published Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Fall creek falls course remains a money pit


Fiscal Year / Fall Creek Falls / State-Owned Courses

2008 / -$209,238 / -$1,771,850

2009 / -$252,346 / -$1,794,594

2010 / -$252,005 / -$1,702,986

2011 / -$256,089 / -$1,302,500

2012 / -$275,760 / -$987,023

Total: -$1,245,438 / -$7,558,953

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation

We've all heard of welfare for the unemployed and welfare to serve low-income children. But have you ever heard of welfare for golfers? It's a serious problem in Tennessee, where government officials routinely spend more than a million dollars a year bailing out failing state-owned golf courses.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee State Building Commission announced plans to spend $2.25 million on improvements to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Pikeville. A big chunk of that cash is slated to go towards installing an expensive new irrigation system for the park's insolvent government-owned golf course.

The golf course at Fall Creek Falls lost $275,760 last year and $256,089 the year before that -- and $252,005 the year before that. In fact the Fall Creek Falls golf course never turns a profit. Ever.

Since 2005, state taxpayers have spent more than $1.7 million to bail out the broke boondoggle of a golf course.

In fact, no state-owned course lost more money than Fall Creek Falls last year -- and that's saying something, since eight of the state's nine courses wound up in the hole.

No matter what the state does to improve the course, or how many of our tax dollars state leaders spend on irrigation systems or maintenance equipment or making sure the latest, greatest clubs are on sale at the pro shop, the golf course at Fall Creek Falls will always need a taxpayer subsidy to survive.

That's because the course is in Pikeville ... population 1,608.

There just aren't enough people in Pikeville -- or anywhere near Pikeville -- to bring in the number of golfers necessary to shell out the three-quarters of a million dollars needed to cover the course's annual operating expenses.

The only state-owned golf course that managed to break even last fiscal year was the course at Harrison Bay. And that's because Harrison Bay is in Hamilton County, where people actually live.

Tennessee golf-course welfare is nothing new. The state Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees Tennessee' state parks, lost nearly $7.6 million on golf courses in the past five years alone.

Golf course welfare was at its worse in 2009 when then-Gov. Phil Bredesen allowed nearly $1.8 million of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars to allow vacationing golfers to play at the failing, far-flung state courses.

Under Gov. Bill Haslam, and with Republicans in control of the legislature, the state has wasted fewer tax dollars on golf. In 2011, the state closed two courses -- Old Stone Fort in Manchester and T.O. Fuller in Memphis -- saving taxpayers about $350,000 a year.

As a result of these, and other, cost savings measures, the state has trimmed handouts to the state park's golf courses by 42 percent since Haslam became governor. Tennessee taxpayers now spend less than a million dollars a year getting state-owned greens out of the red.

Even that noteworthy improvement is not good enough.

Tennessee's struggling taxpayers shouldn't have to spend a dime bankrolling golf courses and, ultimately, subsiding a portion of the cost of a round of golf for folks with the time and money to play at a state park.

The Tennessee state government should get out of the golf business once and for all.

Such a step doesn't mean that state park golf courses will necessarily close. In fact, the state could offer golfers a better experience by transferring the management of the courses to private operators or selling them to companies with a history of success owning courses.

Doing so would improve many state-owned courses, while stopping the insane practice of forcing Tennessee's taxpayers to pay for golf course welfare.

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AndrewLohr said...


February 24, 2013 at 12:53 a.m.
aae1049 said...

This is why gov utilizing tax dollars to compete with the private sector concerns me. No business can operate in the red indefinitely, well gov can. Gov just taxes for the losses, no worries.

The City of Chattanooga has utilized public dollars for cable tv, internet, boat docks, bicycle rentals, private airport hangers, and operate the Tivoli and Memorial Aud at at million dollar losses every year. Sell all of it, give it away and in the hands of a for profit business model.

February 24, 2013 at 1:05 a.m.
gjuster said...

