By Dale Goter
On Aug. 1, a dark chapter in the history of Wichita public golf will occur as city officials shutter L.W. Clapp Golf Park.
The City Council, acting on staff recommendations, voted to shut down Clapp in favor of a grandiose plan for a “destination park” that has zero dollars identified to make it happen.
The City plans a “celebration” for the last week of Clapp’s existence, trying to put lipstick on a very ugly pig and make it sound like this is a good thing.
Rather than a “celebration,” critics are more likely to call it a funeral, and protesters may be on hand to call attention to this sorrowful outcome of poor management and foresight.
How did it all go so wrong? In its current state, Clapp is a very pleasant venue for the average golfer, the kind of golfer who is the primary target of any municipal golf system. Yet, the city administration was unable to solve this operation dilemma and refused to seek outside guidance.
This summer, Clapp has been operating without a PGA pro or assistant pro on site. Those two positions cost about $125,000 at each of the city’s five courses. Clapp lost money when it had those two positions in place. Without them this summer, Clapp appears to be still functioning as a golf course and serving its original purpose.
Instead, a couple of part-time workers work at the concession counter, booking tee times, taking green fees and selling hot dogs and drinks. They make less than $9 an hour, but they provide the essential services necessary to operate a golf course.
On June 13, Clapp recorded about 90 rounds of golf. The average revenue from a round of golf is about $22, according to the Golf Division. That’s about $2,000. Less than $300 was used to pay the two part-timers. But that leaves a sizable amount to pay the other expenses of course maintenance.
Why didn’t the city consider operating Clapp on this basis years ago? Instead, when the PGA pro position came open two years ago, the City went ahead and hired another one, rather than looking at low expense, low maintenance model that might easily have balanced the books.
Disturbingly, the City Council asked none of these questions, but blindly sided with the staff recommendation and endorsed the “transformation plan” that calls for the creation of three lakes, a “snow mountain” and various other unfunded amenities as a replacement for this historic and beloved golf course.
Clapp is part of the foundation of our municipal golf system, and closing it will only hasten the decline of our system. Clapp is the feeder course, the course players learn on, the practice course, the course that is walkable, the family-friendly course, the over-flow course. As many as 45 to 60 golfers play it daily. It could play a critical role in serving First Tee and the Wichita Junior Golf programs which are exploding in numbers.
Sadly, Clapp may be only the start of the ultimate demise of the Wichita Public Golf System. The Golf Division is in serious financial difficulty, and no long-term plan has been identified to change course.
Without major reorganization of the Golf Division, the bad news is likely to keep coming. The current business model for Wichita public golf is top heavy with administrative costs and woefully deficient in operational and marketing strategy.
The one great hope? City elections take place with the August primary and November general election. Candidates need to address both Clapp as a single issue and the mismanagement of the golf division as the broad dysfunctionality that threatens the future of public golf in Wichita.
Voters need to holler “FORE!!” when they enter the voting booth and pick whichever candidate has the vision to challenge the status quo and preserve public golf as a valuable quality of life ingredient for Wichita.
Dale Goter is former journalist, lobbyist for the city of Wichita and avid golfer. He can be reached at email@example.com.