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Reason Foundation

Getting Greens in the Black

Golf course Privatization Trends and Practices

Lisa Snell
August 1, 1999

Executive Summary

From Los Angeles County, with 16 public golf courses operated by private firms, to New York City, with 13 privately operated public courses, local officials are increasingly likely to privatize what Governing magazine called “perhaps the most non-essential of the non-essential public services.”

Between 1987 and 1995, the number of cities contracting for golf-course services increased by 67 percent, bringing the total fraction of cities contracting for golf operations to around 25 percent.

Privatization of municipal golf facilities includes turning over the operation of whole facilities or particular services to a private vendor to operate in a commercial manner. The city benefits through the receipt of guaranteed revenues and efficient operation of the facility for public benefit and enjoyment.

Reasons why public officials are turning to golf-course privatization include:

A commonly asked question is how private contractors make a profit and deliver services at lower costs than the public sector. Profit is most often achieved through the following means:

While government-run golf courses can make these kinds of improvements, they face many competing demands for scarce government resources. In contrast, a private-management company is focused on generating revenue and has an incentive to actually reinvest in the quality of the golf course to attract more players, host more tournaments, sell more merchandise, and in general increase golf revenues.

Through a careful privatization process, including an evaluation of existing golf-course conditions, a wellwritten Request For Propsal (RFP), and a cautious and competitive bidding process with clear performance measures written into the privatization contract, communities can have access to affordable, quality municipal golf courses.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education

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