For the February issue of D Magazine, Curt Sampson wrote about the city of Dallas’ most storied public golf course, Cedar Crest. The century-old course was designed by one of golf’s most famous architects. But last year Cedar Crest closed for a stretch because its greens, which are maintained by the Park and Recreation Department, had fallen into such sad shape that they had to be plowed up. So part of Curt’s story addressed the question of whether the city should rethink how it runs and maintains its six public courses. Here’s how he ended the piece:
“Every pro at every Dallas municipal course is right now operating on an extension to his or her contract that will be evaluated this summer. It’s within the realm of possibilities that the city will give up its maintenance of the land and turn over each of the courses to a management company that would oversee everything from the greens to the clubhouse.” And then Curt quoted Arun Agarwal, the president of the city’s Park and Recreation Board: “Golf has changed, Dallas has changed, and a new generation is embracing golf. We must find a new way.”
Well, that’s now happening. Given the long lead time of a monthly print magazine, the work on Curt’s story was finished at the end of last year. The issue was in subscribers’ hands right around the time that the city, on January 19, posted something called a request for information (RFI), seeking entities with knowledge about and ideas for “golf course professional services.” I didn’t learn about this RFI until last week, which is a bit surprising. Because this is kind of a big deal.
The city is essentially saying, “Hey, anyone want to take over one or some or all of our golf courses?” That’s about 700 acres of turf. Even if you don’t play golf, this should get your attention. Agarwal tells me that the six courses over the past three years have contributed on average about $429,000 annually to the Park and Recreation Department. The average was dragged down by the situation at Cedar Crest, of course. But in 2019, prior to the pandemic, even when Cedar Crest was humming, the courses contributed only about $677,000 to the Park Department. It’s pretty clear that the city’s take could grow.
I was lucky to get Agarwal on the phone last week. The guy has a day job running the country’s largest bedding company. He didn’t want to give me the name, but he says that in doing some research, he found a local privately run course—just one course—that nets $2 million annually. “And it’s not even close to the quality of Cedar Crest,” he says. (Greens fees flow to the city, while money from cart rentals, concessions, and instruction flows to the pros who contract with the city to run the courses.)
What is the Park Board looking for from this RFI? “Let your imagination run wild,” Agarwal says. “We want someone to run the courses or partner with us, as long as it serves the citizens and maximizes revenue. This is a business.” He brought up Stevens Park, in Oak Cliff, which is hamstrung by not having a driving range. Agarwal says that with advances in golf simulators, they might be one way to compensate. “If we can unleash the creativity of the golf world, why should we not?” he asks.
Here’s the text of the RFI. Submissions are due March 3. Using those ideas, the Park Department will then publish a more detailed request for proposal. Current contracts with club pros run through December of 2024. So by 2025, golf in Dallas could be a whole new game.