A caller tells the Times that employees at War Memorial Golf Course were told today the course would close in June. I’ve emailed a spokesperson for the mayor for confirmation, but don’t expect a reply this evening.
The decision, if correct, does not come as a surprise. Mayor Scott’s proposals to trim the city budget call for a taking a big cut out of the Parks and Recreation Department budget, and a of study recently released showed the golf courses are costing the city $1.2 million more than they takes in in fees.
The caller said the course serves an older population, many veterans, that don’t wish to golf at First Tee, which has junior golf programs as its focus, or Rebsamen Golf Course, which is crowded and often requires a wait for tee times. War Memorial is short, a par 64 course, and centrally located in War Memorial Park. The public course and its clubhouse, a WPA project, date to the 1930s.
War Memorial has faced threats of closure before from various park interests who would like to see its 200 gently rolling acres of grass and trees put to different use. Some want to see it used as greenspace with biking and hiking trails. Others have suggested soccer fields there.
Scott told the Times last year that he’d like to see a “regional sports complex that would emphasize youth sports” at War Memorial. “I would like to see the golf course being either completely removed or going from 18 holes to 9 holes.” More recently, the mayor has said he’d like to attract a Topgolf sports bar/driving range venue to the city.
Hindman Golf Course will almost certainly close as part of the city’s efforts to stem golfing red ink. The course, in south Little Rock, has low areas along a tributary of Fourche Creek that flood.
We’ve made requests for information from the mayor’s office. As yet, there’s been no response. But we have confirmed that layoff notices went to staff this week.
UPDATE FROM MAX: I’ve now learned that department heads with jobs targeted for elimination in two budget cut options the mayor outlined Tuesday sent notices to their employees about the potential for job losses. What I don’t know yet is if those notices were specific — to War Memorial for example — or about broader possibilities within a department. Scott targeted most of his proposed cuts in the parks department, where deficit operations and a consultant’s recommendation for changes have been in the news recently.
The broader budget cut discussion is roiling the city board and departments generally. The Board will meet again Tuesday. Cuts seem unavoidable on account of an overly optimistic revenue forecast. But where will the cuts fall? Outside agencies are looking at major reductions almost halfway into their budget year after drawing budgets in 2018 anticipating city funding. Some are political powerhouses. Will the City Board really cut the allotment to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce from $300,000 to $150,000?
Will job cuts and facility closures ultimately be decided by the City Board or dictated by the mayor? That may be the biggest question out of today’s news.
UPDATE II: My sources say Hindman has also been told it’s targeted for closing. First Tee, the biggest money drain among city golf courses, is to be preserved, though it was a project of billionaire Jackson T. Stephens and was not supposed to be a city obligation.
The city parks director, John Eckart, has taken the day off, his office said. Lower-level employees say they cannot comment. The mayor’s office has acknowledged my request for information, but provided none. City directors so far indicate they are out of the loop.
No word has leaked out about potential uses for War Memorial and Hindman should they be closed. Maintenance will still be required. The War Memorial course is leased to the state for football parking in UA games against Missouri this fall and the Red-White intrasquad game in the spring.