A municipal golf course in Bradenton, Florida, could get a little shine soon after a sister course is completely overhauled.
The Sarasota-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club will host a grand reopening celebration on Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. to noon with the first tee times starting the next day. City residents will now also receive a 40% discount to golf at the 18-hole Donald Ross-designed course instead of a 10% discount discussed by the City Commission when officials set the facilities prices in October.
But that leaves those in nearby Bradenton, which owns the popular River Run Golf Links, looking at options to stay competitive and productive into the future.
River Run has seen rounds increase in recent years and the net income on the property, which is near the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility, has also been on the rise.
But should Bradenton officials be proactive in their approach to River Run, so they don’t need to undergo a renovation similar to the one at Bobby Jones?
A story by the Community News Collaborative which ran in the Sarasota Tribune-Herald outlined exactly what a consulting firm thinks needs to be done with the popular course to keep it feasible, while also offering suggestions about a potential rebuild that could help the course better compete with its revamped neighbor.
In an evaluation of River Run for city leaders by National Golf Foundation Consulting Inc., some upgrades and price adjustments were recommended, something city leaders in November cautioned against.
The 92-page report by the Jupiter organization spells out an overview of the course, the local market, financials and five projects totaling about $600,000 – all but one the report calls “mission critical.” It also looks at longer-term, more expensive potential projects such as the construction of an adjacent practice range and the rebuilding of the course.
Mayor Gene Brown said of the $24,000 the city spent on the report and the discussion it prompted, “I’m glad we did it, I think it was worth it.”
According to the NGF report, the rates at River Run could likely be raised for out-of-towners as a means to help pay of the enhancements.
Sarasota’s new fee schedule ranges in price during the winter season from about $70 to $124, with city residents getting a 40% discount. During the same time frame at River Run, rates from November to late April range from $38.32 to $54.21.
A 92-page consultant’s report recommends five short-term projects totaling about $600,000 to enhance River Run Golf Links. Beyond that, a rebuild could be as high as $7.25 million, the report said.
Acknowledging River Run’s lower price, the report urged consideration of a slightly higher fee or a similar dynamic system that takes into account at-the-moment demand, similar to how airlines sell tickets.
“The consultants thought there was room to maintain the profile of the same type of golfer who wants to save a little bit of money but get out to a nice course and enjoy the outdoors, and there might be some opportunities to increase price points to recover a little bit of cash,’’ Perry said, adding the report indicated the course had a “good, clean bill of health.”
Also, since River Run is getting long in the tooth, the quick fixes might not be enough in the long run.
“The age of the golf course’s component parts will soon necessitate a major overhaul of the course. Current conditions are sub-par by industry standards, especially in terms of the turfgrass from tee to green. The NGF team believes that, as years pass, it will become increasingly difficult for maintenance staff to provide a sufficient amount and quality of turf to play from. This dynamic will eventually result in golfing customers seeking other places to play, despite River Run’s affordability.”
Cost of such a rebuild could be as high as $7.25 million, the report said. Lesser alternatives were also raised. Perry urged caution no matter the path forward.
“I’ve never been against golf,” he said. “But we also have to look at being good stewards of the money. We have to figure out the half-a-million dollar debt first, and we could not raise the prices enough to offset that because no one would play.”