BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Golfers in Baton Rouge could have fewer places to tee off after the findings of a study aimed at improving public courses was unveiled and recommended reducing the number of courses from seven to five.
On a chilly winter Tuesday evening, with the sun setting fast, John Stewart almost had the City Park Golf Course to himself. Walking to the green, Stewart said he golfs at City Park five or six times a year.
"You can come out and walk around for, depending on your age, six to 10 bucks," Stewart said. "You know, good exercise and a good time."
BREC officials are hoping more people will venture out to their public courses and discover what Stewart has. To help boost golfing business, BREC turned to the National Golf Foundation. Since the spring, a consultant from NGF has gone through every aspect of the city's golfing operation. Their 135-page report was presented Tuesday night.
"BREC has a good mix of golf facilities and I think they need to be operated more efficiently and that would help them be sustainable for the long term," said Richard Singer, NGF consulting director.
The study looked at operations and polled golfers around the Baton Rouge area. It found golfers feel the program is a good value, but lacking in overall quality and service. It also said the program needs to be managed more like a business with an emphasis on efficiency and marketing.
The study suggested BREC can get more people to tee off by improving the quality of the courses. The recommendations range from making sure courses are properly staffed to improving technology. The estimated cost of all these possible improvements is around $3 million.
BREC's new golf director Michael Raby believes the recreation facilities can make many changes without the big price tag. He said it's a matter of starting small and spending money on improvements wisely.
"We start with improving the condition of the golf course," Raby said. "That's recommendation number one and for me, it's number two and number three."
Raby said he has already begun to improve some of the courses' physical condition by working to improve the grass and investing in grounds equipment.
The study also indicated BREC's golfing program would work best as a five-course program. Of the program's current seven courses, the J.S. Clark and Howell golf courses had the least amount of play. Singer said the rounds played at those two parks were some of the lowest he has seen in the country. His suggestion was that those parks could be converted into parks with other activities that may better appeal to the surrounding neighborhoods.
However, a few residents at Tuesday's meeting strongly objected to that suggestion. Both the J.S. Clark and Howell courses are located in neighborhoods with a large minority population. Some of the residents worried that taking away those golf courses would limit the ability for minorities to participate in the sport.
Raby said the study is just a suggestion and that there are no immediate plans to convert any courses. The director did say, however, that BREC is looking into the ability for each of its courses to be financially sustainable. He said it may be time to reach out to the neighborhoods around J.S. Clark and Howell to see if a golf course is really what residents want.
"As a golfer, I would love for them to remain golf courses, but if we engage the community and the community tells us there's a better use, then we've got to do what's better overall for the community and for BREC as a whole," Raby added.
Raby also warned that changes won't happen immediately and that improving the BREC golfing experience will take time.