Madison’s Parks Board unanimously approved a resolution Monday that will create a separate panel to oversee management of Sunrise Golf Course and handle policies and directives for that municipal park for the foreseeable future.
The resolution, recommended by Mayor Bob Courtney, will allow the Parks Board members to focus on the city’s remaining two dozen or so parks while establishing a separate Golf Board dedicated to making the course better managed, more profitable and more responsive to the needs of its patrons. Courtney said with a new golf pro taking over the course later this month for the first time in decades, the timing was right implement the change and develop more oversight on the way the facility does business and serves city taxpayers.
Sunrise, an 18-hole municipal course designed by Gilbert England and opened in 1963, has lost money — and been subsidized by taxpayers through the parks budget — for years including a $370,000 deficit in 2020 despite seeing 26,000 rounds of golf played at the course. The city has been looking at ways to cut expenses and increase revenue in an effort to make the course break even or show a profit and leave more tax dollars on the table to better fund Madison’s other parks.
Courtney proposed establishing a two- to four- person board, appointed by him, with at least one member of the Parks Board serving as a voting member and liaison to Parks Board. He said while newly hired PGA Professional Roger D. Gallatin will manage the day-to-day operations of Sunrise Golf Course, the pro shop and grill starting on June 20, the Golf Board will assist by setting policies and recommending directives on everything from course and program development, to marketing and maintenance and other aspects of operation.
“This is something that is done in other communities across the state ... it keeps the golf course inside the parks system but delegates management,” Courtney said, adding the Golf Board can focus on that facility while the Parks Board can then tackle issues related to other parks in the system ranging from Crystal Beach Pool, to Rucker Sports Complex, the Madison Campground and the various neighborhood parks throughout Madison.
Gallatin will continue to report directly to Madison Parks Director Matt Woolard but in terms of setting policy and making decisions affecting the course and its patrons, the Golf Board will be there to offer input.
“We want both male and female members and people who are actively engaged in golf or who bring something to the board,” Courtney said of his vision for Golf Board membership.
While the board will be created during his administration — and all appointments are his to make — future mayors will be able to name their own board members but the board itself cannot be dissolved without Parks Board approval. Also, under terms of the proposal, the Parks Board would still control the golf course budget and big decisions like the fee structure.
“Everything you now approve, you will continue to approve,” Courtney said.
He said the idea came during his administration’s comprehensive study of the parks system and Sunrise over the past several months found that management of the golf course is a complex issue on its own. By establishing a board dedicated to just the golf course, he could free up more of the Parks Board’s time to work on a long overdue major update to the city’s overall Master Plan for Parks, management of other parks facilities like Rucker Sports Complex and developing a capital improvement plan for the entire parks system that will likely require a bond issue for financing.
Courtney said he intends to act fast on naming the Golf Board members so that they are in place by the time Gallatin takes over. However, he noted that Gallatin comes well prepared to execute the changes Sunrise needs to balance its costs and revenues and put the course on track to not only eliminate the deficit but make a profit and generate the revenue needed to provide long overdue upgrades to the facility.
After expenses were trimmed and fees were increased earlier this year, the course is on track to turn last year’s deficit into a small profit this year. Gallatin’s marketing skills and upgrades to the Sunrise Grill, the pro shop, a three way liquor license and recruitment of additional corporate sponsors could drive profits even higher.
The course is in the process of developing a marketing plan to establish a higher profile online and increase the reach of the course outside the local area to bring in more paying customers.
The city already established an online reservation system that is allowing play to be tracked in more ways and more timely than ever before. Data is showing that season pass holders are still getting their money’s worth despite paying higher rates in 2021.
Through the first five months of the season, pass holders are averaging 19 rounds played and are two rounds away from breaking even with what daily play fees would have cost for the same number of rounds.
“Our season pass holders are already at break even,” Courtney noted. “They will be playing the rest of the season for free so our season pass golfers are still getting good value for their money.”