Two things spell trouble for the LSU Golf Course: the university’s funding could take a huge hit when the state budget is approved later this year, and university officials are examining the best use of every inch of campus space for its new master plan.
The LSU Golf Course remains open for now, though a committee has spent the past several months reviewing its operations and trying to determine if it’s worth keeping open. As the university has expanded its footprint via academic buildings, residence halls and parking lots, the golf course has continued to eat up 127 acres of space that LSU officials say might have a better use.
LSU officials said they are no longer comfortable putting a time frame on when they will make a decision about the golf course’s future, though they had said in November that they expected to have an answer by spring.
The campus master plan should take around two years to complete, with an expected finish date of January 2017.
The LSU Golf Course mostly pays for itself, but net operating revenues declined from $1.079 million in 2011-12 to $1.014 million in 2013-14. The university also pays $200,000 to $250,000 a year to operate the golf course — money that might be needed elsewhere should LSU take a hard hit at the end of the budget cycle.
“Keeping the golf course open does cost the campus,” said Tony Lombardo, LSU’s associate vice president for facility and property oversight.
LSU is not alone in trying to chart a course for successfully operating a golf course in Baton Rouge.
National Golf Foundation consultants recommended in late 2014 that the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission close its two poorest-performing golf courses and implement new features to the remaining five to keep golfers coming back.
Other Baton Rouge golf courses that have closed in recent years include the Oaks at Sherwood, Briarwood Golf Club, Fairwood Country Club, Shenandoah Country Club Golf Course and the Gonzales Country Club.
The difference with LSU’s golf course is that its mission is both recreational and academic. Around 350 to 400 students a year take classes for academic credit where they use the golf course, and the course has more than 30 student workers.
LSU’s golf teams practiced at the LSU Golf Course until 1998, when they switched to the more difficult course at the University Club on Memorial Tower Drive.
In master planning every decade, campus representatives across campus evaluate how space is being used and map out the best way for the university to grow in the future.
Tammy Millican, assistant director for LSU planning, design and construction, said the information that comes to light during master planning will determine the golf course’s future.
“There’s just too many unknowns at this point,” she said.
LSU officials have already capitalized on some of the space the golf course offers. On football game days, the driving range turns into a parking lot.
LSU is also looking to expand its residential housing offerings, which could possibly take up space the golf course occupies. Lombardo said LSU has a high demand for residential housing growth but that campus lacks a lot of room for expansion.
“We really need to expand the residential footprint,” Lombardo said.
The LSU Golf Course sees its peak number of visitors in the summer, but the late fall and early spring have deep impacts on the golf course’s finances because rain will keep away golfers, Lombardo said.
Interim LSU Golf Director Emily Smith said the course has seen an average number of visitors in recent months, given the wet season. Smith replaced longtime LSU Golf Course Director Mike Johnson, who retired at the beginning of March.
As long as the golf course stays open, Lombardo said, they are looking for ways to make the course run more efficiently. One possibility is collaborating with BREC.
BREC Golf Director Mike Raby said they have been exploring adding small, enclosed driving ranges at City-Brooks Community Park and Webb Memorial Park for beginner golf programs. However, space is limited at both of the parks.
“While looking for places to do this at City Park and Webb, it occurred to us that similar programming could be done not far away if LSU closes their golf course but keeps the driving range,” Raby said.
He said he asked LSU’s staff about the possibility of using the driving range for youth and adult learning programs. “They seems open to considering the idea further if that is the direction they decide to go.”
BREC also has started to more heavily market its golf courses and increased the marketing budget for golf this past year. LSU officials said they have not increased marketing for the LSU Golf Course, though many angry golfers have begged LSU to keep the golf course open.
Smith said their best method of attracting student golfers has been simple: “They get interested in it and they start coming back.”