How do you justify subsidizing a county-operated golf course?

St Johns County Assistant Director of County Parks and Recreation, Billy Zeits, has his opinion that justifies not only the continued subsidy of annual operating losses at the St. Johns Golf Club, but also additional capital investment of $3 million – or more – to reconstruct 18 holes at the 30-year-old course.

But many voters are saying that will be throwing more good money after bad.  Zeits department reports that the county-owned and operated golf course sees about 50,000 rounds of play per year.  Although that hasn’t translated into operating profits, Zeits defends the activity; calling it one of the “best multi-generational forms of recreation” available in St Johns County.

“When we had 3 local golf course management companies look at the financials in 2013.  Each said that with 50,000 rounds of golf, the course should be profiting about $500k — but this has not been the case,” St Augustine mayoral candidate Bill McClure told Historic City News this week.  One year later, in 2014, McClure, who was serving on the St Johns County commission, recalled that he was on the losing side of a 4-to-1 decision to pay off more than $2 million dollars of debt; so that, hopefully, the course would turn profitable — but that never happened.

At its Tuesday morning meeting, the county commission will be presented with $135,000 worth of new and updated construction documents provided by its latest golf course consultant, Larsen Golf.  Commissioners will be asked to consider whether to move forward with redevelopment upgrades or not.  During the meeting, after the presentation, commissioners could vote to move forward to the next step in redevelopment of the existing 18-holes, distributing a Request for Proposal.  They could also amend the suggested plan or throw it out and start over.  Some say commissioners should have the chance to look at plans from a community planner and not just a golf course architect.

At issue with many county taxpayers is resentment from being forced to pay for the operating losses of the golf course each year.  This is especially common from those who do not play golf and see the course merely as an amenity for the Cypress Lakes community off SR-207.  They say the county should sell the course to a private developer, an option McClure says has been considered before.

In 2011, the then 27-hole course was scaled back to 18-holes as the number of rounds of play declined.  The 9-holes, about 80 acres of vacated real estate, was retained by the county and could be sold along with the clubhouse and parking facility to a private developer.  An additional 200 or so homes could be added to the 500-plus homes that now exist.

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