Environment and Natural Resources Tax and Budget

State Golf Courses Still Laying Up Short of Profitability

TCPR says government-funded golf is an albatross around taxpayers’ necks. But the state claims the courses are leaving less of a divot in Tennessee’s budget than the free-market think tank suggests.

A foursome of Republican lawmakers made headlines recently after a Nashville television station revealed they’d spent a leisurely legislative-day afternoon this spring out on the links.

In fact, a lot of golfers who might not realize it are shooting publicly subsidized  rounds when they tee off at courses owned by the state government, according to a recent report by a spending watchdog group.

Taxpayers, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research says, are getting clubbed for a portion of the greens fees.

Since TCPR began scoring the financial performance of state government-managed golf spots five years ago, the public has sunk nearly $7 million down the hole.

That may seem like a lot of green, but government administrators are quick to extol the management of their facilities. And one of the most worthwhile aspects of the tax-funded greenskeeping, they say, is that three government courses have won prestigious awards for going environmentally green — even as their budgets have spent years in the red.

Last month Fall Creek Falls Golf Course was awarded designation as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” for meeting “specific criteria in the areas of environmental planning; wildlife and habitat management; outreach and education; chemical use reduction and safety; water conservation; and water quality management.”

During the last budget cycle at Fall Creek, lawmakers teed up $731,000 for the golf course to operate. However, the facility is expected to only generate about $478,000 in revenue, according to numbers provided by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which manages the course.

By taking measures to qualify for the environmental sustainability award, the course will save about $1,400 in lawn care costs and reduce water usage by 16,000 gallons a year, according to TDEC.

Two other courses that have previously won the international Audubon award also operate at a loss. In the FY2008-09 budget year, Harrison Bay dropped $20,482 more than it earned in revenue and Paris Landing closed out $59,959 in the rough.

Tennessee is home to 11 state-owned golf courses. The government spent about $8.5 million last year on the facilities, while collecting only $6.9 million from users – a loss to taxpayers of about $1.6 million, concluded TCPR’s 2010 “Pork Report.”

“It’s not fair for Tennessee tax payers who don’t golf — many of them can’t golf — to subsidize those who choose to golf,” Justin Owen, acting executive director for the Nashville-based group, said.

Courses handicapped by low revenues ought to at least be charging user fees a fair ways closer to profitability, said Owen. And if the government can’t operate the facilities in the black, the fiscally sub-par courses should be sold off or leased out so the private sector can take a swing at running them, he said.

Jim Fyke, Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner, acknowledged in an interview with TNReport that “golf is in a tough time right now.”

“I’m not going to tell you golf courses, in immediate times, are going to start to make money,” said Fyke. He added that the Audubon award is “a feather in our cap when we’re getting our negative publicity on our lack of play at these courses.”

Furthermore, said Fyke, the courses are closer to solvency than the TCPR study suggests. All but three of golf courses are destination locations, or “hospitality centers,” situated near state-owned inns, restaurants, camp grounds, swimming pools, hiking trails, and marinas that attract visitors, he said.

Add up the costs of tourists’ golf fees, lodging, food and other expenses, and the recreational hubs are 99.1 percent solvent, said Fyke.

“It’s really, I think, a little bit unfair to single (golf courses) out,” he said.

Two Republican legislators, Rep. Joshua Evans of Greenbrier and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, also looked at slicing the facilities this spring, proposing that the state lease or sell any courses that under-perform for two years straight.

The measure was never heard in committee.

Lawmakers tentatively agreed to get rid of two courses next year, anyway. The Legislature OK’d one-time funding for Old Stone Fort and T.O. Fuller golf courses in the latest budget, but will force the facilities to close when that money runs out in 2011 unless the General Assembly calls a Mulligan.

Courses handicapped by low revenues ought to at least be charging greens fees a fair ways closer to fair market value, said Owen. And if the government can’t operate the facilities in the black, the fiscally sub-par courses should be sold off or leased out so the private sector can take a swing at it, said Owen.

2 replies on “State Golf Courses Still Laying Up Short of Profitability”

I’ve been discussing why they are closing T.O. Fuller golf course and can not get a good answer. Following are some comments I email to Brock Hill stating that T.O. Fuller Golf Course would had made a profit in 2010 and 2011 if there weren’t mis-appropriation of income and expense funds. I was a volunteer marshall at T.O. for 5 years.
– – – – – – – – –
Thanks again for your concern. As I stated at the meeting in Memphis, the previous Administration made the decision to close the course and this Administration implemented that decision.

Brock Hill, Deputy Commissioner
Bureau of Parks and Conservation
TN Dept. of Environment and Conservation
401 Church St., 1st Floor L & C Annex
Nashville, TN 37243
Office: (615) 532-0696; Cell: (615) 337-9530
Fax: (615) 532-0120
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From: Marcus Henry []
Sent: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:48 AM
To: Brock Hill
Subject: Re: T.O. Fuller Golf Course

From reviewing the T.O. Fuller Golf Course (TOFGC) financials, it seems that there were plenty of mis-appropriation in funds from 2009 – 2011. The attached spreadsheet shows the original financials and the changes I made based on previous years. If you see the bottom part of the ‘Changes’ worksheet, you will see that TOFGC would have made a profit in 2010 and 2011.

I was a Volunteer Marshall for TOFGC for over 5 years and everyone knows that not too many people walks the course. Also, everyone that paid in the club house, we had to enter the player name, tee-off time, receipt ticket#, and cart# on a sheet. This was suppose to be a tracking system that at the end of the day, both should match up.

I used to be an I.T. Manager at a cash advance company that had 20 stores and we setup cameras over the cash drawers and the entry and outside area of each store. This helped us monitor what was going on.

I’ve played just about all of the courses in the Memphis area and it’s not just TOFGC, it’s other courses. A lot has to do with mis-appropriation of funds. TOFGC has over $300,000 mis-appropriation of funds. We look at these employees that are over the golf courses like they are gods and these employees are running it like it’s their piggy bank. A lot of them don’t care about the courses. All they want is to see how much money they can get out of the city and state.

If you would like to discuss this matter more in detail, I would love to.

Marcus Henry, Sr.
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— On Wed, 7/11/12, Brock Hill wrote:

From: Brock Hill
Subject: T.O. Fuller Golf Course
To: “‘'”
Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 7:58 AM

Mr. Henry,

Here is what we have regarding the T.O. Fuller Golf Course. It is a five year comparison.

I inquired regarding the Scott May request from last year. Apparently, we did provide information to Mr. May. I am not certain if it was exactly what was requested, since much of our information only goes back five years.

As to the other golf courses, we also closed a course in Manchester leaving us with nine courses total. Of those, three are Bear Trace Jack Nicklaus courses and six are Traditional courses. Of the six Traditional courses, five are co-located with an inn, restaurant, and other resort type amenities that we operate as a business unit. The one lone course that could be compared to the closed T.O. Fuller course is at Warrior’s Path State Park in the Tri-Cities area. This course does well compared to the closed course at T. O. Fuller.


Brock Hill

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