Seattle considering what to do with 4 public golf courses and 528 acres of green space they cover
What should Seattle do with its public golf courses and the 528 acres of mostly green space they occupy?
That’s a question being asked by the city, which commissioned a studylooking at the future of the city’s municipal courses — the only public golf courses in Seattle.
Mayor Jenny Durkan insists it’s a question that has not been answered but said, “It would be a breach of our duty to the people of Seattle not to be really looking at what is best use of those golf courses, from everything to continuing as golf courses, to finding a way to use part of them as parks, to use part of them for affordable housing.”
No one is suggesting, yet, that Seattle ditch one or more of its courses, but the fact that it’s even a topic of conversation has golfers worriedly making the case for their sport.
Seattle has been in the golf business since 1915, when Jefferson Park Golf Course opened on Beacon Hill. The other public courses are Jackson Park in North Seattle, West Seattle Golf Course and Interbay golf center, purchased by the city in 2001.
Margaret Anthony, retired after a long career with Seattle Parks and Recreation, became concerned after reading the 131-page study released in April, and talking with Cheryl Fraser, a manager with Seattle Parks and Recreation.
“Cheryl told me, ‘We haven’t heard from any golfers,’” said Anthony, a member of the West Seattle Golf Course women’s club. “That’s because they didn’t know. That’s when I started contacting people and getting motivated to start a citizen effort.”
Anthony put together a Save Seattle Golf meeting at Jefferson Park Golf Club late last month, publicizing it with a few signs at city golf courses.
She expected maybe 50 people. Instead, there were a few hundred, with the crowd spilling outside.
“I was blown away by the turnout and the support that demonstrated how many people want to keep our golf courses,” Anthony said.
According to the study, which the city paid just over $104,000 to Lund Consulting to conduct, an average of 238,189 people per year played rounds of golf at the courses (including the par-3 short courses at Jefferson Park and Jackson Park) between 2009 and 2017. And in 2017, there also were 449,531 driving-range sessions.
The city courses use dynamic pricing, meaning rates vary by demand, but generally top out at $37 for the 18-hole courses. Juniors (ages 6-18) can play the courses for $5 during most times; there are reduced rates for seniors and military; and the courses are also used by high schools and the nonprofit First Tee youth program.
The country clubs in Seattle, bv contrast, have initiation fees, often quite costly, and monthly dues that make them much more expensive.
Premier Golf Centers manages the four city-owned courses.
“These are not played by people who belong to private golf courses, and it’s a very diverse people population,” said Bill Schickler, founder and president of Premier Golf Centers. “You’ve got grandparents playing with grandkids and kids, and you’ve got women and men of all ethnicities playing these courses and they are very much in need as a resource for sport and recreation in the community.”
Still, they take up big chunks of land, and the city has a lot of needs. The total acreage of the courses is nearly as big as Seattle’s massive Discovery Park, or nearly 8 times the size of Seattle Center.
“I think it’s time to take the next step and do an analysis of other ways we can meet the demands of people who want to be outdoors and golfing, and what other functions those golf courses might do for the city of Seattle and the city in the future,” Durkan said.
Much of the study focused on the financial health and sustainability of the golf courses. From 2013-17, the courses combined to have a net profit in operating income each year. But factoring in the 5 percent the courses give back to the Seattle Parks fund and debt service on improvements made at the courses put them $1.8 million in the red.
In 2017, the courses had $10.2 million in revenue and $9.8 in expenses, not including the payment to the parks or the debt-service payment.
However, “2017 was very poor weather year, whereas 2018 was a stellar year. In 2018, they achieved record revenues in virtually every category. Our revenue was almost $1 million better than budget, and in 2019, we are running already a half a million dollars ahead of budget revenue for 2019 (as of the end of May),” Schickler said.
All of the courses could use significant repairs and improvements. Seattle Parks identified $35.6 million in capital improvement projects.