Taxpayer Costs Soar as Play Declines at Rochester City Golf Courses

The Rochester City Council might as well yell “Fore!” right now to warn local taxpayers about the bill coming at them for the escalating cost of subsidizing the city’s four municipal golf courses.

The total golf rounds played annually continues to decline, while at the same time the cost of operating the city’s courses climbs. City leaders at a recent planning meeting got the message that the trend will  likely continue in the upcoming golf season, according to the Post Bulletin.

The number of rounds seen last year — nearly 80,000 — is on par with the 2012 numbers, but the annual taxpayer cost has climbed from $55,500 to $314,000.

The result is nearly $4 of tax investment per round of golf on a public course in 2019, which is up from nearly 70 cents per round in 2012.

“The city has grown dramatically; the number of people playing golf has not,” said Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik.

The city has tried reducing staff to cut costs and raising prices to increase revenue. But the operating deficit–and taxpayer subsidy to cover it–has ballooned anyway.

Among other reasons, Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said expensive maintenance issues keep cropping up.

“We’re paying for things that should have been repaired years ago,” he said.

Most recently, the city built a new clubhouse at Northern Hills Golf Course, with potential plans to repair the entrance road in the spring.

“The decay of that clubhouse was being consumed by mold for the past 10 years,” Widman said.

Other cities facing the decline in the popularity of golf have opted to bring in private managers to operate their courses or sold off the land to developers. Rochester may not be at that point yet, but the city has finally teed up the issue after five years of increasing deficits at its muni courses.