Editor’s note: The Wichita City Council approved the greens fees increases on Dec. 5.
At the windy 18th hole on a cool December day at Wichita’s E.W. Clapp Golf Course, golfing buddies Phillip Rossin, Kelly Short and Dale Reed worried about how a proposed increase in prices might affect the game they love.
Ranging in age from 57 to 66, they said they’ll continue to play regularly despite a price hike coming before the City Coucil on Tuesday.
But they’re concerned that as prices continue to rise, fewer people will decide to take up the game and municipal courses may become a thing of the past.
“Young guys just starting out, unless they make a lot of money, they can’t afford to play,” said Rossin.
“But us guys who love to play, we’re just going to pay the price,” added Short.
The current proposal is to raise the price per round –“greens fees” in golf parlance – by $2 to $3 at every course in Wichita.
“Again?” said Rosson, when he learned of the proposal. “It seems like every time we turn around it’s being raised.”
In April of last year, the city increased cart fees and the prices for senior, retired-military and season passes. Those passes range in cost from $100 to $990 a year, giving passholders discounted greens fees per round.
The last general increase in greens fees was in 2014, when the city added a dollar to the prices to play at MacDonald, Tex Consolver and Sim Park golf courses, said Troy Houtman, parks and recreation director.
The Golf Department has seen some success branching out in recent years, promoting use of clubhouses as wedding venues and offering “footgolf,” a hybrid sport blending golf and soccer, he said.
But costs continue to rise and equipment continues to age.
Some of the mowers used to tend the fairways and greens date back to 2000 and employees have to search the Internet for used parts when they break down, said city Golf Director Troy Hendricks.
Also, Wichita’s courses have been hard-hit by declining play over the past 20 years, according to a parks department report presented to the council.
“With continual declines in course utilization ... the system has struggled to maintain capital equipment and repay debt obligations,” the report said. “Although operating costs have grown very modestly over the past decade, as the number of rounds played has continually declined, the average operating cost per round has increased.”
The number of rounds played per year peaked at 203,000 in 1997, when the city had four courses, the report said. Last year, the number of rounds was down to 157,000 on five courses.
Three years ago, the council considered and rejected a proposal to close Clapp Golf Course and redevelop the land at Harry and Oliver to generate money for the other city courses.
Under the proposed increase in greens fees, the regular cost of a round at Clapp – currently the city’s cheapest course – will go up $3. Weekday rates there will rise from $22 to $25 and weekend rounds will go from $24 to $27.
The other courses would see a $2 increase per round. At MacDonald, Consolver and Sim Park, the proposal would raise the price per round to $25 weekday, $27 weekend.
And at Auburn Hills, the city’s flagship course, greens fees would rise from $25 to $27 on weekdays and from $30 to $32 on weekends.
The proposed increases were approved 4-0 by the Park Board. If approved by the council, the new rates will take effect Jan. 1.
The increase could generate an additional $264,000 a year for the city’s golf system.
Of that, about $150,000 would go to operating expenses and $114,000 to equipment replacement.
Some golfers support the higher prices as an investment in the future of the game.
Chuck Fesler averages two to three rounds per week and said he plans to continue that pace, increases or not.
“They need it,” he said. “As long as it all goes back into the maintenance and equipment, I’m all for it.”
The council meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 455 N. Main, Wichita.