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Mulligan, please? Golf course still relies on city funds

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An Edinburgh golf course run by the town didn’t earn enough to cover all of its costs again last year and will be supported with tax dollars until it does.

Timbergate Golf Course earned about $920,000 in 2013, which wasn’t enough to pay all $1.35 million in expenses. The course raised enough to pay operating costs, such as salaries, equipment and maintenance, but not enough to pay all of a $460,000 payment for the loan that built the course in the 1990s.

A rainy spring and early winter led to fewer people golfing and less revenue in 2013, compared to 2012, but the course is making progress toward becoming self-sufficient, Edinburgh Town Council President Ron Hoffman said.

For the second year in a row, Timbergate made enough to pay for operating expenses, just not enough to cover the entire debt payment, course manager Wayne Gibbs said.

The town must continue paying off the $5.8 million loan until January 2022.

Since the course has not been making enough from greens fees and sales at the bar, the town has been spending tax dollars each year to help keep it open.

For several years, Edinburgh has been working to decrease the amount of tax dollars being used for the course, while the course works to bring in more revenue, Gibbs said.

The golf course was about $220,000 short of covering all expenses in 2012, but good weather throughout the year gave golfers more opportunities to use the course. For example, 400 rounds of golf were played in January and February that year, Gibbs said.

New memberships rose from about 20 to more than 80, and the town invested in renovating the course’s bar and banquet rooms.

The increases in membership and use of other facilities leveled off in 2013, with the course keeping about 90 members and making about the same amount of money from the bar, Gibbs said.

But more people are using the course, as golfers shot about 23,000 rounds of golf compared with the 2013 statewide average for golf courses of 18,500 rounds, Gibbs said.

Edinburgh ousted a private group that was managing the course in 2011, when it was losing $500,000 or more each year, and put town employees in charge.

In the two years since Edinburgh took over, the golf course has made enough money each year to pay for all operating costs and a little extra to go toward the loan payments.

Timbergate had a bigger loss in 2013 than 2012, Gibbs said, but the town has been working on renovation projects that will make the course more attractive to golfers in the future.

The projects, including repaving the parking lot, renovating restrooms, replacing bunker sand, improving landscaping around the clubhouse and purchasing a new picker cart for the driving range, cost about $65,000 last year.

Those improvements will make the course look better, which will attract more golfers, Gibbs said. The town also paid more for health insurance and retirement benefits, since all full-time employees are government workers and eligible for benefits.

“Nothing had been done realistically, maintenance wise, to upkeep the course since it was built. So there are those expenditures that we’ve got to incur that’s going to affect the bottom line until we get everywhere back where it should be,” Hoffman said. “The main goal is to have a golf course that is well-maintained, attractive to people and therefore draws people.

“We’re getting closer, we’re not quite there yet.”

Fewer large maintenance projects will be done in the next few years, and more golfers will be playing, which should increase profits.

Ideally the course will make enough to cover operating costs and the bond payment within the next few years, Hoffman said.

“We know for a fact that it will eventually show a profit, especially when the bonds are paid off. We hope every year we can continue to lower the crutch of budget money, as long as we’re increasing revenue and lowering the tax burden, that is our goal,” Hoffman said.

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