Monday, February 13, 2006

Problems Continue for San Antonio Muni Courses

There's an ongoing debate in the San Antonio golf community over what should be done with the city's municipal courses. Should the courses continue to be run by the city, as-is? Should they be owned by the city, but managed by a contracted private firm? Should they be sold off and the city get out of the golf course business altogether?

Deteriorating course conditions, deteriorating service, and deteriorating revenues - the courses lose a lot of money for the city - fuel the debate.

The most recent black eye is this: the city had to fire the vendor responsible for running the snack bars at city courses. So temporarily, the only drinks available at city golf courses were to be found in coolers and ice chests in the pro shops, and those drinks (due to city regulations) could not include beer.

Things like this seem to be typical these days. Staffing at San Antonio city courses is reduced to skeleton crews. Just a couple people to run the pro shop and a few more to do the minimum of course maintenance (most recent years the city has skipped overseeding, for example, to save money).

How bad have things gotten? At historic Brackenridge, for example, there was the Sunday morning when no course staff had shown up by 7:30 a.m. The pro shop and clubhouse were locked; golfers were milling around in a quickly filling parking lot unsure of what to do.

The city seems unwilling to give up control, perhaps because that would be admitting failure. But failure is what they are very close to already - fewer and fewer people bother to play the municipal courses because of the below-par conditions and service. But also because there are plenty of other golf courses in San Antonio that are just as cheap - some even cheaper - than the munis, while offering better conditions and service.

But in some cases, the city's options are limited by deed restrictions on the land on which certain courses sit. The land at Brackenridge and Cedar Creek, for example, was donated to the city but with the condition that the city could never sell the land. If the city did someday decide to divest itself of its golf courses, it simply couldn't do it in the cases of Brack and Cedar Creek.

I've slowly come around to this conclusion: The San Antonio golf scene would be improved if the City of San Antonio was no longer involved in managing golf courses. The city should sell off Willow Springs, Mission del Lago, Olmos Basin and San Pedro Par-3, and should farm out management of Brack and Cedar Creek to private firms whose job will be to return those courses to past glory - and to turn a profit.

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