Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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BATON ROUGE - For decades, golf has been the playground for fun, business and competition. Lately, the game has left many courses struggling to reinvent themselves to bring back the luster of the game.

The golf graveyard recently grew with the closing of the Oaks at Sherwood. Other courses that didn't make it include Briarwood Golf Course, Fairwood Country Club, Shenandoah Country Club, and Gonzales Country Club.

In the past year, there have been whispers of modification to BREC's golf world. The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission has implemented changes to their seven public courses to keep up with the changing golf demographic. Their programs include discounted green fees to include nine-hole and twilight options, programs to attract more youth, women and seniors, and the addition of alcohol sales at a few of the courses.

"I like them all and I think they all have a value in the community," said BREC Director of Golf Jeff Marks. "We have a pretty good, sturdy golf clientele."

Despite the dedicated golfers, BREC is scrambling to overcome a 20 percent drop in rounds since 2010. In recent years, BREC hit a peak in 2009 at about 156,000 rounds. That number took a dive of 30,000 in 2010. Since, the play is slowly inching up, but at several BREC courses, there's rarely a wait to play.

"It seems like there's enough golfers who want to play, but apparently there's not," said golfer Patrick Wright. "I'm sure if the market bore it, then there would be more courses open."

East Baton Rouge Parish taxpayers have subsidized recreational golf to the tune of $1.3 million during the last three years.

Despite the steep number, Baton Rouge voters who made it out to the polls earlier this month say the parks are important to them. They approved the renewal of BREC's dedicated property tax, which will generate about $7.3 million a year.

In 2013, J.S. Clark Park, a quick 9-hole course complete with a driving range, brought in the lowest number of rounds at 5,627. Howell Park, an 18-hole course brought in 8,550 rounds compared to Santa Maria, one or BREC's most popular 18-hole courses with 35,133 rounds for the year.

Some people think a course or two would be better off closed.

Sage Roberts started a petition last year at change.org asking BREC to consider shutting down City Park golf course and turn it into a 100-acre park on the lake.

"If the golfers could just see fit to look toward the community and see how valuable this place could be for the whole city of Baton Rouge and beyond, there's other places to play golf," said Roberts.

The online petition has more than 1,000 signatures. City Park, BREC's other 9-hole course ranks at number three in terms of popularity with 14,875 rounds last year.

While there is strong opposition to closing one or more of the parks, studying the feasibility of that is now on the table.

BREC hired the National Golf Foundation to visit and evaluate all seven courses and sign off on all their golf-related programs.

"They have a good idea of how many courses would fit a mid-size city like Baton Rouge," said Marks. "We're going into it with an open mind and hoping for the best."

For the past few months, BREC has held meetings to gather voter input. BREC will hold their final meeting at 6 p.m. May 1 at the Independence Theatre to present ideas collected from the public before writing a new strategic plan, which will guide them through the next 10 years.

The National Golf Foundation will begin their study with BREC next week and present their findings in November.


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