When it comes to closing public facilities in Memphis — and it has come to that — golf courses are relatively easy.
For degree of difficulty, shutting down public golf courses and other sports facilities like pools and tennis courts falls well below community centers, public schools, and hospitals like the Med.
So much for perspective. We will get to schools and the Med in a few weeks or months, but right now golf courses are on the City Council's chopping block. Specifically, three nine-hole courses at Overton Park, Whitehaven, and Riverside.
The courses are already closed three days a week, and advertising executive and business consultant (and golfer) John Malmo thinks they should be closed, period, along with all of the other public courses except Galloway, Fox Meadows, and Audubon. He would leave Overton Park open as a free course, mowed but stripped of everything golf-related except the flagsticks.
"They're probably paying more for the labor to collect the money than the money they are collecting," he said.
Malmo sort of has a dog in this fight. He was on the now defunct Memphis Park Commission board when it upgraded Galloway Golf Course and clubhouse, setting off an arms race on the City Council that resulted in building expensive clubhouses at Whitehaven and Riverside as well, although they get about a tenth as much play.
"Give Audubon and Fox Meadows the same treatment we gave Galloway, and, as with Galloway, they'll operate in the black," he said. He suggested adding a driving range, which is a good revenue producer, at Fox Meadows, because there is room for one.
I visited the three nine-hole courses Tuesday when they were closed. The Overton Park course was accessible because it is the southern entrance to the park that includes the zoo, Brooks Museum, and Old Forest. A solitary golfer, Jon Hornyak, was hitting balls on the eighth hole. In the morning mist, it looked like a bucolic scene from one of those golf movies that make golfers go all mushy, except that the flag sticks had been removed from the greens and the carts and clubhouse were locked.
I couldn't get into Riverside, which is off Interstate 55 south of downtown, or Whitehaven, which is on Holmes Road north of the Mississippi line, because the gates were locked. And very nice and fancy gates they are, as are the clubhouses and entranceways. A guy on a tractor was cutting the grass at Whitehaven.
I am not a golfer, but Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden is. He called Riverside a "goat farm" no self-respecting golfer would play.
"Pine Hill and Davy Crockett are better and more interesting courses than Audubon and Fox Meadows," he said. "Run properly, the city could maintain all five of its 18-hole courses."
In this budget crunch, golf courses are easy targets of opportunity. For perspective, I also visited the Ed Rice Community Center, swimming pool, and tennis courts in Frayser, which used to be one of my favorite haunts before the Don Miller Varsity Tennis pro shop closed. I was glad to see the courts in decent shape with seven good nets and fences and high school kids playing a tournament on them. The pool, which opens next week, has been upgraded with slides and other fun stuff. The Red Cross was using the gym in the community center to house flood refugees, and an outfit called First Serve was tutoring kids in a nearby classroom.
In short, it was doing all the things community centers are supposed to be doing and appeared to be doing them well for the benefit of scores, if not hundreds, of people every day. The whole complex is surrounded by a pretty walking trail that, by my lights, is the best bang for the buck in public-fitness spending.
So if you're steamed about golf courses, save it for something that matters more, like community centers and schools, or less, like Beale Street Landing. Those fights are coming.