Tony Butler Golf Course raising rates

Oct. 25—HARLINGEN — The Tony Butler Golf Course is raising rates 30 percent to boost revenue after running a deficit for about 10 years.

Starting Nov. 7, as Winter Texans come back to the course, city commissioners are hiking rates from $28 to $36 for a green fee and cart.

Based on the annual 40,000 rounds of golf played on the course, the new rates will generate about $1 million — enough to help it break even, Assistant City Manager Craig Cook said Tuesday.

"The Tony Butler Golf Course is a service to the city and we are not trying to make a profit," General Manager Jeff Hart stated. "Tony Butler will still have a lower cost to play than the majority of 18-hole courses in the Rio Grande Valley."

Last year, the golf course posted one of its best years in about a decade, generating $852,329 in revenue, with $1,097,260 in expenditures, according to Hart's figures.

The rate hike marks the course's first since about 2011, when daily fees climbed from $25 to $28, Hart stated.

Meanwhile, some golfers are speaking out against the rate hike, arguing the course's conditions and amenities do not justify the increase.

Moving to break even

During a meeting, Hart told commissioners the rate increase was aimed at helping the golf course break even and start paying for itself.

"This won't be a very popular decision but it's what needs to happen," he told commissioners during a meeting Oct. 19. "Everybody knows the golf course has been running a deficit for many years. What we're trying to basically do is get back to break-even."

In Harlingen, the Treasure Hills Golf Club charges $40 rates, he said.

"We're still going to be lower than most of the golf courses in the Valley so we'll still be a value to people — to the Winter Texans and to our locals that play," Hart told commissioners.

In response, Mayor Norma Sepulveda said the rate increase will help take a burden off taxpayers whose money has helped subsidize the golf course.

"We want to help you, of course, generate revenue — saving taxpayers' money, because we want to break even," she told Hart.

Meanwhile, Hart told commissioners he was considering offering discounts aimed at groups such as Winter Texans' RV parks.

Golfers argue hike unjustified

On Tuesday, golfers like Jose Silva called the rate hike "unacceptable."

"It's disappointing, considering the conditions of the course," Silva, a business owner who serves as vice president of the Pan American Golf Association, said. "It's getting better but you've got greens not working well. There are courses that charge that much that have better conditions for golfers."

After five years as a member, Saul Gonzalez said he is going back to play at the Brownsville Golf Center.

At Tony Butler, he is paying about $1,450 in annual membership fees, he said.

But the Brownsville Golf Center charges its members $700, he said, adding the course offers daily rates of $25, which drop to $18 after 2 p.m.

"I'm moving. If he thinks he's going to increase revenue, he's not. He's going to lose people," Gonzalez said, referring to Hart.

"Being a businessman, I sort of understand the rational," he said, referring to the rate hike. "But in any business you have to justify why you're increasing prices — and there's always what the market will bear and you've got to be competitive."

Revenue climbing

Since Hart took over as general manager in late 2019, he has worked to improve the golf course while boosting revenue.

In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, revenues stood at $666,986, with expenditures at $1,068,506.

A year later, revenues jumped to $845,185, with expenditures at $1,003,267.

Overhaul ready to launch

In April, the past city commission held back on a long-awaited $3.1 million project aimed at transforming the golf course after their lone construction bid came in at $6.3 million — more than double the city's budget.

As part of the project, a contract paid Houston-based golf course architect Jeffrey D. Blume $217,000 to redesign the course.

Now, officials are revising the project's scope, with plans to launch the overhaul in January, Cook said.