City officials have delayed a meeting to discuss closing the L.W. Clapp golf course in southeast Wichita.
The proposal is part of an effort to fill a hole in the city’s golf enterprise fund, which is projected to carry a deficit of nearly $600,000 next year.
“Golf is supposed to pay for itself,” Park and Recreation director Troy Houtman says. “And right now it’s in the red.”
Houtman says a committee of city staff reviewed the entire golf system to see where cuts could be made. They ranked Wichita’s five courses based on financial performance, the financial impact of closure, demand, required capital investment, and the inability to redevelop the land.
“Unfortunately the rating that came out was for Clapp,” he says. “It has the highest amount of infrastructure repairs that we need in the future, has the least amount of participation. Basing it on all those factors, and they’re hard-core facts, that’s what our recommendation comes [to].”
The report shows Clapp has lost more than $600,000 since 2013, and will need more than $7 million in investment and equipment in the coming years. Closing the course as soon as possible, the recommendation says, would help shrink the golf system’s overall debt.
But Cindy Renard, who serves on the Golf Advisory Committee representing District 3, where Clapp is located, says the course is too important to the neighborhood to lose.
“I think there’s much more value to it,” she says, “than what you can put on a piece of paper.”
Clapp is one of the last amenities in the area, she says; nearby Linwood and Boston pools will close in the coming years and be converted into splash pads under the city’s Aquatics Master Plan.
Renard says Clapp – which at 95 acres is the smallest in the golf system -- is popular with younger golfers, as well as older golfers who can’t walk as far.
“A lot of times that course is misunderstood. It’s just a simple, municipal golf course,” she says. “It’s a park that’s a golf course. It’s not a fancy country club. It’s just a simple, beautiful municipal [course] that so many groups that don’t fit in anywhere else, they can play there.”
The committee voted 3-2 to approve the recommendation and pass it along to the larger Park Board. Renard says she’s concerned with how quickly the decision appears to be moving without much public input.
“I do hope that we can have a chance to look at different options before we take a dramatic step to close the course,” she says. “I mean, the old adage, throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
Houtman says the recommendation wasn’t made lightly, but usage is down throughout the entire golf system; the number of rounds played peaked more than a decade ago, even as the city was planning and constructing the Auburn Hills golf course in west Wichita.
“We’ve just been trying everything we possibly can to grow the game, or recapture those lost players,” Houtman says. “And we just don’t have the revenue coming in.”
The special park board meeting has not yet been rescheduled.