Thursday, April 8, 2010
State Getting Out of Public Golf Course Business

BOSTON (WBZ) ―If you are hoping to play an inexpensive round of golf at a state operated public course, you had better make a tee time soon.
The Patrick Administration is moving ahead with plans to get out of the golf business.
Since the 1930's the Leo J. Martin public golf course in Weston and the 36 holes at the state-run Ponkapoag course in Canton have been a bargain for golfers young and old with affordable fees and plenty of tee times.
Just ask Dick Hanscom who WBZ caught up with recently at Leo J. Martin.
"I think there is a need for a place where people can play and it doesn't cost a lot of money."
But both courses need millions of dollars of work.
The third hole in Canton is literally under water and it has nothing to do with our recent rain.
Nine of the 36 holes at Ponkpoag have been closed for years.
Rick Sullivan is Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
"A lot of it is not playable, so it is somewhat of a wasted asset."
The two state run golf courses actually pay for themselves.
They operate and pay salaries from the fees they charge.
But when it comes to capital improvements thaT can cost millions, that is where the state steps in and that is what has changed.
Commissioner Sullivan was asked if the state plans on spending the millions to fix up Ponkapoag.
"No, on the capital side of the budget there is no plan to make any investment there."
WBZ has learned the Patrick Administration has decided to try and find a private partner to fix up, lease and operate one or both of the state courses.
It is an idea state Senator Brian Joyce has been pushing for years.
"We have an opportunity here to save the taxpayers serious money and have a better product for golfers and generate money for the regional economy."
Privatizing state recreational facilities is not new.
Skating rinks are a good example.
In recent years, a Pembroke company has taken control of 26 rinks in a public-private partnership.
Sen. Joyce says "whether you are a conservative or a liberal, you want your government to spend your tax dollars as efficiently as possible and we do not do that in the recreation business."
While thousands of golfers have stayed away from Ponkapoag because of the deteriorating conditions, many fear a private operator will mean higher fees and, therefore, less access.
Michael Fleming is the head pro at Ponkapoag.
"The idea when this land was donated to the state was to have a park and public access at all times."
Dick Hanscom agrees with Fleming.
"Sure it looks good on paper, but the overall benefit would not serve the purpose that these places were intended to serve."
Both public courses officially open this week for what could be their "back nine."
The Patrick Administration does not need legislative approval to lease the golf courses, if the leases are five years or shorter.
Longer leases do require a vote by lawmakers.