Friday, September 08, 2006

Public-Private Model Considered for San Antonio Munys

San Antonio's municipal golf courses were once among the best in the state. These days, underfunding, lack of profitability, too few maintenance crew and equipment, and poor leadership from the city have many Alamo City golfers fleeing the municipal courses for the greener (literally) pastures of daily-fee courses.

Really, why play a muni - even the historic Brackenridge or the stunning layout at Cedar Creek - if you'll be hitting off hardpan in the fairway or having to deal with hog damage around spotty, bumpy greens? Especially when there are plenty of daily-fee courses in San Antonio whose price range is about the same (sometimes even better) than the prices for the city courses.

A debate over what to do about the city courses - how they should be managed so that they become both better-conditioned and profitable - has been going on in San Antonio for at least 10 years. But so far, talk is all anyone has done.

Here's the most-recent news on this front: The city hired a consultant from Kalamazoo, Mich., to study the local municipals and suggest a method for improving their performance and drawing back golfers to the city layouts.

The consultant is James Roschek, who is director of golf and maintenance for the Kalamazoo Municipal Golf Association, which is a private group that runs the Kalamazoo golf courses but on a budget and rate structure set by a city commission. In other words, Kalamazoo uses a public-private hybrid model to manage its golf courses.

So maybe it's no surprise that consultant Roschek recommended for San Antonio ... a public-private hybrid model for managing San Antonio golf courses.

The San Antonio newspaper reported:

The city should consider freeing its municipal golf courses from the bureaucracy of the Parks and Recreation Department and move toward a "hybrid" management structure with both public and private oversight, according to a consultant's assessment of the courses.

Under the hybrid model, the city would form an association that would oversee the day-to-day operations of the courses, but the association wouldn't be completely free from city control as it would under full privatization.

...

During a two-day tour of the city's six golf facilities, Roschek found the municipal courses in dire need of maintenance and capital improvements.

"Basically I found the courses to be substantially below any standard that would lead to profitable operations," Roschek said. "They were all 'tired' in appearance, had little or no curb appeal, inadequate concessions and not enough work force to adequately operate effective golf operations."

He also said the management of Parks Director Malcolm Matthews, Assistant Director Ron Smudy and golf operations director George Logan is too top heavy and suggested it would be better to have an operations manager who would oversee individual golf course managers. Roschek recommended that the Brackenridge and Cedar Creek courses and the San Pedro driving range be converted first, then the remaining courses once they are stable, which he said shouldn't take more than 18 months.

I don't have much to say about this idea, really, because not enough is known about how the public-private plan would work, or why it would be better than any of several other plans that have been floated (or even the status quo). However, at least it's something.

San Antonio columnist Richard Oliver is optimistic that this new plan will lead to action. I just think we've been down this road before, and nothing ever seems to happen except more talk from more consultants speaking to more committees.

When it comes to restoring San Antonio municipal golf courses, I'll believe it when I see it.

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