City leaders on Tuesday pitched the idea of creating a citizens’ committee to set priorities, raise money and advocate for city-owned golf courses.
The officials — who included two city councilors, the parks director and the mayor’s chief of staff — did not commit the city to providing more funding for Page Belcher and Mohawk Park golf courses.
“Golf means a lot to me and to my family, and I know it does to the city,” Councilor Jeannie Cue told more than 100 people gathered inside the Page Belcher clubhouse. “We just have to figure out the best way to work together as a team.”
Cue helped organize the meeting after golfers who attended recent Improve Our Tulsa town hall meetings questioned why the $639 million proposal does not include funding for golf courses. The Tulsa Zoo and Gilcrease Museum would receive $6 million each if the renewal package is approved by voters in November.
Cue, joined by fellow Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper and Park and Recreation Director Anna America, told the crowd that Gilcrease and the zoo each have private, nonprofit groups that advocate for them at City Hall and help raise money.
The city’s golfers, they said, should do the same, and Cue promised to help organize the effort.
“We’ve got to fight,” she said.
Cue said the committee would also help identify and prioritize the golf courses’ needs, prompting one person in the audience to point out that those needs have already been identified by Tom Wolff, who manages the city’s golf courses for Billy Casper Golf.
Wolff, like all other city department heads, provided the Mayor’s Office with a list of projects to be considered in the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package. The list is detailed and includes primarily maintenance and infrastructure projects, including adding new signage, rebuilding bunkers and cart paths, and installing a new irrigation system.
Mayor G.T. Bynum and the city councilors recommended no specific funding for the golf courses, though Bynum later said some funding for the courses could come out of the parks’ allocation of $30 million.
“The expectation we have from the client (city of Tulsa) is that we need to keep expenses paced with revenues,” Wolff said.
When the weather is bad and golfers stay home, Billy Casper Golf is expected to adjust accordingly, with no additional revenue provided by the city, Wolff said.
“Not every municipality has that,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”
This fiscal year, the city provided Billy Casper Golf $167,000 for operations and capital for the golf courses. The remainder of the golf courses’ approximately $2.8 million budget is funded through greens fees and other revenue generated by the courses.
Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis said he has worked closely with the city golf courses to operate the First Tee program, which serves more than 15,000 young people a year.
Sidorakis said he was grateful for the city’s interest in creating an advocacy group for local golfers but was less optimistic about the city providing more funding.
“The only way we’re going to improve the conditions (of the courses) is among ourselves,” he said. “We’re not going to get any help from the city. We know that.”
When America tried to interject that the city would be able to help in some way, Sidorakis interrupted her to say, “With all due respect, we’re not going to get it. Let’s be honest with ourselves.”
America acknowledged that the city has no plan in place to address the golf courses’ needs. But after the meeting, Jack Blair, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the city is well aware of what those needs are.
“From our perspective, that is well understood,” he said.
Blair said that the city has done research, including the Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index survey, to identify the priorities of the community as a whole.
The golf committee could help the golf courses by pulling together the expertise of the local golf community to “really think hard about opportunities to optimize the revenue that we can generate from the assets that we have,” Blair said.
Asked why institutions like the Gilcrease Museum and the Tulsa Zoo would receive millions of dollars in the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package and the golf courses nothing, Blair indicated that the equation is not that simple.
He noted that Gilcrease Museum is the city’s largest asset on paper, valued at more than $2 billion, and it is the city’s responsibility to maintain it.
The $6 million allocated for Gilcrease in the Improve Our Tulsa proposal would pay for improvements to the museum’s HVAC, mechanical and plumbing systems.
“There are other considerations that go into these decisions than just driving attendance and popularity,” Blair said.
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