A county-owned golf course located across from Camp Atterbury is closing due to declining annual revenue.
Whispering Pines Golf Course opened in 2003 and will close at the end of the day Oct. 31, said Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department superintendent Megan Bowman.
In 2014, Whispering Pines made a revenue of $86,485. That number dropped to just under $80,000 the following year and to $67,777 in 2016.
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The average annual cost of operating the nine-hole course is $107,199. Even in its best year (2014), the course lost more than $20,700, Bowman said.
From 2015 to 2016, the number of rounds of golf played at Whispering Pines by non-members decreased from 4,494 to 3,296.
“It’s not a great thing to lose a service to the community, but when something is losing money like it is, we have other needs and other things we could spend money that we’re not losing money on,” Bowman said. “A lot of the repairs and upkeep of the park.
“I mean, we have 622 acres here, and that includes Whispering Pines and Hoosier Horse Park. That’s a lot of ground. A lot of buildings and facilities.”
The course is on land owned by the Johnson County Commissioners and the Soil and Water Conservation District. It is operated by the county parks and recreation department, which is in the process of determining how to use the land in the future.
Bowman said some ideas have been presented, though no decision has been made.
Whispering Pines is a public golf course and driving range open to players of all ages and skill levels. The course will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until closing for good.
Current course fees range from $10 (9 holes walking) to $20 (18 holes with cart). Playing nine additional holes costs $5, and annual cost of unlimited use of the Whispering Pines driving range is $100.
The parks and recreation department had attempted to market the course through print media, radio and social media, but could not draw enough customers to make enough money to justify keeping it open.
The closing of Whispering Pines adds to the number of courses closing throughout the United States, a trend that began in the early 2000s.
“The golf course industry is not doing well,” Bowman said. “We have continued to lose money year after year, even with our dedicated staff working as hard as they can to make the place look better than it ever has.
“When looking at our current needs, and trying our best to fund them, it only makes sense to look at the amenity that is losing money. We have to do the right thing and be responsible with taxpayers’ money. Continuing to take a loss every year on one amenity that serves a small group of people is not being responsible.”
The county parks department also owns and operates Independence Park in the Center Grove area.
Whispering Pines, which offered discounted rounds of golf to military members and seniors, had to adjust rates in an attempt to better offset expenses.
Last year it implemented $2 increase.
“Because the course has been losing money for a while, we thought we needed to increase prices just a little. When we did that we realized a lot of the same rates were very similar to each other,” Bowman said. “We decided, ‘What if we just give everyone the discount?’
“Some people felt we got rid of a military discount, which was not the case because we work with military all the time doing fundraisers and special events for them at no cost.”