BY BRUCE WARREN
You would think that golfers in Los Alamos would be overjoyed to live in a small community with a beautiful 18-hole golf course, heavily subsidized by the taxpayers of this county. Apparently for some, enough is never enough. For several years now a faction of the golfing community has been pushing the County to expand the golf course into the wooded Open Space south of the present boundaries. This area is a forest of mature, healthy trees and contains the highly popular and well-used Walnut Canyon Rim Trail.
In a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board (PRB) on July 14, this expansion was discussed and voted on, despite the fact that public announcements of the meeting agenda did not include this topic, meaning that most opponents of the plan did not attend. The design consultant hired by the County presented the PRB with four options, labeled A through D, for lengthening the driving range and improving the layout of holes 1 through 9,. You can see this presentation at:
The consultant recommended Option D as the least destructive of Open Space and with zero impact on Walnut Canyon Rim Trail. In spite of this, the board, with reckless disregard for the environment and public opinion, voted to forward Option A to the Council. Of the four options, Option A was the most destructive of open space, requiring clearing 5.5 acres of woods, destroying as many as 150 trees (Illustration 1) and requiring a major realignment of Walnut Canyon Rim Trail, pushing it right to the edge of the canyon (Illustration 2). An earlier report estimated an additional water use of 2.5 million gallons of water a year to irrigate the additional area.
Illustration 1: Part of the wooded area that would be destroyed by Option A.
Illustration 2: Approximate route of the relocated Walnut Canyon Rim Trail. This route is far rougher than the present route and would require some major earth and rock moving to build a trail that would match the Beginner/Intermediate rating of the current route.
The non-golfing citizens of Los Alamos County have been paying out huge amounts for decades for the pleasure of a small percentage of the population. The destruction of trees when it is unnecessary for a perfectly useful golf course is unconscionable. In addition, these projects pile even more costs onto the non-golfing public on top of those from past years. One justification proponents of this project give is that the driving range should be lengthened. There are other solutions to this issue. One is to raise the height of the existing fencing. Another is to use limited flight distance range balls, which reduce the distance the balls travel on the driving range. Both of these options are cheaper and less damaging than expanding the golf course.
It is nearly impossible to get from the County a true accounting of how much the golf course costs us, but here are some examples:
• The operating budget (actual or adopted) averaged $1,021,201 per year for 2019-2022. This appears not to include the employee pay for golf course staff, with the equivalent of about 9 full-time employees paid every year.
• The budget does not include capital funds projects, like the recent redo of the irrigation system which cost us somewhere between $1.4 and $2 million. And then there’s the needlessly expensive clubhouse, estimates for which I have seen between $5.2 and $8 million. Now on top of these expenditures we have more millions for the proposed golf course “improvements”.
• The golf course pops up in other places in the County’s proposed budget
https://cdn5hosted.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6435726/File/Government/Departments/Administrative%20Services/Finance%20and%20Budget/Reports%20and %20Budget/FY2023%20Proposed%20Budget%20-%20Website%20version.pdf such as equipment funds, repairs for buildings, etc. Hard to tell how much these add up to each year. • With the current greens fees running at about $30 to $35, it appears that golfers are paying a fraction of the actual cost of maintaining, running and improving the golf course.
When I said the PRB voted against public opinion in choosing the most destructive expansion plan, I am basing that on the public opinion survey that the County released this month. You can see that survey at:
If you read through the report you will find that 97% of respondents use parks and open space, 93% use the trails and 30% have used the golf course. This was out of 1,098 responses. I have in the past seen much smaller percentages attributed to annual golf course use. When asked how important facilities were to them, respondents rated parks, open spaces and trails at 4.6 out of 5 putting them at the top of the list. The golf course got 2.4 out of 5, placing it at 21 out of 24 categories of facilities. When asked if a facility met their needs, the golf course rated 4.1 out of 5, which means that the largest percentage of the public sees no need for “improvements” in the golf course, especially at the expense of Open Space.
There is a reasonable argument that golf courses shouldn’t even exist in arid areas like ours because of their huge burden on the environment and water resources. But since our golf course exists, some argue that it should be maintained. One of those arguments is that it provides economic benefit to the County. I find it highly unlikely that any economic benefit comes close to the costs involved in maintaining the golf course, and certainly proponents of expanding the golf course have never given any hard facts and figures to prove such benefits exist. Since Los Alamos residents love our parks and open spaces, maybe we should change the golf course into a park so that the non-golfers could get some benefit from all the tax money we’ve poured into the golf course over the years. As it stands right now, we can’t even walk
or ride through the golf course to access the trails on either side. The golf course management has posted signs saying that access is limited to “paying” customers during operating hours (Illustration 3).
Apparently the golfers are safe enough on the course, but no one else is. Since so much of my taxes have gone to the golf course, does that make me a paying customer?
Illustration 3/Photo by Bruce Warren