Golf lessons

October 25, 1991

When the city leased its golf courses to a non-profit corporation in 1985, it never dreamed it would one day clamor to get money back. After all, the idea was to rid the city of a perennial financial drag; the five city-owned golf courses were losing about $500,000 a year -- a direct drain on the city budget.

With some smart management changes, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation improved the courses, attracted more golfers, quickly paid back its city loans and began to generate surplus revenues it could plow back into its facilities and programs. All of this was done while keeping green fees among the lowest in the mid-Atlantic region. When an unusually warm, dry winter helped the surplus hit $800,000 last year, the city took notice and demanded a share.

This week the Schmoke administration announced a plan under which the golf corporation will contribute $225,000 a year to a fund to help pay for youngsters in city recreation programs to travel to out-of-town competitions. The deal seems to have satisfied both sides.

But a larger question remains: If golf can go from a significant deficit-item on the city budget to a financial bonanza simply by privatizing the program and ensuring competent, community-based, not-for-profit management -- why doesn't the city rush to do that for its other recreation programs and facilities?

The golf corporation proves that, with proper precautions to ensure that community interests are protected, privatizing recreation programs can be enormously successful. They can pay for themselves and even generate extra revenues for the city's coffers -- all while benefiting the community. What's the city waiting for? Why not apply its golf lessons to other sports as well?

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