Midway through the first year of a five-year partnership with Billy Casper Golf, the city of Duluth has reason to be encouraged that it has found a fix for ongoing financial woes at its two public courses.

Through June 30, a combined 29,703 rounds of golf had been purchased at Enger Park Golf Course and Lester Park Golf Course. That’s about 10,000 more than 2014. Half of those rounds were the result of an early spring that allowed for consistent golf throughout April and the other half came in May and June.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will not run a deficit in 2015,” said Jim Filby Williams, Duluth’s director of public administration.

Filby Williams couldn’t remember the last time that happened.

Doing so this year would foster compliance with an expected order from the state auditor for the city to address its golf fund debt, which sits at about

$1.5 million.

BCG, the nation’s second-largest golf-management company, took control of the two 27-hole municipal courses last winter, aiming to reverse years of red ink. Among the biggest obstacles, according to Filby Williams, were sagging participation and a subsequent drop in revenue, deteriorating course conditions and capital-investment requirements that exceed the city’s means.

Part of BCG’s contract calls for the company to invest $250,000 in improvements over the life of the five-year agreement. Much of that will go toward restoring Enger’s treacherous, rock-infested bunkers. Work on those bunkers is expected to begin in August.

According to the contract the Duluth city council approved in February, Vienna, Va.-based BCG will be paid $10,000 per month.

Strong performances at both courses, though, could offset that expense and, eventually, yield a profit.

“Our more modest goal is to break even,” Filby Williams said of the short term.

One big boost could come via expanded alcohol sales at Lester Park Golf Course.

Another could come if BCG is able to effectively reach the region’s flock of tourists. Gary Nelson, a general manager for the company who oversees both facilities, called Duluth an untapped market and wants visitors to know about the city’s golf opportunities.

“The idea is to create awareness and build the brand of Duluth golf,” Nelson said.

The GM was pleased with the number of rounds purchased during the first half of the season, but he said the pace doesn’t deviate much from the firm’s initial projections.

“I think it’s only about 1,500 rounds more than we expected,” Nelson said.

The early spring - such a stark contrast to the past two years - allowed BCG a head start. It didn’t have to wait until the second or third week of April to open.

“We made up a lot of ground in March and April, just being open,” Nelson said. “We opened probably a couple weeks sooner than we expected to and that let us transition into the groove of things a lot sooner than anticipated.”

Nelson noted the success of the courses’ new Skyline Pass, which costs $49 and includes a free round of golf, a 20 percent discount for rounds 1-5 and a 40 percent discount thereafter. He expects to sell about 2,000 passes by the end of the season. Similar passes - though not as lucrative - typically sold about 200 per year.

That, along with a new, user-friendly website (golfduluth.com) that allows for such conveniences as scheduling tee-times on smartphones, new course equipment and improved irrigation has the courses in improved condition, both financial and playability.

Filby Williams wouldn’t draw any definitive conclusions so early in the relationship with BCG. But he’s hopeful the city is building a long-term partnership that will result in the two courses becoming self-supporting.

“Very early in this first year, there is reason to be cautiously encouraged on all fronts,” he said.

-- Both Enger and Lester Park will host “Bring a Friend” week from July 20-26. Skyline Pass or season pass holders can bring a friend, who is then eligible to golf at the pass holder’s rate.