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Duluth’s municipal golf courses still struggling, showing signs of progress

DULUTH, MN — Golf in Duluth has been struggling for some time now, and 2018 was another sub-par year.

“We are projecting that Duluth Golf will lose between $70,000- $80,000,” said Duluth’s director of public administration, Jim Filby Williams.

That’s on top of the combined existing $2.3-million of debt Lester Park and Enger Park have accumulated in recent years.

“The consistency and cumulative effect of the deficit is challenging,” said Filby Williams.

He added, part of the reason for the loss, is participation in golf has dropped about 30% nationwide since Tiger Woods was dominating the leaderboards years ago.  Duluth is not immune to the decline.

Filby William did note, things are headed in the right direction.

“We’re making gradual improvement since 2015 when we lost $180,000,” he said.

Filby Williams says for the last year, an advisory committee has been working to establish a long-term plan to make the courses profitable in the future.

“That group is wrapping up its report now, and hopes to present its findings in January,” said Filby Williams.

Rates will go up in 2019 to drive revenue. Golfers will see a $1 increase for green fees, and a $50 increase for memberships.

Even with the increases, Billy Casper forecasts another $77,000 loss in 2019.

The advisory committee is also looking at ways to increase traffic.

“The clubhouses are in poor condition, as are many of the aspects of the course facilities. So, certainly, the citizen advisory committee has been studying how to renew those assets,” said Filby Williams.

Speaking at a recent Duluth City Council meeting, spokespeople for Billy Casper Golf, a national golf course management company who manages Lester and Enger Park courses, said 2019 should see an improvement from 2018.

“We do anticipate seeing in increase in the amount of rounds played this year,” said Bill Rehanek, senior V.P of operations for Billy Casper Golf.

Rehanek added, since 2015, when Billy Casper Golf took over, this was their best year.

“I didn’t say it was a great year, but so far since the inception of the contract, we have enjoyed the best bottom line result for Duluth golf in those four years,” he said.

Filby Williams added that Billy Casper Golf has done an efficient job of managing the resources they have.

“They’ve done a nice job improving customer service, and improving course conditions to the extent our deteriorating facilities permit,” he said.

But with talks in the works to shut down Lester Park, and have Enger park the only public course in Duluth, the future of golf remains to be seen. For now, it appears as if they both will still be open for the 2019 season.

The contract for Billy Casper Golf expires at the end of the 2019 season.  They are expected to re-apply to continue managing the course in the future.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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