By Ken MacLeod
The future of Sequoyah State Park Golf Course is in question after a fiscal year in which massive flooding exacerbated a trend of declining rounds played since the recession in 2007-08.
Executive Director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department Jerry Winchester told Golf Oklahoma Tuesday that only approximately 3,500 rounds had been played at the course in the fiscal year 2018-19, meaning the state was subsidizing each round played by nearly $68 per round and by over $250,000 on an annual basis.
A decision on whether the state will close the course is expected to be made by November. Winchester said savings at Sequoyah could potentially benefit the other state park golf courses, which include courses at Beavers Bend State Park, Lake Murray State Park, Arrowhead Golf Course at Lake Eufaula State Park, Roman Nose State Park, Fort Cobb State Park and Grand Cherokee Golf Course near the Pensacola Dam.
“We’re having some hard conversations about the course,” said Winchester, a former oil and gas executive who was appointed director of Oklahoma Tourism in April. “It’s not just the annual subsidy that is the issue. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance. It needs new irrigation, new carts, new mowers. We could sink almost half of our golf budget into a course that loses $250,000 annually just to get it back in shape.”
Flooding has long been an issue at Sequoyah, formerly Western Hills GC, as several of the holes are shoreline holes on Fort Gibson Lake. The course averaged closer to 11,000 rounds annually a decade ago, but those numbers have fluctuated mostly depending on how many weeks parts of the course are closed due to flooding. A 2015 renovation of the lodge has proven extremely popular, but room nights haven’t translated into higher usage of the course.
This year the course flooded in late April and was basically a nine-hole course through the end of August.
In addition to serving guests at the lodge, the golf course gets regular visitors from the area, particularly from Wagoner which has no public course. The Wagoner high school golf team uses Sequoyah for practice. Winchester said he would be open to conversations with municipalities or individuals who would be willing to share or take over ownership and responsibility for the course.
Although all of the state park courses are subsidized to some degree, Winchester said massive cuts to the overall tourism department and state parks budget in the past five years have made it imperative to take a hard look at the weakest performers. Some little used state parks may be in line for closing while entrance fees are being considered for the most popular, Winchester said.
“Although appropriations to the tourism budget are down 25 percent, we’re one of the few state agencies that does generate revenue and we have to look for ways to enhance that,” Winchester said.
Sequoyah State Park Golf Course was designed by noted Oklahoma architect Floyd Fairley and opened in 1964. It converted to Champion ultradwarf Bermuda greens in the past five years, helping provide firmer and faster greens in the summer. Making the course less prone to flooding would require a much more substantial investment including moving holes to higher ground.