Brookhill finances not up to par
Board looking at course's future
RANTOUL — Jack Anderson the golfer would hate to lose the option of teeing it up at Brookhill Golf Course.
But Jack Anderson the taxpayer has bigger concerns after learning the golf course lost $883,110 from 2010 to '13 and spent about 80 percent of the annual budget on subsidizing its losses.
Anderson presented those figures to the Rantoul Park District board in May. A month later, the board has agreed to assemble a subcommittee to determine the future of the taxpayer-supported golf course.
An avid golfer, Anderson says he isn't trying to shut down Brookhill. Rather, he asked the board to consider means to rein in costs so more funds can be used for operating parks and offering other services.
Park board officials say Brookhill is not alone in suffering financial difficulties; the golf industry as a whole has struggled nationwide in recent years. They say they've made drastic cuts in staffing and other areas in an attempt to stem the flow of red ink.
But Anderson cites Brookhill's numbers — $189,726 lost in 2013 alone; a $303,000 decline in net sales from 2001 to '13 — and questions whether tax dollars should be used to subsidize Brookhill when Rantoul's other golf course — Willow Pond, owned by businessman Kevin Applebee — pays $30,000 in property taxes and receives no taxpayer subsidy.
The startling figures prompted the park district board to announce that board president Gary Hardin, board member Terry Sheppard, and Bill Scott, secretary and legal counsel, will assemble a committee to explore the issue.
"It could be a turning point for the park district," said Dennis Kaster, one of two members of the public to speak at the meeting. "It might not be. I'm here to see what your posture is on it."
Every board member spoke to the issue, and each said he favored formation of the committee.
Rich Thomas called Brookhill one of the community's biggest assets.
"Brookhill is maturing into a nice course," he said. "I think the golf business is going through tough times."
Thomas is former superintendent of the Rantoul Recreation Department, which is operated by the village of Rantoul. He said he "was on the other side of the fence for a long time."
"The park district has done a lot of things to help the Rec Department provide the facilities and services that are here," Thomas said. "Virtually every playground in Rantoul, the park district purchased, even the one with the pool and the youth center."
Thomas said the board needs to "be careful that what we come up with will benefit everyone."
Hardin said the park board has cut three full-time positions at Brookhill, cut the budget every year he has been on the board, and looked at other ways of reducing expenses.
"We've always felt like we could come back," Hardin said. "A lot of communities are struggling, and a lot of school districts are struggling. They're losing money, but they're still trying to operate."
He said Brookhill is more than a business. "It is a service and an attraction," Hardin said.
The board president said the golf course staff a few years ago tracked ZIP codes of golfers who used the course. Their discovery: More than half hailed from the Champaign-Urbana area.
"My question is, 'What other business do you have in Rantoul that's bringing people from Champaign to your town?'" Hardin said.
Rantoul is unique in its two-course setup. Closing Brookhill would leave Danville as the lone area city with multiple public courses on different sites. (Mahomet has two courses, both at Lake of the Woods; Savoy has two, too, but the University of Illinois' Orange and Blue courses are beside one another).
Park board Treasurer Connie Nelson said profits and losses aren't all that should be considered in the Brookhill talks.
One aspect corporations consider when determining whether to locate in a community is quality of life for employees, Nelson said, adding that Rantoul has recreational options that are the envy of many central Illinois towns.
"I think the golf course has an intrinsic value that ... if we just shut it down, I think it would damage our reputation more than any one thing I can think of," Nelson said.
"To close it just because it's costing taxpayers money, if it directly affects the number of businesses coming to Rantoul, it will also have an effect."
What if Brookhill closed? Staff writer Matt Daniels posed that question to three area individuals familiar with the Rantoul golf course.
Travis Flesner, Rantoul High School athletic director and former Rantoul golf coach:
"It would definitely be a big blow on the community. It would definitely hurt our golf team because we've always played out there. It's a beautiful course, although I know it's taken a little bit of a beating as of late as far as the conditions of its fairways and greens. Our home meets are still scheduled there for this season.
"I don't really know what we would do because Willow Pond hasn't exactly been open arms to us. I don't know if they would be willing to let us play there or if they'd charge us. If they charged us, I would look at going somewhere else or playing our meets at away courses."
Ted Beach, former Illinois basketball player from 1948-50 who plays regularly at Brookhill:
"We had about six or seven of us that used to go out to Champaign Country Club in the mid-1990s, and we decided we'd go look around for some public golf courses. We kind of settled on Brookhill, and we started playing there in 1996. ...
"We've got about 20-25 guys that go up there now. We play on weekdays and really enjoy it. It's a good course, particularly for seniors. It's got a good variety of holes. It's anything but a boring course, and I think it's been very well-maintained throughout the years. The staff is one reason we've stayed up there. We've always had a good relationship with them, and I really sincerely hope they don't close."
David Keenan, former Parkland and Salt Fork standout who teamed up with Tim Wheeler to win the Pepsi Betterball event at Brookhill on Sunday:
"I think we'd be losing two of the better events in the area for local players in the Betterball Scramble and Brookhill Open. I like that the course pretty much forces you to attack the whole time or else you'll get left behind. Those two weeks would have to try to be filled with something else, but probably not as well as what they do in putting on those events."
Get your drivers out
No Brookhill in Rantoul would leave just one area city (Danville) with multiple public courses on different sites. The current lineup:
Champaign: The Legends of Champaign
Danville: Turtle Run Golf Club, Wolf Creek Golf Club, Harrison Park Golf Course.
Fairbury: Indian Creek Golf & Country Club
Fairmount: Blue Needles Golf Course
Farmer City: Woodlawn Country Club
Gibson City: Railside Golf Club
Hoopeston: Hubbard Trail Golf & Country Club
LeRoy: LeRoy Country Club
Mahomet: Lake of the Woods Golf Course, Lake of the Woods Par-3
Oakland: Norton Knolls Golf Course
Onarga: Shagbark Golf & Country Club
Rantoul: Willow Pond Golf Course, Brookhill Golf Course
Savoy: University of Illinois Orange Course, University of Illinois Blue Course
Saybrook: Indian Springs Golf Course
Sullivan: Timberlake Golf Course
Tuscola: Ironhorse Golf Course
Urbana: Stone Creek Golf Club
News-Gazette staff writer Matt Daniels contributed to this report.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.