Municipal golf courses around Long Island failed to meet revenue projections last year -- in some cases by hundreds of thousands of dollars -- amid years of waning popularity for the sport and a record wet winter and spring.
Shortfalls ranged from $8,000 at Hempstead Town's Merrick Road Park to $650,000 at North Hempstead's Harbor Links course in Port Washington, officials estimated. A few municipal courses exceeded budget projections, including Southampton and Brookhaven's two town-owned golf facilities.
Officials in towns with struggling courses have stepped up marketing efforts to attract nontraditional patrons, delayed hiring, refinanced debt or launched an internal audit of the golf facility.
Municipal courses are public benefits, offering golf and country-club amenities without the private country-club prices. Officials also consider them to be potential revenue boosters for towns facing declining sales and mortgage tax revenue while working under the state tax cap. Harbor Links, despite its failure to meet budget projections, remains one of the highest revenue generators for the town.
Jay Mottola, executive director of the upstate-based Metropolitan Golf Association, said golf courses can also significantly boost home values around them.
"I don't see municipalities pulling away from their golf operations," Mottola said, noting that while rounds played started declining in 2008, the trend has stabilized.
Harbor Links, marketed as a Gold Coast gem with green hills for links-style play and a large clubhouse that also hosts weddings, missed 2014 budget revenue projections by the largest amount of town and city courses. The town is auditing the facility's operations. The $7.3 million expected from the facility in 2014 was to be the second-largest source of revenue for the $66 million general fund, of which $41.4 million comes from revenue.
About 2,500 fewer rounds of golf were played at Harbor Links' 18-hole Championship course last year than in 2013. The 9-hole Executive course had 1,300 fewer rounds year over year.
Huntington's two golf facilities -- Crab Meadow and Dix Hills Park golf courses -- last year generated $352,000 less than projected, the town reported. The two courses had 4,000 fewer rounds played last year compared with 2013.
Islip Town fell short at its three public courses by nearly $180,000. The City of Glen Cove's course failed to meet projections by $121,000, officials estimated.
Hempstead Town owns and operates the Merrick Road Park Golf Course. The town also owns the Lido Golf Club, which is privately managed through a contractual agreement. Merrick Road fell $8,076 short of revenue projections last year. The Town of Oyster Bay missed its $1.3 million projection by $12,000, according to figures provided by the town.
Expenses up, revenue down
The past year's weather contributed to the decline in players and, thus, the decline in revenue, officials said. The National Weather Service called 2014 the fifth-wettest year for Long Island since the agency started measuring rainfall at Long Island MacArthur Airport in 1984. Last year, 57.35 inches of rain fell at the airport, up from the 46.24-inch average.
North Hempstead's budget, which passed in 2013, projected $7.3 million in revenue for Harbor Links for 2014. When revenue fell $650,000 short, the town reduced its 2015 revenue projections to $6.8 million from $7.3 million.
That budgeted amount was still too optimistic, officials said.
"It was well over-budgeted to what the property could produce," said Bob Lippiello, the Harbor Links general manager who works for Century Golf Partners, also known as Arnold Palmer Golf Management. The Dallas company has managed the course for the town since 1998.
"Expenses have gone up drastically over the last few years," he said, citing food, workers' compensation and health insurance costs.
Changing fiscal plans
Municipalities are making adjustments to cover the unmet revenue projections.
The North Hempstead Town Board last month raised fees for weekend play earlier in the day, increasing the fee to play before 8 a.m. to $100 from $90. Huntington and Islip have increased marketing efforts to attract more players. Huntington's Crab Meadow and Dix Hills courses recorded 65,000 rounds of golf in 2014 -- 4,000 fewer than in 2013.
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who took office two months after the 2014 budget passed by the previous administration, said an audit of Harbor Links and other town operations will give her "a better sense of the facilities in the town."
Islip will evaluate this year's revenue and the possibility of private management of the town courses, Parks Commissioner Kerry Bassett said. The town owns and operates its courses, but has contracts with companies to provide the golf pros.
And the town has started reaching out to parents of young golfers through the local school districts.
"The public perception of a golf patron is a well-to-do retired person," Bassett said. "Golf is a sport that everyone plays: men and women; young and old; blue collar; white collar."
On the East End, Southampton's Poxabogue Golf Center exceeded its budget revenue projection by about $6,000. The Town of Shelter Island receives $1 from a nonprofit for the town-owned 9-hole course at Shelter Island Country Club. East Hampton, Riverhead, and Southold do not own or operate courses.
Brookhaven exceeded its 2014 golf course budget by $3,000, receiving $223,000 in revenue from the facilities.
Medford-based Fairway Golf manages Brookhaven's two courses, Mill Pond and Rolling Oaks, under a lease agreement that guarantees the town a set fee of $175,000 annually in addition to a percentage of total revenue. Brookhaven Parks Commissioner Eddie Morris said the lease arrangement makes it "easier for us to project the revenue."
North Hempstead instead manages the revenue and expenses for Harbor Links and pays a $200,000 annual management fee to Century Golf, along with incentives for exceeding projections.
North Hempstead Deputy Supervisor Aline Khatchadourian called last year's revenue shortfall "significant," but "not enough to put the brakes on the operations of the town."
New marketing strategies
In Huntington, revenue at the two courses for food and beverage sales, and greens fees, fell short in 2014 but revenue for the driving range and golf cart rentals were higher than projected. In January, Integrity Golf Co. of Winter Garden, Florida, agreed to run Huntington's courses under a lease agreement and has made improvements, such as recarpeting the clubhouse and installing fixtures in an effort to modernize the club. The previous company operated under a management contract.
Gene Garrote, Integrity Golf's chief executive and president, said he saw promise in the facilities despite the revenue issues. He described plans for a "grassroots" marketing approach that targets businesses and younger residents as well as those new to golf.
"We're in it for the long haul," Garrote said.
Golf and golf courses "always will be a staple -- an activity and a place for people to socialize," he said.