With respect to the News Tribune’s editorial agreeing with the closing of Lester Park Golf Course (Our View: “Sacrificing Lester a 'sad necessity' to save public golf in Duluth,” Feb. 27), I would like to make some observations and ask some questions.
I am an 80-year-old mediocre golfer who prefers walking. I play in excess of 30 times per summer for fun and recreation.
My opinion is that the city administration desires to get rid of Lester Park Golf Course no matter what.
When the city states that, historically, Enger Park Golf Course has been more popular, its central location is referenced. However, Enger also had a liquor license before Lester, a draw for some golfers. Lester only got its liquor license in 2018 in about the middle of July. As I recall, the city announced the loss at Lester Park was only $70,000, down from more than $100,000 the year before.
The losses went back up in 2018. However, the city seems to ignore the effects of the major road construction on East Superior Street and Lester River Road. Golfers had to detour that summer up Highway 61 to Superior Street to access the Lester River Golf Course. Whenever there is this type of construction, it detrimentally affects the businesses located nearby.
According to the Minnesota Golf Association, sales of golf rounds increased by 29.7% in 2020 over the previous year, primarily due to COVID-19 restrictions on other activities. Those restrictions are still in place, though they may be less stringent this year.
The city is paying a management fee to a company to manage municipal golf in Duluth, but the Lester Park course was closed to the public last year. Golf carts sat at Lester during 2020. Was the city paying to rent those carts, with no income being generated to cover the rental?
Lester Park Golf Course is easily one of the most beautiful public courses I have ever played, and I have played many public courses in Arizona and in California. Those courses, nowhere near as beautiful as Lester, generally cost me $30 to $60 per round, walking. In Duluth I pay $20 per round, a real bargain. Most of the courses I played last summer cost me more than Enger.
How much of the city’s golf loss in 2020 can be attributed to the money paid to the management company and to rent unused golf carts?
Has the city documented the gain in income for 2018 over 2017 due to liquor sales?
Has the city determined the loss in 2019 that could be attributed to road construction?
Why doesn’t the city raise the prices at both Enger and Lester? I, for one, would gladly pay more.
Here is an experimental solution. It is not my idea, but there is a model for it. The city might consider designating a volunteer local management board to operate Lester Park for the next two years. This management board would be composed of businesspersons who are not paid and do not get any golfing benefits. This board would oversee the running of Lester Park as a low-maintenance alternative with no pro golfer on staff, limited food sales, full liquor sales, driving range sales, and no pro shop with expensive inventory (only golf balls, tees, and, perhaps, logo shirts and hats). The city could then avoid paying a management fee while enjoying the benefit of local business expertise.
It is time for the city to rethink its decision to close Lester and, for the next two years, consider this alternative.
Bob Heller of Duluth is a mediocre but dedicated golfer and a retired businessman, business consultant, and attorney.