailer park literally across the street that is meth-central for all of North Portland. The landmark you would use to give directions from from Killingsworth Ave is a really seedy strip club (with a nice asphalt parking lot). In addition, it is just past the end of PDX, so you have planes coming in to land about 1/4 mile to the north. None of that makes me think, ‘I should play some golf’.

    The city could not afford the property except for the wetland protection preventing any development (it is adjacent to the Columbia slough). The surrounding properties are all zoned industrial, so it would be worth big bucks if it could be developed.

    I worked with the owner of the large undeveloped property in Portland, so I know how much graft the city wants to get development pushed through. They made him donate 10% of his property (3 acres, about $3M) for a park and low income housing in addition to another million in permitting, engineering, etc. before approval. About $4M just to sell a $28M property with nothing on it.

    The only good thing about Portland is that it isn’t San Francisco.

    1. Sounds like it’s run by the same type of people.

    2. The only good thing about Portland is that it isn’t San Francisco.

      I was going to say give it time, but by the time Portland is like San Francisco, San Francisco will doubtlessly be far worse still

  5. It’s Portland. Turn the courses into frisbee golf and you’ll turn a profit from concessions at the 19th Bowl.

  6. Turn one of them into a shooting range. Trap, skeet, 1000 yd rifle range, bays for action shooting competition. If it wasn’t all the way across the country, I’d go.

  7. Easy to fix this. A land tax – which accrues even on govt owned land. Unless this is some part of the city where there is no infrastructure nearby (where the land tax would be low) or where the land itself is unstable to develop on, there is no way even an incompetent city would try to operate a golf course on that. They’d sell to someone who would develop some use that generates enough income to pay those land taxes – and chances are ‘golf course’ is not what even a private developer would choose.

  8. Any project that includes the phrase ‘rebuild wetlands’ is going to be a loser.

  9. I’m disappointed that none of you degenerates have suggested the obvious–turn it into a government-run campground for all of their hobos and street-shitters to solve the homeless problem. I read in The Grapes of Wrath that those type of places are always clean, well-run, and everyone who lives there takes care of them.

  10. Hard to golf when it’s raining all the time.

  11. Madison, WI is having similar problems. We have four city owned courses. A declining interest in golf that is combined with a proliferation of courses (public and private) in the area. The question is how many years will it take to accept that some of the courses must be sold off?

  12. I see many comments, and the article itself, that states that golf is declining in popularity. I take some exception to that. I believe the biggest issue is golf is too damn costly. Always has been, and probably always will be. It’s a rich man’s sport. I believe that golf is still quite popular. TopGolf, at least where I am located, does exceptionally well. Hard to get a stall on Friday and Saturday nights. I would play a round of golf every damned weekend if I could afford the green fees (and the cost of balls lost in the woods/water).

  13. Sell it to Trump. He claims to be able to turn around golf courses and to be in favor of privatization.

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