Fall creek falls course remains a money pit

Fall creek falls course remains a money pit

February 24th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

STATE'S GOVERNMENT-OWNED GOLF COURSE LOSSES SINCE '08

Fiscal Year / Fall Creek Falls / State-Owned Courses

2008 / -$209,238 / -$1,771,850

2009 / -$252,346 / -$1,794,594

2010 / -$252,005 / -$1,702,986

2011 / -$256,089 / -$1,302,500

2012 / -$275,760 / -$987,023

Total: -$1,245,438 / -$7,558,953

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation

We've all heard of welfare for the unemployed and welfare to serve low-income children. But have you ever heard of welfare for golfers? It's a serious problem in Tennessee, where government officials routinely spend more than a million dollars a year bailing out failing state-owned golf courses.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee State Building Commission announced plans to spend $2.25 million on improvements to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Pikeville. A big chunk of that cash is slated to go towards installing an expensive new irrigation system for the park's insolvent government-owned golf course.

The golf course at Fall Creek Falls lost $275,760 last year and $256,089 the year before that -- and $252,005 the year before that. In fact the Fall Creek Falls golf course never turns a profit. Ever.

Since 2005, state taxpayers have spent more than $1.7 million to bail out the broke boondoggle of a golf course.

In fact, no state-owned course lost more money than Fall Creek Falls last year -- and that's saying something, since eight of the state's nine courses wound up in the hole.

No matter what the state does to improve the course, or how many of our tax dollars state leaders spend on irrigation systems or maintenance equipment or making sure the latest, greatest clubs are on sale at the pro shop, the golf course at Fall Creek Falls will always need a taxpayer subsidy to survive.

That's because the course is in Pikeville ... population 1,608.

There just aren't enough people in Pikeville -- or anywhere near Pikeville -- to bring in the number of golfers necessary to shell out the three-quarters of a million dollars needed to cover the course's annual operating expenses.

The only state-owned golf course that managed to break even last fiscal year was the course at Harrison Bay. And that's because Harrison Bay is in Hamilton County, where people actually live.

Tennessee golf-course welfare is nothing new. The state Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees Tennessee' state parks, lost nearly $7.6 million on golf courses in the past five years alone.

Golf course welfare was at its worse in 2009 when then-Gov. Phil Bredesen allowed nearly $1.8 million of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars to allow vacationing golfers to play at the failing, far-flung state courses.

Under Gov. Bill Haslam, and with Republicans in control of the legislature, the state has wasted fewer tax dollars on golf. In 2011, the state closed two courses -- Old Stone Fort in Manchester and T.O. Fuller in Memphis -- saving taxpayers about $350,000 a year.

As a result of these, and other, cost savings measures, the state has trimmed handouts to the state park's golf courses by 42 percent since Haslam became governor. Tennessee taxpayers now spend less than a million dollars a year getting state-owned greens out of the red.

Even that noteworthy improvement is not good enough.

Tennessee's struggling taxpayers shouldn't have to spend a dime bankrolling golf courses and, ultimately, subsiding a portion of the cost of a round of golf for folks with the time and money to play at a state park.

The Tennessee state government should get out of the golf business once and for all.

Such a step doesn't mean that state park golf courses will necessarily close. In fact, the state could offer golfers a better experience by transferring the management of the courses to private operators or selling them to companies with a history of success owning courses.

Doing so would improve many state-owned courses, while stopping the insane practice of forcing Tennessee's taxpayers to pay for golf course welfare.