Cities, Counties, Examine Public Golf Course Management

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The way Wisconsin’s public golf courses are managed is changing as cities and counties work to shrink their budgets and increase revenue. The latest proposed change is causing controversy.

Bill Scheer is one of four PGA golf pros who run Madison’s public golf courses. Currently the courses operate like small businesses, with the pros assuming liability for concessions, cart rentals and merchandise. They give a percentage of their profits to the city. But as of January 1, the pros may no longer be in charge. The city thinks it can make more money without them. Scheer says ousting the pros is irresponsible, “So you know, if we have a bad year, we run the risk of losing everything, and what they are proposing is putting all that risk onto the taxpayer, and onto the city of Madison.”

Joe Stadler is the executive director of the Wisconsin PGA. He says 10 years ago, many public courses operated like Madison’s do now. Fond Du Lac’s course, for example, was managed by a PGA pro who worked with the county. Today, however, it’s managed solely by the county and revenue has increased by around $30,000 a year. But Stadler says Madison’s plan for the courses isn’t as well thought out as the change was in Fond Du Lac, “Can they make more money, yes. Will it be the, I think, $260-270,000 that I saw in the paper, I don’t know how it could be unless they significantly cut the service level provided to the customers.”

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Fond du Lac’s course manager says Madison’s plan to replace the pros with city employees would make it difficult to be successful because of union labor restrictions. Joe Stadler of the PGA also says successful publicly-managed courses have kept a PGA pro on staff, something Madison isn’t planning to do.

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