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DeKalb golf not doom and gloom

Sport’s local enthusiasts remain positive ahead of meeting Monday

As the DeKalb Park District grapples with ongoing financial problems at its
18-hole golf course, neighboring courses across DeKalb County seem more optimistic about the future of the sport.

Park Board President Phil Young said the district needs to take a hard look at all areas of the budget, not only golf.

“One of the things I want people to understand is this isn’t just golf,” Young said. “We need to be looking at this holistic view of the whole district in terms of revenue, ways to streamline things and make operations better.”

The DeKalb Park District’s Board of Commissioners will host another golf-centric meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Hopkins Park Terrace Room, 1403 Sycamore Road, to discuss low revenue at its 18-hole course, River Heights, 1020 Sharon Drive.

A standing-room-only board of meeting Oct. 18 saw more than 100 residents appeal to the district not to close the course despite consistently operating over budget. During the meeting, representatives from Chicago-based golf consulting firm Billy Casper Golf described the downward trajectory of golf nationwide, and said golfers in DeKalb County aren’t what they used to be.

The agency contracted with the district in June for $17,500, with up to an additional $2,500 funds allotted for travel expenses, and recommended the district consider closing River Heights or hire a full-time staff member to manage it.

Golf around DeKalb County

Kirk Lundbeck has witnessed the highs and lows of the game in his
22 years as PGA head professional at the Sycamore Park District Golf Club and the only full-time golf operations staff person. He said golf is trending more toward a social sport than a competitive one.

“There are some people that do it for the competitive nature, but that’s few and far between,” Lundbeck said. “It’s also become a very much family-oriented sport, where you’ll see husbands and wives play together, and you see parents come out just to walk along with their kids. The industry itself has changed dramatically.”

Changing weather, tightening budgets and fewer golfers all have contributed to the challenges courses face in 2019. Besides DeKalb and Sycamore, DeKalb County has one other 18-hole course, although a fourth course can be configured to offer an 18-hole option.

The other, Edgebrook Golf Course, 2100 Suydam Road in Sandwich, which was built in 1968 and is owned and operated by former Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass.

“We really got the course in much better shape, but we’re not finished with it yet,” Douglass said in August. “People have been great so far, and right now the big thing is they can go out and play a round and enjoy it because of the course.”

Indian Oaks Country Club is home to the Indian Oaks Golf Club, 603 Preserve Road, Shabbona, and was designed in 1964, according to its website. The nine-hole course is 20 miles south of DeKalb and also offers an 18-hole option when the tees are reconfigured.

The Sycamore Golf Club operates with a $495,600 budget for fiscal 2019, according to district documents, with revenue to match. Lundbeck, who’s been the superintendent of golf since 1996, said it’s a small staff otherwise, with eight or nine seasonal golf maintenance crew members (three of whom are full-time), and two to three seasonal staff people in the pro shop.

Except for a historically wet May, Lundbeck said the 2019 golf season in Sycamore has been “fairly good.”

The course brought in about
33,000 rounds of golf, he said, which is on par with the past few years that saw an average of 31,000 to 33,000 rounds of golf, he said.

“Golf is an expensive sport,” Lundbeck said, adding that Sycamore sells about 300 season passes for its course annually. “Back in the years when golf was in its heyday, in the early 2000s, I was selling 700 passes, and we were doing 40,000 rounds per year because golf was more competitive then.”

River Heights brings about
12,000 rounds a season. It would need at least 20,000 rounds to be financially self-sufficient, according to a 102-page report compiled by Billy Casper Golf. Buena Vista, the district’s nine-hole course at 131 Buena Vista Drive, operates in the green, according to the report.

Lundbeck said the reality of golf in the county is not all doom and gloom, however.

“I can’t forecast what the economy’s going to do,” Lundbeck said. “If the trends continue, I’ve got a very positive outlook on the future of golf. I don’t think there’s any golf course in this area that would not like to see numbers improve. I think we’re all here to serve the customer. We’re all here for the golfer.”

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