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Owning golf course more expensive dream than imagined

It happens to me every time I go on vacation. I go wine tasting, and I want to buy a winery; I go to a coast resort, and I want to buy a bed and breakfast at the shore; I go play golf, and I want to buy a golf course. Well, maybe a putting green.

Not anymore. Scratch the golf course off the book. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Donny Long, director of golf at Sun City Summerlin, and Sue Papilion, executive director of the homeowners’€™ association, and they gave me a peek behind the curtain.

My foray into this column began as I read through recent financials of the community’€™s golf courses that are published for residents to review. I live in Sun City, and the HOA owns the three golf courses that are a part of it. As such, the association publishes the annual budget for the courses. What I discovered shocked me. This year, one of the courses, Palm Valley, needs to have the asphalt cart paths replaced. The dollar number to do the upgrade to concrete blew me away.

The second golf course in Sun City, Highland Falls, was recently voted the top public course by readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in the 2015 Best of Las Vegas survey, so I know all the courses are in top-notch shape. But the price to replace and upgrade concrete cart paths? I had to meet with the execs to determine if there was a typo.

“No, that number is correct,”€ Sue said. ‘€œIt’€™s very expensive to run a golf course.”

“€œWe have to replace the cart paths due to old age and water damage,”€ added Donny. “€œThe paths were in bad shape. We want the golfers to be safe.”€

“€œWe’€™re upgrading to concrete for several reasons,”€ Donny said. “Concrete paths last 25 years or longer. They’€™re about 50 percent more expensive than asphalt. And Palm Valley is 25 years old. We’€™ve had to reseal the old asphalt paths eight times. Water damage to the asphalt paths can also be tough on the carts due to the irregularities.”€

“€œUnbelievable,”€ I muttered. So, I got nosey.

“What does other stuff cost?”€ I inquired. Here’€™s what I uncovered:

Golf carts: “€œThey cost $4,200 new,” Sue said. “We need 80 carts at Palm Valley, and they need to be replaced every three to four years. Trade-in value ranges from $1,000 to $1,350 each. Each cart has six batteries that cost $135 each; brake jobs are $150; tires with rims are $60 each. Steering systems are $130 for each cart. The power washer to clean the carts costs $1,500.”€

Beverage carts: Donny told me to sit down. “€œEach beverage cart is priced at $23,000. Why? Because the manufacturers can. They are bigger, have a gas engine and a heavy-duty suspension. Figure they last from three to four years.”€ A $4 soft drink seems reasonable to me now.

  • Ball washers at the driving range: $1,850 each
  • Ranger cart: $4,400
  • Ball dispenser at the driving range: $7,000
  • Driving range ball picker-upper: $8,000
  • Public announcement system: $7,500
  • Driving range mats (4×6): 15 needed at $385 each, equaling $5,790
  • Utility tractor: $40,000
  • Premium rental clubs: 15 sets at $800 each, equaling $12,000
  • Bunker rebuild: $10,000
  • Greens rebuild: $20,000 (materials)
  • Replace four motors at a pump station: $120,000
  • Replace main gate valves: $15,000
  • Pro shop staff and annual maintenance: $700,000
  • Annual utilities: $700,000 (60 percent water)

“That not all,”€ Sue continued. “€œWe are doing this during the slower summer season for a reason. Even though revenues in the summer months drop about 56 percent, we estimate we will still lose about 20 percent in revenue during the renovation. All in all, we’€™re putting in over 7 miles of new cart paths at Palm Valley. They will be 6 feet wide. The renovation will be slow; the contractor estimates each hole will take one week to complete. We’€™ll close down one nine at a time; the other nine will remain open to play.”€

And that’s good news for us golfers. During the weekday renovation, the green fees for Palm Valley will be $2 per hole for nine holes. Play 18 (play nine twice), and the fee is $25. This special is good only during the week; on weekends, all 18 holes will be playable at the normal rates.

Oh, yeah, want to take a guess on the cost of the cart path replacement project? Go ahead. The answer: Only $62,000 per hole. You do the math.

Makes that $3,500 putting green in the backyard look like a bargain.

— John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.

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