City-Owned Golf Courses In Phoenix Digging Out Of Financial Hole

Published: Monday, April 4, 2016 - 7:08am
Updated: Monday, April 4, 2016 - 9:11am
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Palo Verde in Phoenix is a 9-hole course located at 15th and Maryland avenues.
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Palo Verde is among eight city-owned golf courses in Phoenix.

Four years ago, the Palo Verde Golf Course at 15th and Maryland avenues where Mike Swanson regularly plays faced an uncertain future. 

"I play here three to five times a week," he said.

But not enough players ever joined him.

Phoenix’s public courses were designed to pay for themselves through greens fees and pro shop sales. But whereas about a decade ago, taxpayers were covering about $2 million a year, now they're paying less than $500,000.

Councilman Jim Waring isn’t impressed. During a recent meeting, City Manager Ed Zuercher explained how using a private vendor has helped save money.

Zuercher told Waring the city is now recovering 82 percent of golf expenses, 14 percent more than the year before. 

“We’re still losing money, just losing less," said Waring. "And we could put that on a bumper sticker or something.”  

“Maybe it’s, ‘It costs us less than swimming pools,’" Zuercher replied. "That’d be a bumper sticker I'd put up there.” 

Fees at public pools cover 11 percent of those expenses while taxpayers contribute more than $6 million a year. 

In an effort to save the golf courses, the city also cut deals with two schools. Grand Canyon University now manages the former Maryvale Municipal Course while Arizona State University runs Papago. Both universities base their golf programs at the courses.

While Phoenix continues looking at ways to cut golf expenses, Mike Swanson is glad to hear his favorite spot is staying put. 

“It’d be a shame to lose it," he said. "It'd be a shame.”