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The future of public golf discussed

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BATON ROUGE - The National Golf Foundation recommended shutting down two of the seven public golf courses operated by the BREC park system at a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

NGF was hired in May to look at options for BREC golf. It says the most responsible way to keep the courses in shape is to close Howell Park on Windbourne Ave. and J.S. Clark Park near the zoo.

But, BREC says closing a course is not its first option.

"The community will drive our decisions," said BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight. "We will make sure we pay attention to what makes sense. If it makes sense to reduce, we will move in that direction. We're hearing what people are saying."

BREC's trying to off-set a 20 percent drop in the number of rounds played at its courses. NGF says so few people are teeing off, Howell Park is now one of the most under-used courses in the country.

Changes to how much it costs to play, along with alcohol sales have increased numbers, but not fast enough.

"It has great potential to be sustainable for the long term, but I don't think you can continue operating as is," said NGF Director Richard Singer.

Not all seven courses make enough money to operate independently and likely never will unless there's a 30 percent increase in players. Tax-payers keep the golf operation alive through taxes dedicated to BREC's operation.

"Now, because of the economy and because of the demand and people are saying we'd like to see you operate in a more business-like fashion, we're moving in that direction," said McKnight.

Part of the research performed by NGF was to talk to players about the courses. Players said they have a low level of satisfaction with BREC facilities. The highest was for Santa Maria and the lowest was for Dumas. They indicated to NGF they would play more if the courses were better kept and they had more amenities.

BREC's golf director, Mike Raby, has been with the system for three months. In that time, he's made his own assessment. It includes improving course conditions and increase the use of technology on and off the course. It did not include closing a golf course.

"That was not initially on my list," he said.

Currently, Santa Maria generates 45 percent of BREC's $3.6 million golf course revenue. It keeps less popular courses like Howell Park, which brings in about three percent, up and running.

McKnight says the next step is to bring the recommendations before the BREC commission. They plan to work on playability, staff, food and beverage and eventually talk about repurposing. Community meetings will likely be scheduled to discuss other options for the golf courses sometime in early 2015.

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