Golf may be the sport of kings, but it is turning the city of Santa Cruz into something of a pauper.
The city has lost more than $2 million the past few years on the expansive, 250-acre, 18-hole DeLaveaga golf course, but the council agreed Tuesday night to continue funding it and to stop calling the funding a loan. It also agreed that the course managers would have to cut another $140,o00 from its yearly budget, managed by husband and wife, Tim and Jamie Loustalot.
The managers would have to cut more of the already thin staff and pick up marketing expenses from the city. Jamie Loustalot said they would seek to increase revenue possibly by staging barbecues, concerts or movies on the lush hilltop grounds.
The 41-year-old course was built as a nonprofit and charged only $4 for green fees in the old days. Today it charges $35 for a round of 18 holes, a bargain in comparison to private clubs.
"Golf is perceived as a rich man's game," said Larry Pearson, a former pro golfer who now owns the Pacific Cookie Company. "But DeLaveaga is a working man's golf course. It's inexpensive compared to others."
Nationwide, the sport has seen declines in players, despite an increase in courses. Over the past year, golf rounds have declined nationally by 2.3 percent and almost 5 percent over the past five years.
The economy is the biggest culprit, but some say that excitement of Tiger Woods being a lone, young star akin to baseball's Babe Ruth, may have something to do with it.
DeLaveaga has served up 2.9 million rounds of golf since it opened in 1970. In its best years, golfers played 90,000 rounds, according to Dannette Shoemaker, director of city parks and recreation. Last year, it was down to 50,000.
However, there has been a recent spike, she added, perhaps in response to upgrades in the course or new programs, such as nine-hole games, big hole games for those who need a little help putting, and games paired with wine for women.
The city is in the process of renegotiating the lease with the vendors, which is what triggered this special session. Santa Cruz now earns 94 percent of green fees, 7 percent of cart rentals, 15 percent off the driving range and 15 percent of pro shop merchandise.
It also earns 6 percent of food sales at the lodge, 8 percent of alcohol and 10 percent on merchandise.
The city might have considered closing the course, as it has done with other publicly funded recreation sites, such as Harvey West Pool, or selling the operation to a private contractor.
Those were turned down, council members said, in the hope that the course can rebound in the future.