There is agreement among Kerrville city leaders that having the Scott Schreiner Golf Course is an important community asset, but no one seems to know how to make it pay for itself.
Or should it even matter?
For the last five years, the 18-hole course in north Kerrville has lost money — a lot of money — for the city of Kerrville. Not only is it losing money but participation — measured by green fees — is down 16% since 2014.
“I think it’s an important tourism tool for Kerrville,” said Kerrville City Councilmember Delayne Sigerman, who represents Place 4. “It’s an integral part of what makes this town attractive to people who want to come here ... We have people who come here every winter and play that course. They’re only here for maybe four or five months, but that’s all they do is play golf.”
Since 2014, the golf course has lost at least $497,000 and the only time the course has made money in the last five years was when the city pumped $280,000 from the general fund to keep it afloat. In reality, the course was on track to lose about $200,000 — less than 2017, but still a significant drop.
The annual expense of operating the course hasn’t changed much since 2014 — averaging $1.04 million per year to operate. Over the last five years, the course has seen year-over-year declines in green fee revenue — the cost to play a round, excluding cart rental. The course makes money in other ways, including rentals and events.
Despite these losses, city leaders interviewed by The Daily Times are committed to moving forward with operating a course, which was redesigned in 1999 at a cost of $275,000. The city is also bound to a deed agreement for the property that only allows for use as a golf course.
“It’s a huge service to the public,” said Kim Clarkson, who represents Place 2 on the City Council. “It’s certainly a quality-of-life asset to be able to enjoy.”
City leaders, including golf course superintendent Scott McDonough, see the course as an important part of the city’s recreational opportunities, which are not necessarily designed to make money.
“(The course) provides a tremendous asset to the community and helps to intangibly contribute to the property values and quality of life of the whole community, which is difficult to factor into a balance sheet,” McDonough wrote in an email. “(The course) has cut expenses to help offset historically low green fees, providing this recreational opportunity to citizens that may not be able to afford to play golf at other more expensive courses in the region. (The course) has historically provided some of the lowest published green fees in the area.”
Compared to Fredericksburg’s publicly-owned Lady Bird Golf Course, Kerrville’s course is $18 per round cheaper on weekdays. Comfort’s Buckhorn Golf Course, however, is comparable to Kerrville’s course with a $38 weekday fee, which includes a cart. Kerrville charges separately for carts.
“We could continue to increase dues but I think it would be detrimental to the activity,” Sigerman said. “There would be some seniors or some veterans who it wouldn’t fit in their budget. It’s the only public course we have.”
Place 1 council member Gary Cochrane, who, like Sigerman, is an avid golfer, said that he thinks fee increases, along with the other changes, could help fix the problem.
“We’d much rather have it making money and I think we’re moving in that direction,” Cochrane said.
Fee changes in the past have not remedied the revenue problem. Green fees for non-members for 18 holes were $20 per person on weekdays and $26 per person on weekends five years ago, but 2014 still saw a loss of $9,218, with almost every year after that an increasingly bigger loss — 2015 saw a loss of 79,569; 2016 saw a loss of $182,653; 2017 saw a loss of $225,852; and 2018 saw a loss of about $191,340.
Over the last few years national participation in golf has declined, but in 2018 there was an uptick with 24.2 million people playing a round that year — up from 23.8 million in 2017. The one area of growth, according to the National Golf Foundation, was in off-course ventures like San Antonio’s driving range Top Golf.
However, Kerrville leaders are also quick to blame the weather for the ups and downs of the course’s financial woes.
“Wet weather has played a major factor in golf course operations over the past fiscal year. Kerrville experienced extremely wet October and March months during the past fiscal year, which adversely affected course rounds,’’ McDonough said. “However, the overall trend in golf play has been down nationally over the last decade. Like the national trend, Scott Schreiner Municipal Golf Course’s (SSMGC) older membership is not being replaced with as many younger players, which has been a result of increased competition from “Top Golf” type facilities, the popularity of other recreational activities, and private golfs clubs that offer family memberships and increase competition for rounds.
Cochrane said that he also thinks the course is worth keeping around and that it’s not about the money.
“It’s an amenity in the city of Kerrville,” Cochrane said. “It’s like a city park. ... but it costs more to maintain a golf course.”