Don’t cut a golf course

City Manager Robert Layton recently showed admirable respect for citizen input in backing away from ending Saturday bus service. Now, Layton should heed the strong public reaction against his proposal to get rid of a golf course.

Perhaps Layton, who came to the Wichita job in 2009 from a Des Moines suburb that had no municipal golf courses, thought that one of Wichita’s five courses would be an easy target in a tough budget year. Closing a course could save an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 a year in maintenance and personnel.

But last year the courses paid for their operations and generated a $180,000 profit, even though the 161,000 rounds played on the courses represented a 15-year low.

Opinions expressed at two special Wichita Park Board meetings, in letters to The Eagle and otherwise have reflected stiff opposition to Layton’s plan among local golfers — and bewilderment about how a system that’s paying for itself could be slated for a 20 percent cutback. After the first public meeting drew nearly 140 people, the second had to be moved to a bigger site. That meeting was packed, too, with the feedback favoring all five courses.

Some people would rather see $6.3 million in planned renovations canceled or delayed than see a course sold to a developer or even turned into a public park. Citizens also have called for more creative pricing and marketing, to bring more players to the courses. Higher greens fees were even suggested.

Losing one course also would translate into 120 lost spots for kids in the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation’s 40-year-old summer program. A system operating at 47 percent capacity shouldn’t be turning away golfers, especially young ones who can grow into lifelong players. And surveys indicate that Wichitans want more in the way of parks and recreational opportunities, not less.

If one course simply has to go, the city should try to spare L.W. Clapp on the south side, which doesn’t get enough positive attention from the city as it is. Forced to choose, the far west’s 10-year-old Auburn Hills might be the best option to privatize. It has an outstanding $7 million debt that has necessitated borrowing from a taxpayer-supported city fund to cover bond payments. Many citizens complained that it was built primarily to support private housing development, and many golfers find it too challenging to be much fun.

One other important public opinion has come up during the golf course debate: “Too many times there seems to be an attitude by the employees of the golf courses that they are doing me a favor by letting me play on their course,” went one letter to The Eagle. “I’ve never felt like a welcome guest at a city course,” one district advisory board member told Layton at a June meeting.

That’s no way to serve citizens or the courses. However many courses survive — preferably, all of them — good customer service should be the rule across the system.