In a new audit out Thursday, Portland’s city auditor says the Portland Parks and Recreation’s golf program is struggling to keep itself afloat.

Portland Parks and Recreation photo of Colwood Golf Center in Northeast Portland.

Portland Parks and Recreation photo of Colwood Golf Center in Northeast Portland.

Courtesy of Portland Parks and Recreation

The Parks and Recreation division owns four golf courses in Portland and one in Beaverton. The city has offered golf for more than 100 years. 

According to the audit, the golf program has cut costs and worked to increase the number of people using its courses but is still fighting a national trend of declining golfers.  

In 2017, Portland City Council transferred $800,000 in tax-payer money to the program from its general fund in a “bailout” to keep it going.  

These financial conditions are only projected to worsen due to costly employee retirement and health benefits, the audit said. Staff salaries and benefits are the largest cost for the program at more than $3 million a year.  

Not all of Portland’s golf courses are equally in the hole.  

The Heron Lakes, Eastmoreland and RedTail courses have had positive cash flow every year since 2014. Rose City Golf Course had negative cashflow from 2014 to 2017 but turned it around in 2018.  

Colwood, a nine-hole course in Northeast Portland, is doing the worst financially and has had negative cash flow since 2015. The Parks division borrowed money in 2014 to purchase the course jointly with the Bureau of Environmental Services, in an interest to restore wetlands in an area of the property.  

The initial plan was to repay the debt in five years, but according to the audit, construction delayed the opening and Colwood did not generate enough money to pay back the debt in that time. Now, the debt repayment will impact the golf fund for four more years. 

In 2015, the Parks division developed a strategic plan to help the golf program. It focused on outreach to the community, improving financial stability and demonstrating environmental stewardship.  

Portland Parks and Recreation has cut maintenance expenses, eliminated a number of positions, reduced the number of mowers and shared larger equipment among the courses. It also partnered with organizations in attempts to attract young people, women and people of color.  

Still, the rounds of golf played at Portland-owned courses are down 6% over the last five years and 46% over the last 25 years.  

In order to keep it self-sustaining, the audit recommends the golf program work with city council on how to better its financial situation and review and potentially renegotiate contracts after what it calls “a history of lax contract management.”