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City golf courses post loss again

(file / News Tribune)

Duluth’s two municipal golf courses — Enger Park and Lester Park — will post yet another loss.

Together, the golf courses expect to finish the year $76,645 in the red. That’s on top of more than $2.2 million in debt the courses already had amassed through previous years of operation.

The Duluth City Council learned of the losses during a budget report Monday night.

No decisions have yet been made about the long-term viability of the golf operations, but both 27-hole courses are expected to be open for business again in 2019, said Jim Filby Williams, Duluth’s director of public administration.

Initially, the council was to have received a report Monday on the findings of a citizens’ advisory committee put together to assess the state of the golf courses. Those findings were to inform a larger discussion about whether the city should look at possibly downsizing or even closing the Lester Park Golf Course, which consistently has generated less revenue than its counterpart, the Enger Park Golf Course.

However, Filby Williams said the committee will need more time to complete its work. The committee has been working on the task for about one year now, but Filby Williams said he does not wish to rush the report, which now is expected to go to the City Council at a yet-to-be-determined date in January.

While Duluth’s municipal golf courses continue to lose money in 2018, those losses were more modest this year

Bill Rehanek, senior vice president of operations for Billy Casper Golf, said that since his firm had taken over management of the courses in 2015, this year was “so far our best year financially.”

“I didn’t say it was a great year, but so far since the inception of the contract, we have enjoyed the best bottom-line result for Duluth golf in those four years,” he said.

Last year, the courses lost a combined $105,627. This year’s losses were 27 percent lower.

To help shore up the city’s golf finances next year, Billy Casper proposes to boost the price of a season pass by $50 and to bump up green fees by $1.

Even with those increases, Billy Casper forecasts another $77,000 loss in 2019.

Next year will be Billy Casper’s fifth and final year in a five-year service agreement. Filby Williams said the city will put out requests for proposals for continued management services in 2020, and Rehanek indicated the firm would like to continue its relationship with Duluth, if the city so chooses.

Fiby Williams gave the firm high marks for its work in Duluth, saying: “Billy Casper Golf has done an excellent job for us, improving our financial results, customer service and course conditions, to the extent that our deteriorated facilities permit.”

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