TOMS RIVER – The Township's public golf course was inaugurated with great pomp nearly 50 years ago. Built on the site of an old dairy farm, the Bey Lea Golf Course was designed by the famous architect Hal Purdy Golf Course.

Fifty years later, Bey Lea is always lush and inviting in the spring, summer and autumn. But the golf course is losing money.

Toms River is likely to consider hiring Bey Lea through a private company, which has been crossed by dozens of municipalities and counties across the country.

"It's a waste of money, and it's not sustainable in the long run," said George E. Wittmann Jr., chairman of the Toms River Council. "The number of laps has gone down, it takes too much time, people do not really want to spend that time anymore."

Toms River has lost about $ 188,000 on golf course operations in 2018 and about $ 96,000 in 2017, according to figures provided to Wittmann by Sharon Smith, the canton's chief financial officer. Rainy weather in the second half of the year contributed to the larger loss in 2018, said Bey Lea's management.

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Municipal taxpayers also subsidize approximately $ 360,000 per year for golf course costs, as well as the payment of debt service for on-site capital projects.

"It's a very expensive operation," Wittmann said. The council will spend up to $ 15,000 for a consultant to study the operations of Bey Lea and Toms River 's Winding River rinks, which have also lost money.

Wittmann said he hoped the consultant could help the township find ways to manage the course and rink more effectively. The privatization of the golf course and the rink are options that will probably be considered, he said. Learn more about the township options in the video above.

Nationally, the number of golfers has decreased.

In 2003, there were nearly 31 million golfers; by 2014, that number had dropped to less than $ 25 million, according to figures compiled by the National Golf Foundation. According to the foundation, the number of golfers aged 18 to 34 has dropped by 30% over the past 20 years, leaving race managers struggling to attract the youngest.

In the United States, more than 800 golf courses have been closed in the last 10 years.

But there is some good news for golf: a May 2018 article on Golf.com details the US Golf Economy report, created by a coalition of golf industry leaders and partners. .

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Positive news includes a 20% increase in participation in junior golf (golfers under 19 years of age or who have not completed high school) from 2011 to 2016; 2.5 million golfers also played for the first time in 2016, compared to 1.5 million in 2011.

Hiring private companies to run city or county courses has become commonplace.

Last month, Middlesex County accepted the offer of Billy Casper Golf (BCG) to manage its three public golf courses. In 2013, Morris County also contracted with BCG to operate its four golf courses.

Nearly ten years ago, Union County privatized its courts and, last year, Berkeley, of Ocean County, hired a private company to manage the operations of the land. Cedar Creek golf course, owned by the municipality.

Carmen F. Amato Jr., Mayor of Berkeley, said the golf course had lost more than $ 2.4 million in the last 10 years before the Township decided to move. In addition, Berkeley spent close to $ 2.4 million on capital improvements during this period.

Amato said declining revenues and revenues, as well as increased spending, have prompted the Township to hand over management of the golf course to Atlantic Golf, which also operates Spring Meadow Golf Course at Farmingdale.

"The Township has made a concerted effort to increase its revenues over the past three years by combining a higher rate structure and an aggressive marketing strategy," Amato said in 2018, shortly after city council voted in favor of the privatization of Cedar Creek. "We have seen a slight increase in the number of golf games, but not enough to have an impact on the deficit."

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Atlantic Golf eventually hired part-time staff at Cedar Creek. Not all public service employees hired by Atlantic were offered jobs in other departments, but at lower wages, the mayor said. Some took these positions, others did not, he said.

Atlantic Golf signed a five-year lease with the township and paid Berkeley $ 125,000 in rent for 2018, plus 15% of any gross revenue above $ 600,000.

Until now, Amato is satisfied with this arrangement.

"I am very happy with the results after the first season," said Amato. "We also received positive and constructive comments on the conditions of the internship in 2018. Overall, the decision to privatize was a very cautious decision … Now, instead of costing taxpayers money, we earn income. "

Some golfers fear private management of previously public courses, believing that this will inevitably lead to higher fees. Berkeley's contract with Atlantic states that the fees can not be increased without the authorization of the city council.

All public courses in the region are not likely to be privatized.

According to officials in both counties, neither Monmouth nor Ocean counties plan to outsource golf course management.

"We do not see any benefit in privatizing," said Monmouth County Superintendent Mike Janoski. He added that while the number of games played has dropped "a bit", the six golf courses in the county have a large group of major customers.

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Each year, more than 200,000 rounds of golf are played on county courses in Wall, Millstone, Colts Neck, Farmingdale, Manalapan and Neptune.

"Our customers come back year after year," Janoski said. "We are doing better than national trends."

Ocean County Golf Superintendent, Scott Binkley, said that the number of games played at golf had declined during the Great Recession of 2008-09 and its aftermath. But "we have been very successful in coming back from the recession," said Binkley.

Mike Mangum, director of the Ocean County Parks, said the county was even breaking the deal on its two courses – Forge Pond in Brick and Atlantis in Little Egg – constantly looking for ways to operate at lower cost.

Ocean County uses laborers from the county jail's work crew to work on the courses once a week and also makes savings using the OceanGro fertilizer, manufactured by the County Public Utilities Board d & # 39; Ocean.

"We are always looking for ways to do things cheaper and more efficiently," Mangum said.

Mr. Wittmann of Toms River hopes that the consultant will give municipalities ideas on how to make Bey Lea operate more efficiently so that taxpayers do not have to subsidize course operations.

"We are simply looking for the best alternative," said Wittmannn.

Jean Mikle: 732-543-4050, @jeanmikle, jmikle@gannettnj.com