Golf course subsidy defended

While the Atchafalaya at Idlewild golf course continues to run in the red financially, the chairman of the commission overseeing the course says its benefits to the parish are numerous.

Rudy Sparks, chairman of the parish’s Atchafalaya Golf Course Commission, also noted that revenues have improved as the years have passed.

“Clearly, the golf course is heading in the right direction … we’ve struggled with golf revenue, but seen steady growth in the last two years,” Sparks said.

Revenue generated between golf fees and food and beverage intake at the clubhouse were $1.9 million in 2008 and $2.3 million in 2012, Sparks said.

“The other part that no one ever mentions is the sales tax that is returned to the parish as a result of us being there,” Sparks said. That amount was $75,000 in fiscal year 2007-08 and was $91,000 in the most recent fiscal year, according to the chairman, who added that an equal amount of taxes are paid to the state.

Between the two, the golf course provides employment for between 10 and 12 full-time and 40 to 50 part-time workers, amounting to about $1 million in payroll.

As an advertising program “begins to bear fruit, so to speak,” Sparks said he expects to see golf revenues increase.

Partially funded by a BP grant, the advertising efforts include billboards, a website update, Facebook, news print advertising and a television promo which will run in local spots during the Masters and run for two months, Sparks said.

Sales of ad space on the course’s GPS systems have grown in the last few years because of the growing strength of local economy, Sparks said.

He also noted a significant increase in amount of tournament play at the golf course. This, he said, creates opportunities for charity groups and booster clubs to generate revenue as well. In 2012, over $200,000 was raised for charity in this manner, Sparks said.

The golf course serves as the host course for Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Also, Sparks said, much has been done to promote golf at the youth level, particularly in area high schools. All but Franklin High have a golf team, he said.

“It’s a great facility, and it’s a great promotion for St. Mary Parish to the rest of the country. And it’s a great facility to be enjoyed by the citizenry of St. Mary Parish. We’re very fortunate to have this facility in this parish. There is not another parish that owns a facility of this quality. … This is a premiere facility,” Sparks said.

The golf course near Patterson owes the St. Mary Parish Council more than $1.3 million, three times the amount of its assets on hand, according to the commission’s recent audit report for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

The audit, conducted by Pitts and Matte accounting and made public Monday by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, stated the total assets as of Sept. 30 were $445,687, while total liabilities were $1.77 million.

“The commission is very sensitive to this issue and we’re doing everything we can to hold expenses down and raise revenues,” Sparks said.

Steve Bierhorst, parish councilman at-large, said “We knew we were going to struggle up front. There’s a lot of business being done at that golf course … It’s not self-sufficient by no means, no. We have to put funds into it every year. Whether that day will come, I don’t know. They work hard to get it there.”

He also noted that there are a lot of ancillary benefits to the golf course.

Salesmen, he said, take people to dinner there. Also, “salesmen and prospective customers do a lot of business on that golf course … that benefits parish-wide,” Bierhorst said.

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

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