FORT PIERCE — Making the Indian Hills Golf Course profitable cannot be done overnight, the City Commission said Thursday at a community meeting on the future of the course.
More than 80 people attended the 2-hour meeting, where a majority supported the city retaining ownership and improving maintenance and course conditions at the 102-acre course.
The city purchased the golf course at 1600 S. Third St., east of U.S. 1, in 2002 for $200,000. It anticipated annual profits of $190,000. But since then, the 18-hole course has continually lost money.
Over the past decade, the golf course has lost $2.5 million, and the city has put almost $3.2 million from the general fund — the account used to pay for police, roads, sidewalks and other services — into the golf course account to keep it open, according to city financial records. On Jan. 17, the City Commission agreed to give the course $170,000 from its general fund to keep it operating.
About 66 percent of those at Thursday’s meeting voted the city should continue owning, operating and subsidizing the golf course as it would any city department. About 27 percent said the city should hire a private company to operate the course, but only 6 percent supported selling the property.
“I wish you would look at our golf course like it is one of our parks,” golfer Scott Walker said. “What kind of turn of investment does our parks bring?”
Added resident Susan Kiley, “There are always parts of city that is not revenue making but you have to have it for the residents and it speaks to the overall quality of life.”
Sam Barnes said if it wasn’t for Indian Hills, he never would have learned to play golf or received a college golf scholarship to Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Barnes said the city needs junior golf academy programs and the First Tee Foundation to get children and teens interested in the sport.
Resident Ralph Burnett urged the commission to take care of the golf course as if it were their personal property.
“The golf course is suffering from neglect,” Burnett said. “If you had dead trees on your personal property or crab grass growing on your personal property, you would find a way to get rid of it.”
A few people suggested the City Commission use the money spent on the golf course to improve public safety, homeless or the elderly, which received loud boos and groans from most in the audience. Mayor Linda Hudson had to bang the gavel to maintain order. Commissioner Rufus Alexander, who supports keeping the golf course, chastised the audience for being “disrespectful.”
The Fort Pierce Police Officers Association posted on its Facebook page that the city could use the money to hire more officers and improve public safety. The association said the city has 16 openings for police officers.
Commissioner Reggie Sessions urged the audience to create a foundation, similar to Sunrise Theatre, that could host fundraisers to help the city pay for improvements to golf course conditions and to build a pro shop.
Hudson said the city has to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
“What this comes down to is a matter of money,” Hudson said.
City Manager Nicholas Mimms said the city would issue a report on the golf course in 60 to 90 days.