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Grass isn’t always greener for Washington golf courses trying to turn a profit

Golfers prepare to tee off at Lynnwood Municipal Golf Course. (Chris Sullivan/KIRO Radio)

The golfing boom of the 1990’s and early 2000’s was great for players. There were new courses, more tee times, and more variety.

Then the recession hit. Rounds dropped and courses struggled, and some even went out of business.

Today, many cities that own and run courses that saw golf as a cash cow are now trying to dump their courses because they can’t afford them.

Most courses around the Northwest have seen the number of rounds per year drop by 20 percent over the last decade. People don’t have the money to play. They don’t have six hours to play. Courses that were money makers are now in the red.

For a city-owned course, that means taking loans or moving money for roads and other priorities and putting it into golf, which is not a popular idea for many.

“The recession really hit the sport, the game of golf all over the country,” said Lynnwood Parks Director Lynn Sordel. “Rounds were in decline, and now they’re just starting to slowly inch back.”

Lynnwood’s 18-hole course is now a money drain on the city. He wants to spin the day-to-day operations and management of the course to a private firm.

It’s what Seattle did years ago. Bellevue and Everett have done the same. Those cities still own and maintain their courses, but a private firm runs them.

“The trends are clear across the country, where municipalities are running golf courses, that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do that because of our wages, our benefits and our costs, the economies of scale, the things that we do on a regular basis – they’re just more costly than in the private sector,” said Sorbel.

The Lynnwood City Council will discuss the idea Wednesday evening.

What Lynnwood will not do, Sordel said, is close or sell the course like several others cities have done or are doing. Kent is looking to sell its Par 3 course at Riverbend. Sumner plans to sell the Meadows course, it’s set to close in September. Mountlake Terrace already closed Ballinger Lakes.

“When we opened in the early 90’s, we didn’t have the competition we have today,” Sordel said. “There’s only so many golfers, and there’s an over-supply of golf courses.”

Sordel said turning over the day-to-day operations of the Lynnwood course to a private management firm would also allow them do things they certainly can’t afford to do now, advertise and make improvements to the course.

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