By Ken MacLeod
A request for $9 million to replace the clubhouse at Page Belcher Golf Course in west Tulsa and improve the clubhouse at Mohawk Park was trimmed from the City of Tulsa’s Vision 2025 renewal package last week as the city made final cuts of $159 million in preparation for an April vote.
The money for the clubhouses had survived several rounds of cuts but did not make it into the final proposal. City councilor Jeannie Cue, whose district includes Page Belcher, said she would fight for the proposal to remain near the top of the contingency list should any of the final proposals fall apart.
Besides ameliorating the deteriorating condition of the current clubhouse at Page Belcher, which services the 18-hole Olde Page and the 18-hole Stone Creek golf courses, the impetus for the proposal was to build a facility capable of holding tournaments, banquets and events that would allow the city golf courses to be a revenue generator instead of needing an annual subsidy from the city.
Tom Wolff, general manager of both courses, said Page Belcher could easily accommodate 30 or more additional larger tournaments than the 60 to 70 it held in 2015 if it had the room and food service capabilities which the current clubhouse and grill lacks.
"We turn away business for two reasons," Wolff said. "One, we get two golf events that want the same date and we can only accommodate one. The other is we just don’t have space to help the larger events that want to hold their events there."
Billy Casper Golf, which runs the city-owned facilities on a long-term contract with the city, was subsidized for roughly $125,000 in 2015, Wolff said. That number is after the city courses paid all city utilities, including more than $162,000 for water and sewage alone.
Wolff said he believes if $7 million were spent on a new clubhouse at Page Belcher, it would pay for itself in 15 years while also ending the city’s subsidy of golf.
"With the same number of rounds we could increase our annual revenue from around $2.6 million to around $3.7 million," Wolff said. Cue said that other ongoing quality of life entities that the city awarded large sums to, including Gilcrease Museum and the Tulsa Zoo, had strong advocacy groups while she, Wolff and Parks and Recreation Director Lucy Dolman were the only ones pushing for the golf improvements at most of the meetings. Dolman has many other needed improvements throughout the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Department to advocate for as well.
"We need to get a Friends of Golf group going for the next round so the city will realize how important golf is to the community," Cue said.
"This hurts because it prohibits us from generating the type of revenue we need to eliminate the modest reliance we have on the subsidy from the general fund," Wolff said.
There is a small faction among city leaders that doesn’t believe the city should be owning and operating golf courses in the first place. Of course, that same question could be asked about museums, soccer complexes, BMX bike tracks, zoos and other facilities the city either owns or supports with funding.
For tournaments, Wolff is competing against either Tulsa County-owned facilities such as LaFortune Park or those owned by surrounding municipalities such as Battle Creek in Broken Arrow, Bailey Ranch in Owasso or privately owned public courses such as Forest Ridge in Broken Arrow or White Hawk in Bixby, as well as private facilities.
All of the above mentioned courses have banquet rooms and/or pavilions designed to facilitate hosting tournaments and events.
The city courses generated 101,764 rounds in calendar year 2015, with more than 60,000 of those coming at the two Page Belcher courses.