Amherst to take critical look at Cherry Hill Golf Course amid financial woes

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2017

AMHERST — A sizable shortfall in the projected revenues for Cherry Hill Golf Course is prompting Town Manager Paul Bockelman to pledge to make its operations a major focus of a strategic plan centered on town recreation.

Financial figures presented to the Select Board May 8 by Sonia Aldrich, interim co-finance director, show that estimated revenue projections for the municipal golf course for fiscal 2017, which runs from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, are $227,638.

But through March 31, or three-quarters of the budget year, the town so far has collected only $79,745.92, or barely 35 percent of this projected revenue.

Bockelman said Cherry Hill is unlikely to recover from this below-expected revenue in the current budget year.

“It tells me it’s not bringing in the revenue that it should be bringing in,” he said.

An objective for the golf course, outlined in the budget Bockelman prepared in January and Town Meeting approved this spring, is “to fully fund the (Cherry Hill) operations through grants, fees and programming income.”

Those operational costs are $244,629, which does not include employee benefits and capital expenses.

Figures provided by Aldrich shows memberships dropping precipitously, with smaller falloffs in cart rentals and green fees.

Bockelman said there are a number of factors to blame, including hot and dry weather last summer that may have discouraged golfers from playing, a start to the current season about a month later than 2016 due to more snowfall, and a general downturn in the number of people playing golf.

It’s also a challenge to operate a town course when two private golf courses, Hickory Ridge Country Club and the Amherst Golf Club, are also based in Amherst, Bockelman said.

“It’s a competitive market, which makes it harder when people have choices,” Bockelman said.

The drop in revenues comes after fiscal 2016, when discounted specials increased the number of rounds played to 13,637, a nearly 15 percent rise. That stemmed what had been a 21 percent decline in rounds played between fiscal years 2012 and 2015, a drop from 15,079 to 11,884.

Get out of golf business?

The strategic plan Bockelman envisions will examine all aspects of Amherst Leisure Services and Supplemental Education, including the swimming pools, summer camps and adult enrichment programs.

Bockelman said Cherry Hill and other programs will be discussed with facts and data, and hard questions may be asked such as whether the town should get out of the golf business or whether there are ways to morph it into a year-round business. This is already being done with some events, such as WinterFest, and there has been talk about an ice skating rink.

How much tax support should be provided and whether the golf course should be self-supporting are other topics for discussion. The town already sets aside $207,376 to ensure that children from all socioeconomic backgrounds can participate in sports and other activities.

The strategic plan will happen in the fall after Barbara Bilz, serving on an interim basis as the LSSE director, gets the department through the busy summer. Bockelman said that Bilz is doing a great job, but has big shoes to fill following the retirement of Linda Chalfant after more than 30 years with the department, most at the helm.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.