Mongolia and Gainesville aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence, but they may soon have something in common:
More specifically, the number of them:
That’s no big deal if you’re as into golf as Genghis Khan was back in the day. It’s a bit more disturbing to local citizens in 2023.
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“One thing Gainesville does not suffer from is a lack of golfers.” City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said.
She made that observation at a Finance Committee meeting. The business at hand was discussing ways for the city to save money.
Among the proposals is to close Ironwood Golf Course. On behalf of the golfing community, allow me to get down on my knees and offer a couple of words.
Gainesville is already withering on the golf vine. We’ve seen Meadowbrook Golf Club, West End Golf Club and Gainesville Country Club shut down in the past three years.
That’s left us with not just four courses in Gainesville. That’s the total in the entire county.
The Final Four are Ironwood, Turkey Creek Golf Course, Mark Bostick Golf Course and Hawkstone Country Club. You must be a member or guest to play the last two.
How we got to this sad state is a long tale of market forces, mismanagement and bad demographics. Gainesville has a lot of college kids. Some like to play golf, but few are looking to join golf clubs.
Gainesville lacking golfers who tend to migrate further south
Relatively speaking, Gainesville doesn’t have a ton of golf-crazed retirees or snowbirds. That golfing population starts from Ocala south.
Marion County has 30 golf courses. According to county figures, that’s one course for every 11,459 residents.
If Ironwood shuts down, Alachua County will have one course for every 95,936 residents. To which city commissioners are probably thinking, “That’s unfortunate, but have you seen what we’re dealing with?”
The state legislature is all over the city to get its financial house in order. Perhaps you’ve read about GRU and a $1.7 billion debt.
Commissioners are on a budget-cutting jihad. Nothing is off the table, and a city-owned golf course can be a big financial draw.
In the first six months of the fiscal year (Oct. 1-March 31), Ironwood had $640,648 in revenue but $713,101 in expenses, according to a report given at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting. That’s a deficit of $72,453.
But according to point-of-sales figures at the club, revenue was $760,784 for that period. That means the course actually turned a $47,683 profit.
The discrepancy is one of the reasons the commission will have hearings and workshops on the proposed cuts. Decision Day will be in a few months.
“The commission will approve a new budget later this summer,” City Manager Cynthia Curry said, “so there will not be immediate changes beyond our current hiring and budget freezes.”
The actuarial sheets will show more than 40,000 rounds are played annually at Ironwood. Commissioners will crunch numbers on golf carts, range balls, course maintenance and rental income.
Ironwood’s value is a no-frills course to play a round, eat lunch
But the dry numbers can’t quantify Ironwood’s intangible value. It’s a classic municipal golf course. Nothing fancy. Just a place for regular people to play, grab a sandwich and a beer with friends, rehash the round and plan to do it all over again next week.
Beyond that, Ironwood hosts dozens of tournaments a year for local organizations. It’s the home for Special Olympians to play free golf.
It’s where local high-school teams practice and compete. It’s a sporting hub in the eastside of Gainesville, an area that has long gotten the shaft when it comes to such things.
City Commissioner Ed Book brought up the distinction between a “recreational facility” and a “revenue generator.” Public parks, pools and trails aren’t built to make money. They are built to enhance an area’s quality of life.
Good old Ironwood’s been doing that for a long time. If you want it to stay that way, it’s time to speak up. Let commissioners know how you feel.
You could start as soon as Thursday, since there’s a commission workshop at 1 pm Other opportunities will arise between now and D Day.
Nobody’s saying Gainesville should be a golf mecca. But it shouldn’t be a golf Mongolia.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun’s sports columnist. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Budget cuts for Ironwood Golf Club might doom golf in Gainesville