Caleb Warnock
October 17, 2010

In Cedar Hills budget documents, a golf bailout is called “revenue.”

Taxpayer watchdogs say the city is heavily involved in a game of hide-the-subsidy, while companies trying to run local golf courses as businesses decry the unfair competition.

In a recent Daily Herald investigation of how much cities are spending to subsidize golf, Cedar Hills was the only city that did not respond to a government records access request. In follow-up requests, the Daily Herald was referred to a state budget filing, as well as a copy of the budget on the city’s website. The two documents tell different stories about the same golf course.

In an interview via e-mail, city manager Konrad Hildebrandt said the golf course “is projected to be in the red roughly $6,490” at the end of the fiscal year.

But according to city documents, counting the shortfall as $7,000 is only possible if the city counts the taxpayer expense of $1.2 million in loans as income rather than expense, the taxpayer expense of $380,000 per year for the land payment as income rather than expense, and remove the cost of depreciation or replacing equipment over time. Depreciation cost the city $256,000.

All told, Cedar Hills golf is “in the red roughly $6,490” only if the taxpayer’s bill of $1,836,000 goes uncounted — an amount three times larger than the money the course takes in greens fees.

“I think you would agree that the CH golf course is trending to be a great, positive and totally non-subsidized course,” Hildebrandt has said. “Every year our financials improve.”

“It really doesn’t come as a great surprise to the Taxpayers Association that cities want to hide the performance of their golf courses,” said Royce Van Tassell, of the Utah Taxpayers Association. “They are inevitably drains on taxpayer dollars, and cities don’t like to acknowledge as much. It is unfortunate that Cedar Hills is playing hide the ball, and it is yet another sign of why Cedar Hills and every city in Utah needs to get out of the golf business. Taxpayers don’t need to subsidize golf.”

Cedar Hills and other cities have said spending millions on golf is no different than spending money on parks or recreation. But while there are no businesses trying to run local parks, there are companies struggling to make a profit on golf while cities essentially undercut their business with courses being subsidized with millions of taxpayer dollars.

Billy Casper Golf, the largest municipal golf course management company in the U.S., recently sent two officials to testify before the Utah privatization policy board about how cities are spending massive amounts of money to subsidize golf while making business for for-profit golf companies difficult. The company owns, leases or manages more than 130 courses with almost half being government owned. They do not have any courses under management in Utah.

“It is my plan to see that this changes as soon as possible,” said Bill Parkinson, a retired orthopedic surgeon who now represents Billy Casper Golf in Utah. “The taxpayer should not tolerate abuse of their hard earned money especially in today’s economic climate. The fact that city’s are even involved in the golf business defies logic.”

In Utah County, both Orem and Eagle Mountain have turned their municipal golf courses over to private companies to manage. Neither city gives any subsidy to their golf courses.