FORT SMITH — Sebastian County’s Ben Geren Golf Course is on track to break even with its budget this year in the face of a summer marked by triple-digit heat indexes and a lack of rain.
Paul Wanstreet, marketer/pro shop manager for the course, told the county Parks Advisory Board at its meeting Monday the course’s revenue for the year so far is ahead of where it was during the same period in 2021. The golf course took in $441,603 as of June 30, a 9.3% increase compared with the $404,051 it generated from January through June last year.
Wanstreet said he felt good about the nearly double-digit uptick with the current heat affecting the River Valley. Business at the golf course and the region at large were also impacted by freezing conditions in February and heavy rainfall and flooding that came afterward.
“As I’ve said numerous times, when the weather’s nice, we’re busy, very busy,” Wanstreet said.
County Judge David Hudson said he has been monitoring Ben Geren Golf Course’s performance. The 2022 county budget includes $862,569 for the golf course and pro shop. It’s funded via the county general fund.
The golf course’s expenses for the first six months of the year totaled $378,232, according to Jay Randolph, county park administrator and course superintendent. The golf course also made an additional $14,454 from the gas well at the site, which, when combined with the $441,603, puts its year-to-date profit at $77,825 so far.
Wanstreet said the golf course revenue is comprised of how much the course generates through avenues such as green fee passes, golf cart rentals and the driving range, in addition to the money derived from sales from the pro shop and concessions.
The single-largest increase in revenue compared to this time last year can be seen in the $47,808 jump the golf course saw in revenue from annual passes, which was more than enough to make up for the $16,800 downturn in regular green fees during the same period .
Wanstreet said Thursday the increase is indicative of people who played at the golf course last year and decided to pay the annual fee with the intention of playing frequently this year.
“When we see the annuals going up as it did, that’s a good sign for us that people like the golf course, and they’re going to be playing here a lot over the prior year, and the prior year’s numbers weren’t all that bad,” Wanstreet said.
He said some of the decrease in revenue from regular green fees can be attributed to many of the people who would have paid them last year buying annual passes for this year. He doesn’t believe the golf course will sell many more annual passes through December given they are valid for a calendar year, rather than a year from when they are purchased.
Randolph said Monday while the course gets some use from customers in the morning and evening hours, the afternoons are “dead” due to the heat. The golf course may look at introducing a special rate to promote play in the evening if matters get worse. The course used this tactic when similar periods of high temperatures occurred during the previous two decades.
“We’re certainly not there yet,” Randolph said. “I’m not saying that we would do that, but it’s hot.”
Sebastian County is one of the 55 counties in Arkansas with burn bans in effect as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Arkansas Forestry Commission website. The county’s burn order, which Hudson issued Monday, cited extremely dry conditions.
Randolph said Thursday a “twilight rate” would offer discounted green fees after 5 pm Regular play for 18 holes of golf and a cart costs $34 Monday through Thursday and $40 Friday through Sunday, according to Wanstreet.
Wanstreet said those who have used the golf course this year have praised its overall condition. I have noted the organizers for the tournaments the course hosted, as well as the corporate and charitable outings, all already signed on to hold events there next year to lock in their dates. This includes Forsgren, the Greater Fort Smith Association of Home Builders, Next Step Homeless Services, Fort Smith Boys & Girls Clubs and the Fort Smith Board of Realtors.
“The condition of the course has been spectacular,” Wanstreet said. “Usually what they mention is the greens, and the greens have really been great. To those folks out there working on the golf course in this weather and stuff, they’re doing a great job.”
Ben Geren Golf Course has three nine-hole greens for a total of 27 holes, according to the Sebastian County website. These include the Silo, Magnolia and Willow courses.