A consultant recommended Tuesday that BREC close two golf courses and turn them into parks, at a time when Baton Rouge has struggled to attract golfers to its greens.
The National Golf Foundation’s suggestions include changing the Howell Park and J.S. Clark Park golf courses into non-golf parks and upgrading conditions at BREC’s five other courses.
The recommendations, unveiled at a public meeting Tuesday at BREC’s headquarters, also included that BREC expand food and drink offerings at golf courses and that the agency reach out to women and minorities as potential golfers.
BREC should start operating golf courses more like businesses instead of public accommodations, according to the NGF presentation. That means having one or two premium 18-hole courses, one medium-quality 18-hole course, one nine-hole course and one park with a driving range that emphasizes developing beginning golfers.
As for the next step, BREC golf director Michael Raby said he will work on improving the quality of the courses, which he called his main concern.
BREC will hold public meetings to find out if people want the Howell Park and J.S. Clark Park golf courses to remain, or if they would rather see something else in their place. If that’s the case, BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said BREC would move as quickly as possible to bring something new.
“We are not on the verge of closing any golf course in the immediate future,” Raby said. “… If we get to a point where a course does close, it’ll only close because the bulldozers are lined up to turn it into something else of value.”
The two golf courses recommended for closure are both in the northern part of the parish, and some people at Tuesday’s meeting were concerned about the racial implications.
Keith Hall, who attended the meeting, said BREC should not be insensitive and ignore the history of the golf courses that attract many black players. Hall said he learned much of what he knows about golf from older black men who taught him at J.S. Clark, which is just down the road from Southern University.
Howell Park is an 18-hole course on Winbourne Avenue and J.S. Clark is a nine-hole course on Thomas Road especially meant for golf newcomers trying to hone their skills.
McKnight said the bottom line in determining the future of BREC’s golf courses was the amount of rounds being played and revenue being generated, not the neighborhoods nearby.
About 8,500 rounds of golf are played annually at Howell Park, which NGF consultant Richard Singer said is the lowest he has seen. Nationally, 30,000 to 32,000 rounds of golf a year are the standard.
Singer said Webb Park and Santa Maria Golf Course are near the national standard of rounds being played.
He noted that City Park was his favorite course, leading to applause from several of the audience members. But Singer said the historic greens need upgrading and advised BREC to add a snack bar to the property.
A review of BREC’s seven golf courses has been underway for more than two years, with officials from BREC, the PGA and NGF all examining the courses as part of that review.
Golf’s popularity has declined regionally and nationally over the past several years.Courses throughout the city have closed, including the Oaks at Sherwood, Briarwood Golf Club, Fairwood Country Club, Shenandoah Country Club Golf Course and the Gonzales Country Club.
LSU officials also are contemplating closing the LSU golf course, where golfers tee off across the street from Tiger Stadium.
The National Golf Foundation reported that BREC’s golf courses were in poor condition in early 2014 and that they were understaffed in maintenance positions.
The demand appears to be less in East Baton Rouge Parish than in many other areas, the consultants found, as golf courses have only about half the number of golfers compared to the national average.
In 2013, BREC golf generated about $3.6 million in revenue, with nearly half of that money coming from the Santa Maria Golf Course.