The city of Tulsa has contracted with a private firm to appraise the two courses at Page Belcher Golf Course, 6666 S. Union Ave., but has no intent to sell the properties for commercial development, Parks Director Anna America said Monday.
“My hope would be that somebody would come to us and say, ‘Why, we would love to run a public golf course here, and we’re going to take great care of it, and everyone is going to love it,” America said. “And they would pay the appraised value, and we could take that money and put it somewhere else.”
America said that since becoming parks director last year, she has heard all kinds of suggestions and rumors and direct inquiries about the golf course properties but that the city has no interest in developing the land for commercial purposes.
“But in order to ever have those discussions with people, you’ve got to get the appraisal to know where you’re starting,” she said.
America acknowledged, however, that one proposal presented to the city called for developing the section of the Page Belcher course south of 71st Street to help fund improvements to the golf course property north of 71st Street.
Such development, which she stressed is nothing more than a vague concept at this point, would be “very, very, very tightly scrutinized,” by the mayor, the Park Board and the City Council before it could become a reality.
“I don’t see anybody saying, ‘We’ll just sell you the property and do whatever you want,’ ” America said. “I don’t think that’s something that is going to be on anybody’s agenda ever.”
The city has four 18-hole courses — Olde Page and Stone Creek at Page Belcher and two at Mohawk Park Golf Course, 5223 E. 41st St. North.
The Page Belcher golf course property north of 71st Street comprises all 18 holes of Olde Page and holes 1-10 and 18 of Stone Creek; the property south of 71st Street comprises holes 11 through 17 of Stone Creek.
The future of the city’s four golf courses became a subject of public discussion earlier this summer when golf advocates questioned why the city had not included specific funding for the facilities in its latest capital improvements package.
The proposed $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal calls for spending $30 million on parks but makes no specific allocation for the golf courses. Mayor G.T. Bynum initially explained the omission by saying the golf courses had not made the cut.
“Are we going to have kids using unsafe playground equipment or fire trucks that are breaking down so that we can fix up golf courses?” Bynum said to the Tulsa World. “It isn’t as high a priority as those things, and that is why it is not in the program.”
He later said golf advocates had misunderstood the Improve Our Tulsa proposal and that the golf courses could receive some of the funding allocated for parks.
“I think because the golf course folks didn’t see it as a line item, they thought the golf courses were totally excluded, and that is not the case,” Bynum said.
The city’s golf courses have been operated and managed by Billy Casper Golf since 2008. In fiscal year 2017, the golf courses lost approximately $170,000 on revenues of $2.8 million. In 2018, the golf courses lost approximately $252,000 on revenues of nearly $2.6 million.
In the city’s current fiscal year budget — which is separate from the proposed Improve Our Tulsa renewal package — the city is providing the golf courses $167,000 in operational and short-term capital funding.
The city recently increased this fiscal year’s funding for the golf courses, America said, adding $252,000 for four mowers.
With the additional funding, the city has now put twice as much into the courses’ operations budget as it did last fiscal year, America said.
Golf enthusiasts argue that the city has failed to maintain the courses at the same level it does its other public investments, leading inevitably to worse conditions and fewer golfers. City officials say they have done the best they can under the constraints of the city’s budget and note that the Tulsa area has an abundance of public golf courses that likely contributes to the decline in rounds played at the city’s courses.
America joined City Councilor Jeannie Cue last month at a public meeting at which they encouraged golf enthusiasts to consider creating a private golfing committee to help advocate for and raise money on behalf of the city’s golf courses.
America said Monday that the proposal is still a good one, noting that a private group advocating for the city’s golf courses would be helpful regardless of who’s operating them.
“Any time you’ve got members of the public who are engaged and are willing to give time and energy toward helping solve a problem, man, let’s take advantage of that,” she said.
She stressed that the city’s decision to get golf course appraisals is just one part of a long-term process to evaluate the city’s options and that no decisions on the future of the courses would be made until there has been extensive public engagement.
The bottom line, she said, is to determine what the city of Tulsa wants and then “just be straightforward and say this is what it is going to take to do that and own that and come up with a plan behind that.”
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.