Guest Commentary

Four reasons closing Clapp is a bad idea

Wichita is on the verge of closing Clapp Golf Course permanently for a lot of bad reasons that need to be explained to the citizens and taxpayers. Let us count the ways:

1. The subject of closing Clapp likely would never have come up if it were not for the city’s sponsorship of Auburn Hills Golf Course and residential development. A huge financial mistake was made by the city of Wichita when it paid too much for building a grand, fifth public course, namely Auburn Hills , as part of a country-club-like residential development. The next big mistake was obligating the four existing Wichita City public courses to help pay for it. Now, the latest big mistake is the proposal to single out Clapp to blame for Auburn’s shortfall in paying off its bonds — that is, to close Clapp to save a few expenses and to raise some cash by leasing some acres to developers. In short, Auburn Hills should have been made to pay for itself.

2. The city manager’s staff made a big mistake in its financial study recommendations when it failed to recognize the extent to which golf is quality recreation in the same way as other park activities. The assumption that golf is not recreation is fundamentally wrong. Golf deserves some subsidy by taxpayers in the same manner as do all other public park activities. In short, golf is recreation the same as playgrounds/ballgames and is deserving of some subsidy support by taxpayers.

3. The Park Board made a big mistake when it decided that Wichita’s city courses should be self-sustaining. Golf is an honorable sport that teaches good character — in some ways even more than other recreational activities. Golf is worthy of being subsidized, if necessary, on a level commensurate with all other recreational activities. Golf should not be singled out from other recreational activities to always produce a profit, especially when employed by developers who are guided by their own interests. In short, Clapp Golf Course should not be exploited as a cash cow to fund other less-worthy purposes.

4. Clapp Golf Course deserves special recognition as a legacy memorial to a worthy, deceased public servant, former Mayor L. W. Clapp. Perhaps it is good fortune that the Clapp course is located in the less-affluent neighborhood in District III where it can be enjoyed most by those who cannot afford to play at the finest courses. In short, keep Clapp alive as a lovely legacy to the benefit of the community both to golfers and to the majority of neighbors who want it to stay.

In conclusion, members of the Wichita City Council should recognize that the current movement to close L. W. Clapp Golf Course is the result of big mistakes of the past, mainly the assumption of too much debt associated with financing Auburn Hills and adding it to the other four city golf courses. Flawed analysis and mismanagement have led to unfairly focusing all the blame for shortfall of revenue from city golf courses on Clapp. This lovely legacy course is in good shape; there is no immediate need for significant additional expenditures to keep it operational. The Wichita mayor and City Council should vote now to preserve Clapp Golf Course as a valued public asset.

Samuel C. Webb is a professor of economics emeritus at Wichita State University
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