UNM Budget Woes

Copyright by New Mexico Golf News.com

The University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course is on the chopping block. Here’s some background on the course’s financial predicament.

Q: What is UNM considering?

A: An advisory team tasked by UNM President David Schmidly to identify ways to cut spending at UNM has determined golf is not part of UNM’s core mission. It proposes selling the Championship Golf Course or developing the land on which it sits.

Q: What exactly did the advisory team recommend?

A: It said, “Due to market saturation, aging infrastructure, and no significant contribution to UNM’s core mission, the Championship Golf Course should be closed, resulting in $600,000 from fund balances (that would otherwise be used to cover growing deficit) to use for other purposes in FY12.” The savings would help offset UNM’s $28 million campus-wide deficit.

Q: Is this proposal set in concrete?

A: No, but the concrete truck is rolling and its barrel is turning. A UNM spokesman cautioned this week that the advisory team’s proposal will remain just that – a proposal – until the Legislature adjourns March 19 and UNM knows how much or how little state support it can expect. After that, though, budget-cutting decisions will have to be made.

Q: GolfWeek reported that the course has $4.6 million in debt. How can that be?

A: That is the “accumulated debt” for both golf courses. In 2001, that debt, owed by the golf enterprise operations to the rest of UNM, was about $3 million. It declined to just under $2 million by 2008, but it has risen sharply in the last three years. UNM golf lost $763,000 last year alone. Enterprise operations are supposed to be self-supporting, not money-losers.

Q: What about the North Course?

A: The advisory team recommends no action at this time on the North Course, a 9-hole venue next to the UNM Law School. The surrounding neighborhood rallied around that course several years ago when UNM sought to trim its acreage to make room for a proposed senior-citizen housing development.

Q: Conditions at UNM Championship seemed to improve a couple years ago. What happened?

A: The total annual budget for all golf operations is $2.4 million. Annual maintenance for both courses is $1.3 million. Last year, daily maintenance was privatized, saving $75,000 a year. Bunker complexes were rebuilt and overall conditioning did improve, so UNM did seem to get more for its maintenance dollars.

Q. But there’s a “but” there?

A: Yes. Capital costs have skyrocketed as one calamity after another befell the courses. Basically, their infrastructure is collapsing. The 44-year-old Championship course lost its irrigation well a few years ago, and then its pump’s main bearing burned out. Twice in the last two years, an underground electrical line failed. The course went without power for three days in mid-January. The septic system is a mess. Its cast-iron irrigation system is rusting out and cracking. In 2008, one equipment failure alone cost $800,000.

Q: What about rounds?

A: Rounds at both courses totaled 64,000 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Play has declined due to price pressure from the area’s Indian casino-owned and municipal courses. The poor economy is taking its toll. People who used to play at UNM are simply choosing to play elsewhere.

Q: What do they want to do with the course?

A: The advisory team said, “Develop a comprehensive plan for land development.  Proceeds from development and/or sale will provide unrestricted fund balances that will be available to: Pay off the $4.6 million debt; potentially provide some level of support for UNM’s golf teams to practice at another location; Invest in other enterprises.”

Q: What about the UNM golf teams?

A: They play a role in the deficit problem. At the peak of the golf season each year, various college tournaments lead the Championship Course to be closed to the paying public – with no remuneration to the course. The task force acknowledged this but said charging the Lobos would only shift the expense burden to the Athletic Department – not solve the bigger picture. The advisory team said, “The men’s and women’s golf teams will be displaced and have to seek another course to utilize for practice, competition and office space.”

Q: What do they say about the playing public?

A: The advisory team said, “The community at large that utilizes the course will be affected. Faculty, staff and students that went to the course to play at a reduced rate will have to go elsewhere …. Junior tournaments would have to seek an alternative course to hold their events. … The community will have to find another place to play golf that may not be as reasonable. …”

Q: Who will make the decision?

A: UNM’s president will prepare a budget recommendation to present to the UNM Board of Regents, drawing from some, all or none of the advisory team’s recommendations

The regents will have the final say on what stays and what goes by the time the new budget year starts July 1.

(By New Mexico Golf News.com Editor Dan Vukelich)

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