The specter of closure has been hanging over Devil's Thumb Golf Club. While that is one option, the City of Delta would still owe $900,000 for debt incurred during construction of the course.
The city could also attempt to sell the 18-hole course, enter into a management contract, or continue to tweak operations. That's the option recommended by city manager Justin Clifton, who said it's time to come up with a realistic multi-year management plan that will remove the threat of closure and provide stability for future operations.
Clifton moderated a budget work session focused solely on the golf course last week. The work session was the final in a series of special meetings that have covered all aspects of city operations. It was the only work session that drew a standing-room-only crowd.
Clifton began his presentation by looking at preliminary studies from the late '90s that cautioned the city against building an 18-hole course from the ground up. Other firms, including THK Associates, suggested high profitability. Ultimately the city pledged $3.5 million in revenue bonds and construction was started. Devil's Thumb opened in 2001.
Nearby communities were in the same track, building or expanding their golf courses. Now there are simply too many holes for the number of golfers on the Western Slope. Two factors have compounded the situation. The first is the economy; the second is a downward slide in the number of golfers nationwide. Ten years ago, the golf industry boasted 40 million players; the total now is estimated at 26 million.
Clifton presented statistics showing Devil's Thumb is capturing what could be considered its share of golfers. Thirty-nine percent are city residents; 15 percent live in Delta County. The other half travel from other areas of Colorado and from other parts of the country.
With about half the golfers traveling from outside the county, Clifton said it's clear there is an economic impact to the entire community. There is also anecdotal evidence the golf course is a valuable recruitment tool for higher-end professionals and is a desirable amenity for retirees looking to relocate.
Although the golf course would not survive without transfers from city utility funds, Devil's Thumb is running "lean and mean," he continued. Clifton said expenses have been trimmed to the point where further reductions could backfire. While there are some opportunities to tweak operations, Clifton believes the best course of play involves better marketing, a modest fee increase and recapturing the food and beverage revenue. Adjustments in the hours of operation and consolidation of recreation, parks and golf departments to create efficiencies were hinted at.
That said, capturing a bigger market share is still seen as key to the course's future.
For that reason, reports that Black Canyon Golf Club in Montrose will close its back nine is potentially good news for Devil's Thumb. A Montrose resident in the audience said Bridges is priced "way beyond" his means, and Cobble Creek is at capacity. In his opinion, Devil's Thumb is the best option for Montrose golfers who want to play 18 holes. Cedaredge and North Fork golfers in the audience also voiced their support for the course, as did several Delta residents who said there would be no reason to remain in the community if the golf course closed.
"We don't know what we have here," said Mike Ludlow, executive vice president of Oxbow and an avid golfer. "The golf course is a tremendous asset for the city and I would encourage you to do everything you can to develop it."
Transfers to Devil's Thumb from other city funds have dropped almost $200,000 the last couple of years. In 2012, the subsidy rate for the golf course was 46 percent. That's the difference between the cost of operation and the revenues generated by the golf course. At the rec center, the subsidy rate is 70 percent. The city's cemetery and parks are almost entirely subsidized. Some type of subsidy will always be needed to keep the golf course open, Clifton said. The question is how much.
That answer, at least for 2014, will be provided at the final budget work session next Tuesday. At that meeting council members will have their first opportunity to see how all the numbers add up. Final adoption of the 2014 budget will take place in December.blog comments powered by Disqus