Rochester seeks to improve subsidized golf courses, increase revenue

Golf rounds peaked in 2015 at 91,649 rounds with a subsidized cost of $1.61 per round, but dropped to 79,539 rounds in 2019 at a taxpayer cost of $3.67 per round.

Rochester Council

The Rochester City Council is discussing the future of its four public golf courses that have lost money for the past five years.

Golf rounds peaked in 2015 at 91,649 rounds with a subsidized cost of $1.61 per round, but dropped to 79,539 rounds in 2019 at a taxpayer cost of $3.67 per round.

Annual golf rounds played in 2019 are about level with 2012, but the taxpayer cost has jumped from $55,577 to $291,867.

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said that the city had reduced staff to cut costs but gains were leveled by increased employee benefits.

Widman also pointed to recent, expensive maintenance repairs and unfunded projects as future challenges, including Northern Hills road renovations and drainage issues.

Another option for raising revenue is offering other community recreation needs or destination dining – for example, Soldiers Field rents outs facilities to the cross-country ski team.

“If you were going to put the money into renovating, picking one of the courses that would maybe make the most sense, do it right and try to make that enough of a revenue stream in itself,” City Council President Randy Staver said.

City Council member Shaun Palmer, representing the fifth ward, told The Center Square that they’re looking at options to reduce the subsidy, but don’t plan to sell the golf courses.

“Everybody on the city council is in agreement that golf doesn’t have to make a profit,” Palmer said. “Parks add something to the community.”

Palmer said they might outsource the management of the course and concessions, the latter which brought in $8,200 in 2019 across the courses.

Weather also cuts down golfing days, Palmer said.

“When we have great weather, everyone wants to be out,” Palmer said. “The malls parking lot is huge because of Christmas. It’s the same thing with golf courses.”

Palmer said the amount of people playing golf has declined. Willow Creek, a for-profit golf course in Rochester, recently closed.

Other cities facing similar challenges have outsourced management to private companies or have sold the courses.

Palmer said Soldier’s Field has existed for 91 years and is a historic landmark.

“If you knock on doors and talk to people, the park department touches everybody’s lives,” Palmer said, adding that when people look at a community, they look at schools, the police department, and then parks.

Rebuilding the parking lot of Soldier’s Field cost almost $600,000 this year, Palmer said, which, if maintained, would have saved a large amount of money.

Palmer said economic downturn without increasing property taxes leaves the city with hard decisions regarding improvements.

Moving forward, Palmer said the city council will seek community input regarding the courses.

“We really do want public engagement,” Palmer said. “And if the public doesn’t show up, then your voices aren’t heard.”

Scott McClallen

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on and Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.