Closing Tucson's Golf Courses

Golf has lost some of its luster in recent years as certain realities have set in.

It's time consuming. It can easily eat up six hours in a day.

It's expensive. Cost on the upper end can be $300 for the Scottsdale TPC in season.

Its hard. Only one in ten thousand golfers ever breaks 80.

The number of golfers has stagnated in recent years. 25 million Americans play but the sport is stuck on that number.

The cost to play a round has not increased much in recent years but expenses have.

Water costs more, maintenance has increased, personnel costs have gone up, the price of golf carts is up, many courses built in the 1960's and 70's need new irrigation systems which can run into the millions of dollars, new air conditioning units, new mowers, the list goes on and on.

Which is one reason why municipal golf in Phoenix and Tucson is at a crossroads.

"Golf has five million dollars in capital needs that we can't pay for," says Ward I city council member Regina Romero.

El Rio Golf Course sits in the middle of her Ward.

It hosted the PGA tour stop back in the days of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and Lloyd Mangrum.

Many Tucsonans have fond memories of that and an emotional attachment.

"My father brought me here in 1946," says Gene Sayer. "This is home, yeah."

Others caddied and learned from the greats.

"We don't like to see any course close," says Fred Grey, the Parks and Recreation Department Head. 'But that's a sign of the times."

Tucson is talking about closing its Fred Enke Municipal Golf Course, its newest built in 1983, because it can't make money.

A yet to be released draft memo estimates the capital costs to be close to $3 million.

It needs a new roof, new air conditioning, plumbing which is 30 years old and a new parking lot.

That alone in nearly $300,000.

"And we still haven't addressed the issue of a new irrigation system and new carts," Grey says.

Tucson's Golf Untility is $8 million in the hole.

It spent the money to upgrade El Rio and Silverbell back in golf's heyday nearly a decade ago.

Then came the downtown and decreased revenues which likely ended its ability to repay the debt.

"Golf still loses about $1.2 million a year," says Grey.

But he adds play is up a bit, about 1% and that could help stem the losses.

But that would be a long term strategy and time is not on his side.

"We're going down multiple paths, considering multiple options," he says. "We're not considering one at a time to see if it works. We looking at multiple options at the same time."

Phoenix, on the other hand, is taking a different approach.

Following a series of impassioned public meetings, the golf debt, estimated to be $17 million, will be paid from the general fund.

"The overwhelming consensus was, please keep out gold courses open," says David Urbanito, the communications director for Phoneix Parks and Recreation.