Golf rounds, attendance rise at Wichita’s public courses

Jerry Hardin taps in a putt on the 18th hole of the Tex Consolver public golf course Monday afternoon as Kris Krase watches. The two play say they at least once a week, most often at Auburn Hills. (May 18, 2015)
Jerry Hardin taps in a putt on the 18th hole of the Tex Consolver public golf course Monday afternoon as Kris Krase watches. The two play say they at least once a week, most often at Auburn Hills. (May 18, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Unless it’s raining, you’ll probably find Travis Bryant on the green.

Bryant, 39, has been golfing since he was five. At least once a week, he and a group from work rotate golf games at the city of Wichita’s five public courses.

“It’s nice because some of the courses, like Auburn Hills, are as nice as people’s private clubs, even though it’s a city course,” he said.

Bryant is one of hundreds of golfers who use the public courses: Arthur B. Sim in Riverside; Auburn Hills on the west side; Tex Consolver in southwest Wichita; MacDonald Park on the northeast side; and L.W. Clapp on the southeast side.

Rounds are up at all of the golf courses at the end of the first quarter, officials say.

The numbers are encouraging to Troy Hendricks, city golf division manager and PGA professional, particularly since increased rounds have led to a 38 percent increase in revenue over last year.

Wichita public golf rounds

Past troubles

The courses don’t rely on city funds to keep them afloat.

“Whatever we generate in revenue is what we have to spend for improvements and upkeep,” Hendricks said.

During the last two years, total golf rounds were down from a peak in 2012.

That year, the City Council’s golf advisory committee recommended that the courses remain under city management after several years of debating privatization of the financially strained courses.

In 2011, the City Council considered closing the L.W. Clapp course. Rounds at the course are now up but still lag the others.

For years, the golf division had been unable to pay its debt. However, it now makes all of its payments, Hendricks said.

Tex Consolver and Sim have the highest number of rounds for the first quarter of 2015, followed by MacDonald, Auburn Hills and L.W. Clapp.

Auburn Hills’ higher price point may make it less attractive to some golfers, Bryant said, and Tex Consolver and Sim have better fairways than the others, with the exception of Auburn Hills.

“The city just doesn’t have enough money to put into some of them,” he said.

Weather’s effect

Weather has the biggest impact on attendance, Hendricks said. For numbers to also be up in the second quarter, the rain will need to subside.

“We are a weather-driven business,” he said. “If it’s cold and rainy out, we don’t have any play.”

Good weather in the spring of 2012 was the main reason numbers peaked then, he said.

Revenue through the end of March was up by $160,000 over 2014. Total revenue for the first quarter of 2015 was $594,565.

The golf division’s budget for 2015 is about $5.5 million, Hendricks said.

About half of golfers at Wichita’s public courses receive discounts through things like season passes, and the rest pay regular greens fees, Hendricks said. About 65 percent of passes sold are for senior discounts.

Lately, sales for student passes have increased. In 2014, the courses added a new young adult pass for ages 18-23. They sold 42 of those at $150 each.

“That shows that the younger golfers are more interested in playing,” Hendricks said. “For being the first year, we thought that was pretty good.”

Across the county, golf rounds are down. Hendricks says that decline has been ongoing since the late ’90s, after a spike in the mid-’90s with the Tiger Woods phenomenon. A sluggish economy also probably affected how much people golf, Hendricks said.

“Golf is a disposable income,” he said. “If the budget gets tight, instead of playing four times this month you’d maybe play three or two.”

The golf division employs five PGA professionals, one for each course, to give group and private lessons.

In addition to paid lessons, the city offers free lessons on Sundays at the Auburn Hills and Tex Consolver courses. The idea is to help people learn to play golf or play better so that they use the courses more.

The golf division has 31 full-time staff members most of the year. That increases to about 120 total, including seasonal workers, during golf season.

For more information on the golf courses and programs, visit www.golfwichita.com.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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