As a former owner of a golf course - it is very difficult to make money operating a golf course - triple that difficulty when its operated by a government. Lease all the courses to private golf course operators - let private enterprise take the risk of loss vs profit. And close down the one's that no one wants. Those of us in the business were mystified when we saw where the Bear Trace golf courses were to be built - only a government would be that stupid to put them in those locations. Government should not be competing against private industry.

February 24, 2013 at 7:36 a.m.
librul said...

Better yet - get all the effin golf courses off of state parkland and quit destroying the special places in our state which were supposed to be preserved for "all" to enjoy as the best examples of our state's NATURAL environs.

February 24, 2013 at 8:27 a.m.
Oldhickory said...

The golf course at Fall Creek Falls State Park is a wonderful amenity to the Park and the State of Tennessee that I have played many times. The Free Press Editor lists the population of Pikeville at 1,608 as if residents of Pikeville play the course alone. However, he ignores the tens of thousands of visitors to the Park each year, the dollars those golfers and their families spent at the Park for food and lodging, the sales taxes that are generated by visits to the Park, and the jobs provided by the Park to the tax base in Tennessee. I'd submit that all the state needs to do is simply divide the $275,000 loss by the number of persons paying greens fees and raise the fee to cover the difference. I'd be surprised if the increase would be more than $3.00 per round of golf.

February 24, 2013 at 8:50 a.m.
aae1049 said...

I agree with the Librul on this. Golf courses are not the mission of gov, and have no connection to natural land use.

February 24, 2013 at 9:39 a.m.
gjuster said...

Oldhickory - Golf course economics just don't work out - the raise in fee would be about $11 per player - if everyone still played at that price. Might be a great old course, but it's not the job of government to provide golf courses - even if they actually turn a profit.

February 24, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.
Oldhickory said...

That's fair enough. Raise the fee by $11.00. If you wish to get into the topic of what government should or should not provide, should the government provide parks at all and simply sell the land for development or give it back to the federal government? Should the government provide a hotel, conference center, individual and group cabins at the Park? Are those facilities at the Park competing with the private sector and should they simply be torn down? There are private universities and K through 12 schools in the state. Should all government-operated schools like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga be bulldozed under the guise that government shouldn't be competing with private education? I seriously doubt that UTC is a moneymaker. The state runs prisons too and there are private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America. Should all prisons be closed or sold to CCA? Should government cease providing highways and bridges and just let private companies build toll roads. What should government be limited to doing?

February 24, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

"private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America. Should all prisons be closed or sold to CCA?"

**Not to mention, private prisons such as CCA couldn't function without millions and billions annually from the federal government. They wouldn't even be in the private prison business without federal dollars.

February 24, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.
gjuster said...

The government should not provide a hotel and conference - they should be leased to private companies. As for public parks - that's a role of government since private industry doesn't and wouldn't own a park. The prisons are leased to private companies to run

February 25, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

The prisons are leased to private companies to run

Just a technicality. Bottom dolllar, OOPS! bottom line remains; private prisons receive millions, billions even from the federal government and couldn't operate without federal funds.

Georgia prisons are already sweating because less money is coming down from the federal government.

February 25, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.
fairmon said...

Parks and recreation areas need to be self supporting or closed. The government should not be in any business that competes with the for profit private sector. Education, prisons and similar institutions serve a different purpose and fall under the service and protection for all umbrella. There is no justification for any government owning and maintaining an entertainment or recreation center, a hotel, motel, marina, pharmacy, golf course etc. etc. These belong in the private domain and if the users aren't using them enough to support them they should not exist. Governments owning and operating businesses is known as socialism.

February 26, 2013 at 6:49 a.m.
gjuster said...

Here's a good example of government running off private business. Here in Chatt there is a rec center that now offers dance classes - because of that a privately owned dance studio nearby had to close down because it couldn't compete.

February 26, 2013 at 8:13 a.m.
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