Editorial: Betting on ‘The Beave’ will pay off

  • Golf simulators have been a hit at Beaver Meadow. Elizabeth Frantz

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Beaver Meadow Golf Course opened in Concord in 1896, players used mashies and niblicks (5-irons and 9-irons) and clubs called cleefs, spoons and jiggers to knock balls around what had recently been a pasture. “The Beave” is the state’s oldest golf course and every Concord resident, whether they golf or not, has a stake in it.

The course, as a recent story by Monitor city hall reporter Caitlin Andrews explained, operates as an enterprise fund, meaning in theory it should pay for itself – or even contribute to the general fund. In practice, enterprise funds, when they require frequent or regular subsidies by taxpayers, become accounting fictions. That appears to be the case with Beaver Meadow.

The course has operated at a loss in three of the last five years, and a $78,000 loss is expected this year. Meanwhile, the city’s capital improvement fund calls for spending $5.4 million on upgrades to the course and its facilities over the next decade, with $4.6 million coming from taxpayers. Did someone just say “ouch?” Oh, that was us.

Golf has been declining in popularity for a decade. With a price tag of $1,395 per adult and $2,350 for a family of four, the course has just 210 members, only 134 of whom are Concord residents. It’s fair to ask whether all taxpayers should chip in for an amenity used by a relative few. Our answer is yes, but the city should do all it can to maximize both course revenue and use of the property by all residents.

Concord’s municipal golf course, like its 21 parks, seven swimming pools, its hiking trails, tennis courts, ball fields and playgrounds, is an amenity that adds to the city’s quality of life and its economy. The course makes Concord more attractive to employers. The many tournaments held there, often for charities, bring people to the city. In winter, the course sees heavy use by people who skate on its ponds and ski or snowshoe on its 169 acres and have hot chocolate and a snack in the course restaurant. A few years back the parks department installed golf simulators. They have been a hit, and last year brought in $63,000. The city should do even more.

A pavilion would allow more weddings and other functions to be held on the course. A modest miniature golf course would allow use of the park by the young and old, think grandparents and grandkids. It might even bring in some revenue and serve as an introduction to a sport that badly needs young players. Millennials have shown little interest in golf. The typical player is a male in his 40s.

The rise of another charismatic golfer like Tiger Woods could put more people on the links, but it’s safe to assume that for the foreseeable future, Beaver Meadow will need regular assists from the city’s general fund. So be it. Like the city’s parks, Beaver Meadow has a positive effect on the value of property on its margins and even nearby. How much is hard to say, but a recent study by Michigan State University found that premiums on property in close proximity to a golf course ranged from 5 to 21 percent. If that’s the case in Concord, the course’s taxpayer subsidy is much smaller than it seems and worth the contribution the course makes to life in the city.