After nearly three years of rebuilding and a $1.5 million capital infusion, Conyers’ municipally-owned Cherokee Run Golf Course could be in the black as early as this coming fiscal year, said city officials.
“We’re moving towards the black rapidly,” said City Manager Tony Lucas.
Even in the difficult economic climate, the number of golf rounds played increased from about 10,000 in Fiscal Year 2010-2011 to about 15,000 in 2011-2012. The number of events booked at the clubhouse also doubled from 33 to 65. Cherokee Run general manager Tommy Moon estimated the course saw about 18,000 rounds in 2012-2013, even though the course was closed for two months.
Lucas pointed out during Masters week alone in April, the course saw about 800 rounds played.
“We’re beginning to see a little bit of a change in the picture” of the economy, said Lucas. “The golf business is entertainment. When a family’s budget gets tight, the first thing to go is entertainment.”
About 80 percent of the players at Cherokee Run are from outside of Conyers; mostly Atlanta and north Atlanta.
The players are coming because of Cherokee Run’s reputation for a quality course at reasonable cost, said Lucas. “That’s why we’re getting that play.”
The city owns the land but has leased the golf course out to three management companies over the years. In September 2010, a federal court awarded the course to the city after two years of protracted bankruptcy proceedings with the former leaseholder.
The city then poured $1.5 million of capital, drawn from its reserves, into repairing the course and the clubhouse.
“That was a decision that had to be made,” said Lucas. The former leaseholder had allowed the facility to fall into disrepair, he said. “Every green was dead. We had to reestablish the fairways. Sand traps were in complete disrepair.”
“They ran the product back into the ground.” But now, he said, “It’s become an asset for the city.”
The gap between expenditures and revenues has been shrinking, from about $1 million in the red in that first fiscal year of 2010-2011 to about $385,000 in FY 11-12 and $224,000 in FY 12-13.
With increasing revenue on the horizon and no major capital needs for the next couple years, Lucas said he anticipates seeing positive revenues this 2013-2014 fiscal year. It would have been even earlier, but the course was closed for two months in 2012 to replace the grass on the greens.
“We think we spent the capital necessary at this point. We don’t have any large expenditures in (the next year).” He added that around the four or five year mark more capital would likely be needed.
The city intends to replace the $1.5 million to its reserves once the course sees positive cash flow, said Lucas.
He added that the course is an economic development asset as well, attracting business executives and adding to the reputation of Conyers-Rockdale.
Cherokee Run operates as an enterprise fund, much like a municipally-owned utility. Besides the capital infusion the city initially gave to the course, the course’s expenditures and revenues are separate from the taxpayer-funded general funds and operations of the city.
The city built the Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole, 72 par course in 1995 around the same time as the Georgia International Horse Park, spending about $7 million on the golf course.