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Rochester golf sees solid numbers in first year after fee increases

Feb. 6—ROCHESTER — Revenue over expenses at Rochester's four municipal golf courses nearly doubled

2023 projections following long-delayed fee increases.

"Having our golfers adjust the way they did to the fee adjustment gives us hope," Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman told the Park Board on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

With annual pass prices increasing by 20%, related revenue ended up more than $150,000 below projections, but the unexpected drop in passes was offset by the purchase of daily rounds, which exceeded estimates by 29%.

Widman said many golfers likely switched to daily passes, which only saw a 10% price increase, after considering their overall cost for the season, since 25 rounds at a daily price would cost less than a $954 adult season pass.

Jeff Gorman, the city's lead golf pro, said the wet spring was likely another factor, since some golfers might have worried they wouldn't be able to get the full benefit of a season pass.

"We were a little nervous, since the prices have never jumped 20%," he said, pointing out that activity ended up being brisk with ideal summer weather after May 15.

"We had the best summer that weather could provide in June, July, August and September," he added.

When the fees were combined with higher-than-expected revenue from the city's driving ranges and youth golf programs, the 2023 season ended up taking in $94,000 beyond expenses, exceeding the projected $49,000.

Widman said he was surprised at the outcome following months of discussion that led to a new funding plan for the city's golf program.

"I came into this thinking there is just no way we can sustain four courses, and I think this year really changed my mind on that," he said.

While national trends are showing some flattening of golf activity after a 2020 surge, Widman said numbers are not dropping to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, he said he's confident

local golfers will remain active

with the next fee increases, which will add 14% to season passes and 6% to daily passes with the goal of generating $163,000 in extra revenue to fund course improvements.

"This year will tell the story," he said of the program's potential.

The Rochester City Council approved the fee plan in early 2023, calling for three years of fee increases designed to ultimately generate at least $250,000 a year to sustain Rochester's municipal golf system with four city-owned courses. After three years, the fees are expected to maintain annual adjustments needed to continue generating at least $250,000 to fund course improvements.

The plan also caps the city's golf subsidy at $250,000 a year, dropping from $266,000 in property tax operations support and $80,000 budgeted for course improvements.

The

new plan seeks to provide a compromise to help improve local golf facilities

while also providing more predictable use of tax funds, which have varied from year to year, based on golf activity and needed renovations.

Gorman said the expectation of stable funding offers a chance to address delayed projects.

"During the next two or three years, we'd like to be chipping away at the projects we've let slide for potentially the last decade," he said, pointing to plans for a variety of upgrades and repairs at all four courses, totaling an estimated $308,000.

He said once the needed upgrades are complete, the annual revenue and tax support will be used to build reserves for larger future projects intended to keep the program competitive.

"We are really excited about 2024 and beyond," he said.