Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The city of Albuquerque is making a concerted effort to increase rounds at the municipal golf courses, director of parks and recreation Dave Simon said, as rounds are down 7 percent and revenue has been lowered 4 percent compared with last year, according to records provided by the city.
Simon, who has been in his job position for 15 months, said the city is attempting to attract more residents to the city courses through advertising, special pricing deals and creative alternatives. He said improvements to the courses and supporting facilities will help the cause.
Much help is needed.
The way things are going this year, the parks and recreation department’s golf operating fund will need a $1.4 million subsidy transfer from the general fund in the next fiscal year to cover basic operating costs due to reduced revenues.
However, Simon cautions to wait till the end of this fiscal year and see the rounds results at the city courses: Arroyo del Oso, Ladera, Los Altos and Puerto del Sol.
“Our goal is to beat that target,” Simon said. “Our goal is to have a year in which that amount of that support goes down. The numbers are not in for fiscal year ’19. We’ve made some progress this year. … Our staff is focused on moving the needle in the right direction. We’re hoping we will beat the budget in FY ’20.”
Simon said “it’s no secret” that golf rounds are down locally and nationwide, far from historic peaks reached in the mid-to-late 1990s and into the 2000s – in connection with Tiger-mania, when Tiger Woods was winning consistently.
“The city is taking a comprehensive approach to encouraging golf on our city courses,” Simon said. “(The efforts previously) sometimes waxed and waned. … Golf is improving locally. We are improving the golfer experience. The city courses have not had sufficient attention and investment for many years. We are trying to turn that ship.”
Dana Lehner, executive director of the PGA Sun Country Section and the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association, said the city’s current administration has been much better to work with than the previous administration.
“We went four or five years without hosting a junior tournament at a city facility,” Lehner said. “Dave Simon, once he got in, he saw the value of hosting junior tournaments. We’ll have junior tour events at facilities for the next three seasons. We have the Youth on Course program, where youth never pays more than $5 for a round of golf. For me, it’s just a first step. They’re so far behind the curve in programming and growth of the game. This is stuff that we should have already been doing.
“There are some things they can do to make golf in the city a feather in the cap, instead of a thorn in the side.”
Lehner wants the city to grow the game through junior players, gaining new golfers who could stay with the sport. Simon and his staff, including golf superintendent David Salas, are on the same page.
Through the Youth on Course program, junior players pay $5 for a round of golf at the municipal courses, and the Sun Country Jr. Golf Foundation covers the rest of the fee.
“I think this administration has taken a good step forward, and I’m here to help take another step,” Lehner said. “I want to be an asset with them.”
In addition to growing the game through youth, Simon believes improving the courses is needed, along with marketing.
“It starts with great service and a great golf experience,” Simon said “We are re-focusing on that. … We are committed and focused on re-introducing Albuquerque to our fantastic city courses.”
It doesn’t seem too long ago when the complaints poured in about the playing surface at Ladera Golf Course.
Salas remembers golfers telling him they would have to play the ball up in pursuit of finding a patch of grass to hit the ball from.
But the story is different now.
“Ladera went from 55 percent turf density in 2011,” Salas said. “Right now we are up to 98-99 percent.”
Salas said a new irrigation system, part of approximately $4 million in renovations at Ladera over the past five years, provided tremendous and much-needed improvement.
Simon said it’s a good example of what investing money into a municipal course can do. Yet Simon, and the golf staffs at each of the municipal courses know much more work is needed to increase rounds and revenue.
“There’s a lot of competition in the city, a lot of choices for golf,” Ladera head pro Bill Harvey said. “We have to provide a better product and great service, and that’s what we try to do at Ladera.”
Simon said the city golf courses want to welcome disc golf on its courses as a way to attract interest to ball golf. Earlier this month, the Duke City Invitational, a disc golf competition, took place at Ladera.
In addition, FlingGolf is now being offered at Puerto del Sol. FlingGolf is a sport that is played on the course, but instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, a special stick is used to hurl the ball toward the hole.
“This is a good alternative,” said Todd Kersting, the head pro at Puerto del Sol. “It will definitely be easier than hitting a lot of drives.”