Sun City residents ponder if golf course closure would save money

There’s a question whether the main amenity for which Sun City Summerlin is known —- its golf courses —- should be closed. Some residents say maintaining them for a shrinking number of golfers is getting too costly.

The age-restricted community has three 18-hole golf courses: Palm Valley, Eagle Crest and Highland Falls. The possibility of closing one was brought up by a resident at a recent meeting of the Sun City Summerlin Community Association Inc. Board of Directors.

According to the association, the courses at Highland Falls and Palm Valley each cost about $1.5 million per year to maintain, and the course at Eagle Crest costs about $1 million.

Barbara Cogar, executive director, said that hiring a formal research team to look into options would cost roughly $100,000. Instead, she has set up a committee to update an in-house golf study from 2006 to reflect today’s numbers and use it to assess the long-term liability and options.

Louis Ray is a resident who advocates closing one course. He did his own research.

"The usage is definitely less than 40 percent of capacity at the three courses," he said. "I’m only looking for tee-off times of the first seven hours of each day, and we’re only using 40 percent of those. Another thing about the usage, somewhere between 700 and 1,000 golfers use the courses; those are all the golfers that are actually using courses. We have 12,000-plus residents. So this thing is not being used by (the majority) of the population."

Ray made another point: The number of golfers in the retirement community is declining as residents age. Currently Sun City’s statistics show that the average age of the community’s residents is 73.

"The demographics of Sun City were great in 1988 when everybody was between 55 and 65 years old," Ray said. "Those days are gone forever. Now we have a lot of people that are over 80, and they’re not going to play much golf. We’re not going to attract other golfers (from outside Sun City) because of our rules. The rules say that residents get the prime times."

Sun City board president Sue Papilion receives input on the matter via email. She replied to one that called for closing one or more courses.

"When you all can prove that more than half the homes don’t want golf and the homes on (the) golf course won’t sue," she wrote, "then serious talk can be had on course closures. … Nickel and diming (sic) golf to death will only reduce the current rounds and lower the income because our courses will be considered ‘cheap senior courses’ by Las Vegas players.

"When you all moved here, you thought the golf courses would pay for themselves, social security would be self sustaining, the car industry was strong, the banks were stronger, and your house was a good investment. Well things change and nothing lasts forever. We will have a golf expense and it will be ongoing even if a course is closed one day."

Ray Jesek has been a resident of Sun City for 15 years. He played golf for 20 years but now no longer plays.

"My main concern is that they’re losing money," he said. "I’d like to see the board do an honest evaluation."

Jesek wondered if it was necessary for Sun City to have three courses and what the financial impact would be to close a course. He said the board should evaluate the whole situation.

"We knew it was not going to be a profitable part of the business, if you will," he said. "It’s what it is. We signed on for it, so we shouldn’t be moaning and groaning about it. I think they should take a look at the situation and see if closing a course is feasible or not. If it comes out we’d be better off with one fewer golf course, so be it."

Part of the 2006 internal study included taking input from a representative group of about 20 residents. David Steinman, current board treasurer, was chairman of the study.

"There are a few people who feel that we should close the golf course," he said. "What our studies show is, sure, you can close the golf course, but the cost to maintain that golf course with it in closed mode and without any revenue at all costs just about the same as it does to keep it open and running. Now the question becomes, if you close a course, do you just want to let it go and not maintain it? Well, that would look like a bad dream. People don’t want that, especially those who live on the golf course."

The study found that fewer than 10 percent of Sun City residents use the golf courses. It said Del Webb overestimated the draw of golf in a city that offers innumerable amenities and activities. It further states that "Del Webb’s motivation was not the availability of tee times for all residents, but lot premiums on the golf courses that had a mega million dollar yield to the developer."

Steinman estimated that each homeowner pays $300 annually toward course upkeep. The money comes out of HOA fees.

"When a person bought here, they accepted the responsibility of the golf course," Steinman said. "It’s part of their ownership. You can’t walk away from it. So, what are you going to do? Let it go to seed and have it look like a hay field?"

He said that tearing out the golf courses and replacing them with homes was not an easy option, as the land on which Sun City sits is zoned Prime Community. That designation requires 20 percent of the land be green zones. Furthermore, the golf courses act as drainage channels when it rains, he said.

Board member Bruce Alitt noted that the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions stipulate a lot of requirements if the board changes the present use of the facility.

"The issue, in my personal opinion, is it isn’t a one-sentence answer," he said. "It’s a serious answer, which requires a lot of considerations."

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.

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