Golf course closure

Edina faces a dilemma over a struggling municipal golf course.

by Derek Olson

The city of Edina is considering closing Fred Richards Executive Golf Course, one of its two municipal golf courses, but hundreds of residents have shown enthusiasm in saving it.

The potential closure is part of a larger trend of municipal courses shutting down nationwide due to declining use. Between 1998 and 2012, the number of rounds played at Fred Richards declined by 35 percent. Many of the metro’s city-run golf courses are also losing money, which costs cities. The metro could face the Fred’s dilemma in the years to come.

Playing golf happens to be my favorite summertime activity, but for others, it’s simply a good walk spoiled. I certainly don’t think those who abhor the sport should be forced to subsidize my pastime, so why do cities own public courses in the first place?

Cities should subsidize our public goods. Public goods are defined as non-excludable and non-rivalrous. This means they cannot exclude anyone from use and that individuals’ use does not reduce its availability to others. Examples include clean air and street lighting. A golf course is neither non-excludable nor non-rivalrous; thus, it’s a private good. This makes the case for public ownership an uphill battle.

Although there isn’t much research on municipal golf courses, one study at Ohio State University found that the presence of a municipal golf course may enhance population and economic growth. There are a few possible explanations. They each require demonstrating that the presence of a golf course somehow benefits non-golfers. For example, the scenery and nature likely increase the value of homes near golf courses.

Edina funds its municipal courses from its municipal liquor store profits. If the case for municipal golf courses is weak, the case for municipal liquor stores is inconceivable. Private ownership would better stimulate economic growth, and liquor taxes would be a more efficient means of revenue. As for the Fred, I have a unique suggestion: Sell the liquor stores, and use those funds for the next few years of operations. In the meantime, commission a research study to help decide what to do with the course.