Eagle Bend courts current, future golfers

The good news is that 2016 is getting closer by the day.

That’s the magic number for the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course because it is the year that the facility will be debt-free. A new report shows that Eagle Bend, the 18-hole course below Clinton Lake Dam, is in a position to begin paying for itself once the debt is retired.

In 2007, the course’s revenues exceeded expenses by $148,056. In 2006, the course, aided by more favorable weather and construction work that temporarily closed the competing Lawrence Country Club, posted revenues that were $322,000 above expenses.

But the big caveat is that those expenses do not include an annual debt payment of about $287,000. The city pays for that debt out of a separate fund, using revenues from the countywide 1-cent sales tax.

Still, Ernie Shaw, the city’s interim director of parks and recreation, thinks the results are encouraging.

“We feel like 2006 and 2007 have been pretty good,” Shaw said. “But what we’re really trying to do is grow the future.”

The course for this season is launching a junior golf program that will allow youths under age 12 to play for free with a paid adult. The program, which is only valid Monday through Friday, is part business, part recreation.

“We want to grow the future of golf at Eagle Bend, but we also want the kids to spend more time with their parents,” said John Morris, city golf course supervisor. “We want to do something to get them off the computers and get them back outside.”

A second program is aimed at adults. For the first time, the course is offering an all-you-can-play annual pass. For $750, golfers can play as much as they want at the course for a full year. Golfers still have to go through the normal process to secure tee-times, and the pass doesn’t cover cart fees. But it does cover use of the driving range, and the pass can be used on both weekdays and weekends.

The hope, Shaw said, is that more avid golfers will adopt Eagle Bend as their home course.

“We just want to see more people on the course,” Shaw said. “On weekends, we’ve always been busy. We’re hoping this will generate more business with the after-work crowd and other times during the weekdays.”

The 2007 numbers did show a decline from 2006 totals. The course played host to 24,100 rounds in 2007, down from 27,400 in 2006. Course leaders said the reopening of the Lawrence Country Club – which underwent a rebuilding project – and poor weather at the beginning and end of the year hurt the overall numbers.

“We had a really good June and July. Probably our best ever,” Morris said. “We were on a good roll until it got really hot in August and September.”

The hot conditions took a toll on the course’s fairways. The city previously announced that it was converting the No. 1 and No. 10 fairways over to a Zoysia grass, a variety designed to hold up to heat better. If the experiment works, the rest of the course could be converted over time.

The financial performance of the course has been a hot topic at City Hall. When the course was built in 1998, a city-hired consultant predicted the course would pay for itself after a year. But that projection was based on the facility hosting more than 40,000 rounds of golf each season.

City leaders have conceded those projections are no longer realistic given the increase in the number of golf courses in the region. Competition is expected to increase in Lawrence, too. Commissioners recently approved a nine-hole, privately owned golf course that is part of an apartment development in northwest Lawrence, but Eagle Bend leaders are hopeful that the smaller course won’t appeal to Eagle Bend’s core players.