Wichita considering selling MacDonald Golf Course
Wichita public golf is at a crossroads.
In one direction lies a financial crisis that puts the entire system at risk. In the other direction is a proactive search for long-term solutions that will continue to provide affordable, quality public golf for Wichita.
Which path will the city of Wichita follow? That question has to be answered now if public golf has any future in Wichita.
The primary purpose of public golf courses is to serve public golfers, but the current system is built on a Professional Golf Association identity that doesn’t benefit the average golfer.
The current business model is top heavy with $250,000 spent annually for management, marketing and administration on the 11 th floor of City Hall. It also includes $125,000 annually spent at each golf course for PGA-certified staff.
The grim reality is that current revenue can’t support this model, putting us at this critical crossroad.
The current model also is burdened with administrative charges for police/fire protection, IT and other functions, all paid into to the city’s general fund. In contrast, the county does not assess such costs for law enforcement or EMS. Other communities routinely absorb those administrative expenses as the necessary expense to provide a quality public golf system.
The future of the system is now in the hands of a high-risk “membership” plan approved by the Wichita City Council. This new plan may take two or three years to reach its revenue goals. It is based on drastically cutting the price of a green fee in hopes of spurring other revenue from cart rentals and concessions. The problem is that the system has no reserves to ride out the transition period when revenue may drop sharply.
What’s the alternative? The best course of action would be for the city to contract with the National Golf Foundation for an assessment of the Wichita Golf Division operations and recommendations for an alternative plan.
That suggestion, supported by the Golf Advisory Committee and the Park Board, has been on the table since the beginning of the discussion about MacDonald and Clapp Parks, but the city manager and City Council have declined to enact it.
Absent that study, it falls to our citizen group to recommend short-term actions to preserve our public golf system. Those actions include:
- Elimination of the current management model including the $250K on City Hall oversight of the system
- Transferring oversight to the PGA golf pros at each course, empowering them to manage and market their individual courses to increase play. Have the club pros report directly to the Parks Department director. Re-focus the course management on increased play, rather than the teaching model currently in place that does not generate sufficient direct revenue.
- Continue golf operations at L.W. Clapp Golf Course on a low-expense, low maintenance basis until a system-wide evaluation of the Golf Division is complete.
The current crisis requires bold leadership by elected officials. The current management has been unwilling or unable to institute effective reforms. The numbers are irrefutable. The system is in a financial nosedive and no effective plan has been identified to save it.