Why Are Taxpayers Paying For Golfers’ Pleasure?

Los Alamos

Well, the Parks and Recreation Board (PRB) did it again. In their Aug. 11 meeting the PRB voted once more to forward Option A for golf course expansion to the County Council.

Option A is the most destructive to Open Space of the four options provided by the golf course architect consultants (seen at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/8mlipqf0addttmi/Golf%20Course%20Proposals%206-22-22.pdf?dl=0, and a summary of safety concerns at:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/obe0787f5l9ad2d/Golf%20Course%20Safety%20Issue%20Options%20summary.pdf?dl=0), requiring clearing about 4.5 acres of mature established forest and a major realignment of the Walnut Canyon Rim Trail.

The vote in favor of Option A was taken in spite of vocal and widespread opposition from the general public, and the strong recommendation from the expert consultants, hired at great expense by the County, for Options C and D, because of less impact on Open Space and also because, in their opinion, those options provided a better golf course with more of what they called “wow factor”.

Options C and D also require far less destruction of mature forest, making use of the former residential area alongside the maintenance road and other areas currently used by maintenance facilities. These options still require removal of some trees and trail realignment at the east and/or southeast boundaries of the course, but far less than Option A. 

Option A was the consultants’ last choice. All of these options are expensive, running right around $4,000,000 which is in addition to the Phase 1 improvements for the rest of the golf course which are hovering around $2,000,000. For more detail on these issues, see my previous letter at https://www.dropbox.com/s/0exj6bn4a1vybe0/WarrenLetter220717%20embedded%20photos.pdf?dl=0

So why is the board voting for Option A when both the consultants and the wider public see it as the worst alternative? As one board member said in the meeting, it’s because that’s what the Los Alamos Golf Association (LAGA) wants.

Apparently, the opinion of the expert golf course architects and the general public means nothing compared to that of a small group of golfers. And why does LAGA prefer Option A?

Rumor has it that’s because it provides a longer golf course for those few long-drivers in the golfing public and it means less disturbance to the other holes while construction is taking place on the driving range and the holes surrounding it. Looks like golfers’ pleasure and convenience outweighs the natural environment and trail-users’ pleasure and convenience again.

Please note that when I say “golfers” in this discussion, I’m really talking about the subset of the golfing community that is pushing expensive, destructive renovations of the golf course, and not all golfers, some of whom are opposed to these things, at least if the recent letter by David Rule is any indication. https://ladailypost.com/769166-2/

The real question here is: Why should taxpayers pay all this money for the convenience and pleasure of a small percentage of the population? To show how out of whack the current financial model for the golf course is, consider the case of our local ski area. Back in the 1940s when local skiers wanted a place to ski, did they go to the government and say, “Build us a ski area”? No, they banded together as a club and provided the funds out of their own pockets as well as heavy volunteer labor to build what eventually became the Pajarito Ski Area.

When skiers wanted more runs, a new ski lift or a new base lodge, did they go to the County and demand these facilities? No, once again they put together the money and labor to acquire them. Did the skiers go to the County for day-to-day operating and maintenance expenses? Once again, no. When the Ski Club ran up against financial difficulties a few years ago, did the County jump forward with millions of dollars to rescue an institution, which was an asset and point of pride to the community, and served a broad cross-section of the community including our youth? Quite the contrary. The County Council washed their hands of the whole affair, forcing the Ski Club to sell the ski area to a private corporation.

Now compare that history to that of the golf course, which was built by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947 on government land with taxpayer money. When the County was founded in 1949, it continued to fund the operation, maintenance, and improvement of the golf course at taxpayers’ expense, with only a fraction of the funds coming from the nominal greens fees paid by users.

When golfers complained that the old clubhouse didn’t suit them, the County built them a multi-million-dollar clubhouse at taxpayer expense. When the irrigation system needed work, the County provided more taxpayer dollars for that. The bulk of maintenance, staffing and day-to-day expenses are paid for by taxpayers. If the current golf course doesn’t suit some of the golfers, why don’t they pool their money and time, buy some land and build their own golf course? There are numerous private golf courses across the country that were built in exactly that way, but you can be sure the golfers using them aren’t paying a paltry $35 for an 18-hole round of golf.

Golfers often excuse the taxpayer support of their sport by pointing at the Aquatic Center, ice rink or other local tax-supported facilities. The amount of tax money spent to support these facilities pales when compared to the uncounted millions of dollars tax payers have been forced to spend on the golf course over the decades. Facilities like the pool and ice rink also serve a much broader cross-section of the public, especially our youth. Who is served by the golf course?

I have ridden or hiked on the trails adjoining the golf course frequently over the past 20+ years, and my impression (unsupported by official data, which is difficult or impossible to come by in this county) is that it largely serves adult males. I seldom see women on the course and never younger children. True, there is a golf team at the high school, but from what I’ve seen in the papers, participation is very small compared to other activities that are offered to young people in our community, and it seems that the current golf course configuration serves them quite well.

So why are taxpayers forced to support golf? I suspect it is because historically politicians, business people and those who make decisions in governance have used the golf course as a place to form relationships, make deals and generally discuss how they intend to wield their power. If true, this would explain a tendency to favor golf courses when doling out public money. It is far past time that the general public take control of this blatant misuse of our taxpayer dollars.

In the case of our own golf course, the County should:

  1. Stop any expansion of the golf course into Open Space, now and in the future.
  2. Stop all golf course improvements funded by taxpayer money, restricting expenditures to necessary repairs and maintenance.
  3. Stop using “safety concerns” as a justification for unnecessary improvements to the golf course.
  4. Start operating the golf course as a business, with user fees that reflect the cost of running and maintaining it.

According to the recently released County survey, the golf course currently meets the needs of the vast majority of the public. If there are truly safety issues on the golf course, these should be addressed by the least expensive options with the lowest degradation to open space, such as the use of limited flight-distance balls on the driving range and extended netting.

I can think of no rational reason that golfers should be entitled to have their fun at the expense of non-golfing taxpayers. If our local golf course doesn’t meet the needs of some of the local golfers, they can always do as skiers do: Get in their cars and find a bigger mountain elsewhere.