Golf struggle: Fairfield uses tax dollars to keep courses afloat, but officials hope for turnaround

It takes tens of thousands of tax dollars every year to keep Fairfield’s golf course operations afloat, but the city’s mayor believes it can be self-sustaining if it’s “brought to its full potential.”

But now, people aren’t returning, said Fairfield City Council member Tim Abbott.

“People are leaving because of the condition of the course,” he said.

RELATED: The ‘Tiger Effect’ expected to hit Butler County golf courses

The city operates two golf courses at its Fairfield Greens complex: North Trace, a nearly 20-year-old, 9-hole course, and South Trace, a 40-to-50-year-old, 18-hole course. Thousands of rounds are played at the city's two courses, but total rounds have declined since the 2008 recession, and continued to drop since 2012.

Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Howard said she’s developing a plan to make the course self-sustaining, but it’s going to take time.

“Our course isn’t where it should be,” she said. “And it will take three years to get it where it needs to be.”

The course is not a break-even operation and is dependent on the city annually supplementing its operations.

The city transferred $75,000 in 2016 to supplement the city’s golf operations and aquatic center. That amount dropped to $50,000 in 2017, but increased to $225,000 in 2018 because it also paid for capital projects, such as equipment, blacktopping the parking lot, landscaping and removing ash trees.

“It’s a diamond in the rough,” said Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller of the 18-hole course. “You got easy, medium and hard holes.”

However, he said, “It hasn’t been brought to its full potential.”

Part of Howard’s plan to improve the course is addressing the drainage issue at South Trace.

“Our course doesn’t drain,” she said.

The city’s North Trace drains well. Part of that issue with the 18-hole course is the 50-50 ratio of bent to pao grass. Howard said it needs to be a 70-30 bent to pao grass ratio for better drainage.

The other issue is there’s too much thatch, a layer of dead turf between the living grass and soil, Howard said. She said too much thatch holds the treating chemicals for the grass too long.

Howard also said she and her staff are “in full research mode” on other aspects for the golf course, including establishing a few pollinator habitats which require less mowing.

Miller is hopeful for the complex’s future with the improvements, saying it “will be one of the best (municipal courses) around.”

CITY’S FINANCES: Access the city’s finances via OpenGov

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FACTS & FIGURES

The city regularly transfers funds to support the golf course operations, as well as the city’s aquatic center.

• 2016: $ 75,000

• 2017: $ 50,000

•2018: $225,000

Transfers in 2018 included $133,000 in capital projects throughout the year, including major equipment, parking lot blacktopping, and landscaping and ash tree removal.

Source: city of Fairfield

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BY THE NUMBERS

The city operates an 18-hole and 9-hole golf course. Here’s how the rounds break down:

2014 — North Trace: 12,260 | South Trace: 33,377

2015 — North Trace: 12,739 | South Trace: 32,825

2016 — North Trace: 11,531 | South Trace: 30,511

2017 — North Trace: 12,100 | South Trace: 29,859

2018 — North Trace: 10,570 | South Trace: 26,293

Source: city of Fairfield

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