Good news: Los Alamos could be selling its golf course.
Bad news: It might use funds from the sale to build a new golf course.
Last week the Los Alamos Monitor reported that a “longtime member of the Los Alamos golfing community said there may be internal discussions among the county council and the golfing community about a plan to construct a new course.” The proposal is to sell the Los Alamos County Golf Course’s 140 acres to a developer, and use “the money from that sale to fund a new course in Pueblo Canyon.”
Love it or despise it, golf’s had a bad run lately. Its popularity peaked a decade and a half ago — participation has plunged by a third since 2002. As The Washington Post summarized: “The game … is expensive both to prepare for and to play. It’s difficult, dissuading amateurs from giving it a swing, and time-consuming, limiting how much fans can play. Even what loyalists would say are strengths — its simplicity, its traditionalism — can seem overly austere in an age of fitness classes, extreme races and iPhone games.”
As the most affluent community in the Land of Enchantment, perhaps Los Alamos can afford to stay in the golf game. That’s not the case for other local governments. Aztec’s course is a money-loser, as is Silver City’s. In Albuquerque, a recent report documented the mounting economic unviability of the city’s courses, with rounds played declining by a stunning 49 percent since 2000. As the chart below shows, the operating-income deficit is soaring.
Source: “City of Albuquerque: A Golf Study,” JJ Keegan+, May 1, 2017
Finances aside, government has no business in golf. As Michael D. LaFaive, a fiscal scholar at the Rio Grande Foundation’s sister think tank in Michigan, observed, public courses “represent the very antithesis of ‘core government function.'”
Municipal mission creep is a serious problem in New Mexico — and the rest of the nation. With towns and cities facing mounting unfunded liabilities from wildly unrealistic promises to current and future retirees, divesting golf courses is a wise policy option for fiscally responsible elected officials.