PORT ORCHARD — According to Jim Dunwiddie, Kitsap County’s parks department director, one public golf course closes for good each day in the United States.
And, unfortunately for Kitsap golfers, one of their own courses has joined that dubious list.
Dunwiddie said the Village Greens Golf Course in South Kitsap, which the county has owned and operated since 2009, will not open for the season this spring — or in the future. The municipal golf course near Orchard Heights Elementary has been a financial drain on the county’s parks department budget, the director said March 28, and the facility’s losses eat up funds that could go to other recreational projects.
“When we took over the property in 2009, the thought then was that it would be a self-sustaining facility. That has never been the case.”
Over the past five years, Dunwiddie said, the deficit each year fluctuated anywhere from $80,000 to $123,000. Last year’s deficit was the highest of any revenue year: combined expenses were $239,000 and revenues came in at just $107,000.
“The maintenance of the course was just never covered,” he said. “And golf courses require lots of maintenance.”
Rounds of golf also fluctuated over the years, but only by about 300 rounds year to year. He said Village Greens ranged from 9,200 to 9,600 rounds of golf played yearly.
Dunwiddie said Village Greens’s poor performance is mirrored by other golf courses, locally and nationally.
“I know some of the private courses, and even public courses like Rolling Hills, have seen rounds somewhat bottom out,” he noted. “Those golf leagues that have historically really carried golf courses just aren’t there anymore.”
The parks director said Village Greens at one time had a strong senior men’s league, but when that group aged out, there wasn’t another group of players to come in and replace them.
The are lots of reasons for the decline in golf recreation, he believes. For one, golf has become an expensive hobby.
“We haven’t raised our golf fees since I’ve been here,” Dunwiddie said. “I couldn’t go any higher because I would then be charging more than what people would be paying at McCormick Woods. It got to be somewhat ridiculous.”
But another cause could be that people — golfers included — have gotten so much busier with their lives. And golf is a sport that takes plenty of time to play, often up to five or six hours to play 18 holes. He added that young people are so much busier these days, too, evidenced by the drop nationwide of participation in youth sports.
So what will the county do with the 18-hole, 3,255-yard golf course? It has been eyed by private parties looking to continue the property’s golf course legacy, but they’ve been dissuaded by the financial outlook of the course and the decline in the sport.
Seeking community input
Charlotte Garrido, Kitsap County Commissioner, said she has requested that Dunwiddie arrange for a community meeting sometime in the next month or so to give golf course users and property neighbors a chance to give their input on the golf course property’s future use.
“I feel like it’s very important to hear from the community,” Garrido said. “This is just something that has cropped up and Jim and I have talked about it only once. I’d just like to make sure that we’re stepping carefully since it belongs to the public.
“I think we have some marvelous parks in Kitsap and I’d like to make sure that we are using the parkland wisely and in ways that the community would like to be able to use them. I think that at the early stages, if we can clarify what might be a good use, then we could follow through on that more quickly.”
But one use Dunwiddie says he’s ruling out is turning the property into another county park. He said parks department acreage has doubled over the past six years, yet his department’s budget is less than what it was in 2008.
“Turning that property into a park really doesn’t save me any money because I still have to maintain it. We were really hoping a private entity would come in and take over the operation of the golf course, but they also need to pay all their bills.
“For us, you can only put your resources in so many places.”
Dunwiddie said the county is about to start the process of developing a master plan for Coulter Creek Heritage Park, opening up the 1,200-acre park in South Kitsap for greater use. In addition, the parks department has just completed the remainder of the perimeter trail along Jackson Avenue at South Kitsap Regional Park.
“That’s really inviting a lot of other users to the park,” he said, “including a lot more people with small kids and strollers. They can get some really good exercise just walking on the perimeter trail.”