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Cost of the game to remain the same

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Council holds the line on fees at LA course

By Kirsten Laskey

Golf enthusiasts won’t be asked to pony up any additional fees this season even though the county is embarking on an ambitious $5.3 million makeover of the Los Alamos Golf Course clubhouse.

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The Los Alamos County Council approved the 2011-2012 fees for the public course during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The council’s decision to hold the line on fees comes on the heels of a recent scathing review of the fee structure in the New Mexico Piglet Book, which takes aim at pointing out government waste of taxpayer dollars.

The book states that the Los Alamos County Golf Course has lost $1,169,883 and has cost taxpayers $1.7 million in 2010 and $3.4 million since 2008. “… A troubling example of just how taxpayers subsidize failing municipal golf courses,” according to the book.

“Greens fees at the Los Alamos County Golf Course are $31.50 for 18 holes on weekdays. However, in 2010, county taxpayers subsidized each round by a projected $12.95. Instead of asking golfers to pay the true $44.45 cost per round necessary for the course to be self-sufficient, taxpayers’ hard-earned money is used to make up the difference”, the book states.

Acting Assistant County Administrator/Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne took exception to the negative slant the book takes on Los Alamos County in an earlier report on the topic.

“Some of this shows the authors just do not understand revenue policy motivations and in our town part of the motivation is to provide our residents with recreational amenities,” Lynne said. “The majority of the golf course revenues are user fees. We did transfer $360,000 from the general fund to the golf course fund in fiscal year 2010 – it certainly wasn’t $1.7 million – the total expenses for all of 2010 were only $1,129,000.” 
Lynne explained that about 30,000 rounds of golf are played on the local course each year, which equates to about a $3 subsidy per round, rather than the book’s projected $12.95.

Given that, the greens fees to play 18 holes Monday through Thursday will remain at $30. To take in a round Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays the fee is $31.90.

For junior golfers, or those who are age 18 or younger, Monday through Thursday, the price is $14 and $15 Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

For nine holes of golf Monday through Thursday, the fee will remain $18.10 and $19.05 on Friday, weekends and holidays.

For junior players, the fee is $9 any day of the week.

Cart fees for 18 holes are $14.05 and the price for nine holes is $8.10.

Steve Wickliffe, golf course manager, said a number of things were considered in determining the prices for this season. The overriding reason for holding the line on any fee increase, he said, was the current economic climate.

The golf course’s current conditions and the fact that the construction of the clubhouse will be starting also played a role in the decision.

Wickliffe said a number of facilities in Los Alamos Golf Course’s primary market were consulted and two of the three were not raising prices and the third planned to wait a while before making a decision.

Although the prices are unchanged, new pass options are available. Wickliffe said there are different passes and punch cards at different prices. For more information, visit www.losalamosnm.us/rec/golf or call 662-8139.

Wickliffe said compared to surrounding courses, the local fees are lower. He said Black Mesa and Tewa’s green and cart fees are considerably higher than Los Alamos Golf Course and the Marty Sanchez Golf Course in Santa Fe is about $2 or $3 more.

“We’ve positioned ourselves as the least expensive course in our primary market,” Wickliffe said.
Los Alamos Golf Course opened for the season this month. Demolition of the clubhouse will start in April. Additionally, improving conditions of the course itself also are being considered.

In August 2010, the council approved study funds for renovating and addressing safety concerns on the 60-year-old course.

Wickliffe said numerous studies concluded that the single biggest reason for player satisfaction and loyalty is the condition of the course.

“We believe it is important to do what we can to improve those conditions,” he said.

“Council, management and golfers believed it was the perfect time to study these course renovations since the council approved building a new clubhouse. With the course over 60 years old and no major renovations being completed to date the course itself is overdue for renovations.”  

The biggest focus of the study will be replacing the irrigation system and addressing the safety concerns with the current practice facility, he said.

The irrigation system is 25 years old and should be replaced to be more efficient, effective and improve the course sustainability over the next 20 years.

Wickliffe said a course in Colorado recently replaced its irrigation and saw water savings of more than 20 percent. Not only could water be saved but also labor. He said right now two or three maintenance employees routinely have to focus on repairing and replacing pipes.

The practice range, meanwhile, is little more than 200 yards long and has a safety screening along the back perimeter.

Most practice ranges today are a minimum of 300 yards to accommodate the changes in both the club and ball technology available.

In spite of a protective screen, players on the second hole are at risk of being hit with balls struck from the practice range, Wickliffe said. “That is a real safety issue.”

He added, “We are looking at extending that practice range to improve the safety aspect. That’s the number one goal along with the irrigation system replacement.

“It would make for a better practice experience if we could extend that practice area and make it much safer.”

Other possible aspects of the course to be included in the study are greens, tees, fairways and bunkers, and resurfacing cart paths.

Wickliffe said making these improvements would not benefit golfers but the whole community.

“One of the strategic goals is to increase visitors to the community,” Wickliffe said. “Golfers like to travel. If we can make improvements to the golf course so that we are more competitive with the courses that have been built in the last 15 years in our area, we think it will bring more golfers (and) more visitors to Los Alamos. It will also improve a recreational asset of the community that’s beginning to show its age.”

Golf fees

• For junior golfers, or those who are age 18 or younger, Monday through Thursday, the price is $14 and $15 Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
• For nine holes of golf Monday through Thursday, the fee will remain $18.10 and $19.05 on Friday, weekends and holidays.
• For junior players, the fee is $9 any day of the week.
• Cart fees for 18 holes are $14.05 and the price for nine holes is $8.10.