City works to cut costs at golf course

HARLINGEN — From the greens to the snack bar, the city is trying to come up with ways to improve operations and cut costs at the Tony Butler Golf Course.

At City Hall, staff is “tweaking” a list of recommendations expected to be presented to city commissioners Dec. 5, City Manager Dan Serna said yesterday.

“It’s going to be more discussion and providing information and some recommendations,” Serna said of his PowerPoint presentation — currently in the works.

For about five years, the golf course has been losing money, pushing the city to dip into its $43 million general fund to offset shortfalls.

With annual expenditures of about $1.2 million, falling revenues have left deficits ranging from $48,324 to $302,587 annually.

“We need to look at creating a more sustainable operation,” Serna said. “Financially, we’ve been losing money … and we can’t sustain that.”

The recommendations are coming from a committee formed to look for ways to improve the golf course, said David Arce, the city’s assistant parks director who oversees the group.

“We want to see if we can reduce costs and expenses,” parks Director Javier Mendez said.

Mendez said some proposed cost-cutting steps include “adjusting” some of the golf course’s work schedules.

Recommendations include training the pro shop’s staff to sell snack bar items including beer, Mendez said.

“It’s not as easy as that,” Serna said, adding such a step would require certifying the pro shop’s staff to sell alcoholic beverages.

The committee also proposed hiring a company to help improve the golf course’s greens.

Golfers such as Art Gonzalez, a member of the Pan American Golf Association, have complained some balding greens can affect a player’s putting game.

The committee is recommending the city contract with a company to improve the greens’ fertilization, irrigation and mowing, Mendez said.

This year, soil tests found high levels of nematodes, or roundworms, microscopic insects that eat grass, damaging and stunting turf.

Tim Elliott, a committee member who owns Elliott’s Custom Golf, has said recommendations also include training the golf course’s new greenskeeper.

At the course, golf pro Eddie Medlin believes a drop in the number of Winter Texan players has helped lead to falling revenue.

In response, Elliott recommended a marketing drive aimed at drawing more Winter Texans to the course.

Along with the recommendations, Elliott also suggested marketing the golf course’s rich history as a former stop on the PGA tour.