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It's time to end play at Buffalo Valley

Johnson City Press • Dec 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Johnson City commissioners will be asked tonight to decide the fate of the city’s Buffalo Valley Golf Course in Unicoi County. We think it’s very clear how commissioners should vote.

Given the grim financial future for Buffalo Valley, it doesn’t make good sense for the city to continue to subsidize two public golf courses. Commissioners should heed the advice of consultants and end play at Buffalo Valley at the end of this year.

Altogether, city taxpayers have paid more than $8.72 million since 2006 to keep both Buffalo Valley and Pine Oaks Golf Course operational. It would cost another $2 million in tax dollars over the next decade alone to keep Buffalo Valley afloat.

Johnson City purchased Buffalo Valley in 1994 during the peak of golf’s popularity. Since that time, golf has seen a steady decline in the number of rounds played.

Consultants have told city leaders there are simply more golf courses in this area than there are golfers. As a result, the Johnson City market is about 20 percent oversupplied with golf courses.

With golf courses not generating the kind of revenues they were expected to 20 years ago, many local governments are backing redevelopments that turn putting greens into shopping centers and gated communities. These projects generally produce more tax revenues for local governments than do golf courses.

Johnson City officials put out a call for possible buyers of its two municipal golf courses in 2008. That effort failed to generate any interest in purchasing Buffalo Valley or Pine Oaks and was soon abandoned.

And a recent proposal to turn Buffalo Valley into a soccer complex also failed to gain traction among city leaders.

Meanwhile, Jim Keegan, a golf course consultant, says Johnson City “is transferring $622,000 out of the general fund to support golf.”

While it’s true the goal of many public services, such as libraries and parks, is not necessarily to turn a profit, it’s also true that such programs should not become such a drain on the budget that they rob other important services of needed tax dollars. Johnson City simply can’t afford to operate two municipal golf courses.

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