Municipal golf

June 1, 2012, Department, by Richard Singer

In working as a consultant primarily serving municipal golf courses, I learned that preserving the economic health of these vital community assets has become a constant challenge.  I find more and more that the very existence of municipal golf courses is being threatened due to government budget challenges. All too often I hear the refrain, “Why are we in the golf business at all?”

Municipal golf is very much a part of our industry and a key component to the overall health of golf in the United States. How many golfers would there be today without municipal golf?

Since the addition of Van Cortlandt Park at the turn of the 20th century, municipal golf has played an important role in bringing golf to the masses and providing an affordable entry point for millions of people, especially juniors.  I myself am a great example of the impact of municipal golf.  I took my first golf lesson as a 10 year-old at the town of Ramapo’s Spook Rock Golf Course, and I played my first full 18-hole round of golf at the Village of North Palm Beach’s North Palm Beach Country Club, both municipal golf courses.

But developing new golfers is only part of the story. Municipal golf courses help their communities in many other ways.  They demonstrate a community’s commitment to preserving open space, generate low-cost outdoor recreation for all citizens, and help promote other residential and commercial development. In fact, business leaders often refer to libraries and municipal golf courses as the keys to identifying strong communities.
Challenges and Solutions 

Municipal golf today faces growing challenges from many sides. First, courses face pressure from golfers to retain discounted fees and maintain conditions. Second, there is pressure from city, county, and state government leaders to sustain fiscal stability. And, finally, there is pressure from daily fee operators, many of whom believe municipal golf is competing with them unfairly.

In considering the solutions to deal with these challenges, I have seen municipalities work to secure additional discounts for residents (with increases for non-residents), offer additional discounts to juniors (with accompanying paid adult), expand natural (non-maintained) areas of the golf course, and use third-party golf discounters. It is also most helpful to provide city councils and county commissions with a better understanding of the basics of golf economics and demonstrate the importance of the golf course to the community at large.

The National Golf Foundation advises municipal golf courses on how to implement solutions like these and more.  NGF believes that the continued health of municipal golf is vital to the health of the overall golf industry.  As part of NGF’s commitment, we will be hosting a new Municipal Golf Institute (MGI) in 2012 in conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association, where we will be discussing the latest management practices to improve and strengthen operations, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the key challenges facing public golf.  The Institute will be held September 4-7 at the Oglebay Resort and Conference Center.  For information and registration, please visit

I look forward to a great second half of 2012 and hope to see you at Oglebay Resort in September.  I am sure that you will walk away with information and insights that can help your golf business continue to succeed, regardless of the “facility class” you may fall within.

Richard Singeris the Director of Consulting Services for the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Florida, and has been with the NGF for over 23 years.