State Run Golf Courses Losing Money, Legislation Considered One Problem

State lawmakers came up with an idea ten years ago many thought fit Mississippi to a tee. They wanted to build and fund state-run golf courses-with your money. However, there has been a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars because of holes in the legislation.

For some people, there's nothing like a weekend on the golf course. Dietrich Taylor just enjoyed a round at Lefluer's Bluff State Park in Jackson.

"It's not as expensive as some of the other courses. You don't have to pay that yearly fee," Taylor said.

The golfers at the Lefleur's Bluff course seemed to enjoy themselves. In fact, this course made about $5,000 last fiscal year, but the two other state run courses were well below par, losing a combined $360,000.

"You're guaranteeing the management company a certain amount. You make up the loss," Jim Walker from the Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks said.

The legislature set aside $5 million in bond money each for Mallard Pointe in Sardis and Quail Hollow in McComb.

In 1994, it mandated the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks build them. The department paid management companies to run them but the companies had no incentive to do well.

The courses were out of bounds financially from day one. Poor management at Mallard Pointe was the subject of an Auditor's report in 2001.

Auditor Phil Bryant recommended the state lease the course. It lost $169,944.18 last year. Quail Hollow lost $188,791.67.

Walker says location is also a factor in lost dollars. He says marketing hasn't been great, either.

"Our marketing department budget was at about a hundred thousand dollars. You're not going to do a lot with that."

Walker says the state Tourism Department could help out. Tourism director Craig Ray says he promotes courses in general, but targets no specific ones. He says he's never been asked to help with the state run courses.

"If our office was given an opportunity to help, we'd do a great job," Ray said.

Then there's construction on yet another course. The cost, $5-million. The legislature gave Grenada the green light to build in 1999.

"We expect the course to make money. We expect this to be a profitable enterprise for the area and the state," Representative Sid Bondurant of Grenada said.

Grenada will assume fiscal responsibility when the course is completed, meaning the city will eat lost dollars. And the department will finally be allowed to lease Mallard Pointe and Quail Hollow, three years after the auditor's recommendation.

Walker says it's a virtual hole in one for the taxpayer.

"We will more than likely be in a position to not be responsible for any losses. The management companies will keep the profits and we will get a set fee."

Walker believes this new way of doing business will get taxpayer money going down the right path.

Representative Bondurant says he's not sure if the state can get Mallard Pointe and Quail Hollow out of the red. He says the Grenada course will be marketed the right way and will bring in money.

By: Davis Brister