Anyone who even occasionally glances at this column knows I have something of an issue about the number of golf courses BREC operates in East Baton Rouge Parish. A good walk spoiled by sliced drives, skulled iron shots, three-putts and four-letter exasperations is—without question—a beautiful thing. Not so fabulous, however, is the millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars annually subsidizing a sport where BREC’s supply dramatically out-drives demand.
Take last year, for example: Every time a golfer teed it up on a BREC course, taxpayers got stuck with what amounts to a $17.76 greens fee. All in, our tax-dollar-subsidy for BREC’s golf operations was just shy of $2 million, which is far better than the $2.7 million tab in 2017.
For those “Parks and Recreation” fans, think of it this way: BREC has spent decades operating golf like Leslie Knope runs the place, while I prefer the more fiscally prudent stylings of Mr. Ron Swanson.
But today, I write not to bury BREC, but to praise it.
Hallelujah! BREC wants to close a golf course. Specifically, the parks department—as part of a bold re-visioning of Greenwood Park—wants to shutter the 18-hole money pit known as Dumas Memorial Golf Course. What exactly replaces the course, which has cost taxpayers nearly $3 million in solvency bailouts over the past six years, depends on 1) which of BREC’s three design concepts—or a mash-up of the three—the public desires and 2) how much corporate and philanthropic money it can raise to cover the cost of this quite ambitious—and, yes, impressive—plan.
Of course, BREC being BREC, it leaves open the possibility that reconfiguring the adjacent 9-hole J.S. Clark Golf Course won’t be enough to satisfy a full-throated, fist-pounding, lawsuit-threatening vocal minority. Hedging its bet, BREC makes clear what goes from each concept in the event of splicing nine holes from Dumas with the nine from Clark to create a semi-new and completely unnecessary 18-hole course.
For now, however, let’s not ruin the celebration. Forget the cries from those few who believe every golf hole is sacred. Set aside any bitter feelings about the zoo location debate. Hell, let’s not even worry—for now—about what BREC intends to do with an unaccredited zoo we really don’t need.
Instead, join me in giving BREC the huzzahs it deserves for daring to dream big. Not simply for making the financially prudent proposal of closing a woefully underperforming golf course, but for also giving the public a host of inspiring replacement options. While the “EBR’s Heart” plan is my personal favorite, there are options in every concept that are fantastic. If the reality even comes close to matching the renderings, then every resident of East Baton Rouge Parish will be able to find a reason to visit Greenwood, regardless of the zoo.
Which brings us to the heart of my objection over the number of golf courses BREC operates. Let’s be real, everything BREC does—or will do—requires tax-dollar-assistance. But the real concern has always been the highest and best public use for the land these courses occupy.
That’s why BREC was quite correct in late 2015 in making the decision to close an 18-hole Howell Park Golf Course used daily by dozens, and transforming it over the next three years into a multipurpose park filled a host of recreation options for the entire community to enjoy.
It’s a secret to exactly no one that’s there’s been a fair amount of Baton Rouge angst and controversy over the supposedly “historic” 9-hole City Park course—that, in reality, is simply underutilized green space acting as a buffer between a semi-affluent, primarily white neighborhood and a tragically impoverished, primarily black neighborhood. Yet, the real dollars-and-cents golfing bogey is happening just south of Baker.
Dumas as a golf course hasn’t made sense for years, other than the misplaced demand that every quadrant of the parish have one of everything. (How’s that working out for higher education in Louisiana?) But it became particularly nonsensical after the opening of nearby Beaver Creek. The past six years has seen the number of rounds plummet—to just 12,134 in 2018—and the average annual operating deficit grow to nearly $500,000.
More broadly, even after the shuttering of Howell Park, BREC currently operates four 18-hole courses and two 9-hole tracts. Keep that tally in mind as we do a little math. The industry baseline standard for an 18-hole layout is 30,000 rounds per year, and the all-in BREC average the past two years is roughly 112,000 rounds. Divide 30,000 into 112,000 and you find BREC needs 3.7 courses. Round that out and the numbers say it takes three 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course—at the lowest level of acceptable efficiency—to satisfy customer demand. Run all that through the Rube Goldberg calculator machine and we learn BREC presently has 27 holes too many in its clubhouse.
Having the onions to propose closing Dumas addresses 18 of those “too many” holes, reducing BREC’s oversupply to just nine. Given where that conversation might lead, let’s take a rain check on that one.
Especially on a day—as miraculous and remarkable as that April 14 early afternoon at Augusta National—when BREC jars an Amen Corner eagle on the course of greater good.