Elizabethton, Tenn. Golf Course a Money-Loser for Taxpayers, Audit Says

A taxpayer-funded golf course in Tennessee has lost more money than it takes in, according to an audit Tennessee Comptrollers released this week.

This was only one of many findings auditors had for the Elizabethon Municipal Golf Course in East Tennessee.

This is important because a privately-run golf course likely couldn’t operate like this and still stay open.

While the exact amount of the golf course deficit is less than six figures— $56,321 — it’s still a loss for taxpayers.

“State statutes require enterprise funds to be self‐supporting,” Comptrollers wrote in their audit.

“The effect of this deficiency results in an overall violation of sound business practices.”

In a written response to auditors, members of golf course management said they will work to increase revenues.

Auditors also called out golf course management for not always keeping its financial records, including daily sales reports, cash register receipt tapes, and other deposit records.

Comptrollers also blasted golf course management for letting only one person handle most of the accounting work, instead of having someone else check his or her work. That, auditors went on to say, puts the golf course’s finances at risk for waste, fraud, or abuse.

Members of management said a new management company contracted to run the golf course will have more than one employee in charge of finances.

Comptrollers, though, reported more problems.

“Bonuses and pay raises were noted as being paid during the period ended March 31, 2018,” auditors wrote.

“There is no indication that these were approved by the Board.”

Not the first time auditors have called them out

According to The Tennessee Watchdog, in 2017, the public golf course in Elizabethton can’t sustain itself financially, at least not without regular infusions of taxpayer dollars.

That fiscal year, city officials gave it $672,204.

Last year, after another blistering audit, city officials told Comptrollers they would get closer to even, in part, by reorganizing their current board of directors, which has seven members.

Placing even more capital improvement money into their budget, city officials went on to say, would help efforts to improve the golf course.

Last year, Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Carter told the publication that city officials wouldn’t close the golf course, nor would they privatize it.

Carter said the city had done much to advertise the golf course.

City Manager Jerome Kitchens said at the time that city officials have worked for years to make the golf course profitable and that other municipal golf courses in Tennessee also run at a deficit.

The area surrounding Elizabethton, in east Tennessee, has competing golf courses in Johnson City, Kingsport, Jonesborough and Bristol, Kitchens said at the time.

Two more golf courses, he said, are right across the state line in North Carolina.

Kitchens said he had no information on how many people use Elizabethton’s golf course on a regular basis.

The course was built in the 1930s, partly with involvement from the New Deal’s federal Works Progress Administration. The golf course was deeded to the city for a sum of $1, the website says.

No definitive information was available about how many municipally owned golf courses Tennessee has, but a Google search reveals some are in Knoxville, Hohenwald, Smyrna, Nashville, Clarksville, Centerville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Gatlinburg, among other cities.

As for state-owned golf courses, the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank, called those out in its 2016 Pork Report. The report said state officials spent $30.4 million on golf courses at Montgomery Bell State Park and Fall Creek Falls.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Justin Wilson” by Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. 
Background Photo “Elizabethton Municipal Golf Course” by Elizabethton Municipal Golf Course. 

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