Military golf courses come under fire

South Course at Andrews Air Force Base
Courtesy of Andrews AFB
The par-3 11th hole on the South Course is a nice example of scenic beauty of the layouts at Andrews Air Force Base.
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Soon after arriving in Hawaii on Saturday, President Obama kicked off his Christmas vacation with a round of golf at Kaneohe Klipper, an 18-hole championship golf course on the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, according to The Hill newspaper, which noted that Obama has played there before on past Christmas vacations.

Kaneohe Klipper is just one of 234 golf courses that the U.S. Armed Forces operate around the world, a fact that seems to be annoying some critics. The online magazine Salon, for one, expressed its disapproval by noting that military courses are among the "luxuries that are out of reach for the ordinary American." Also out of reach for the ordinary American, I would point out, is getting shot at in combat zones.

The overall cost of operating these courses is unknown, said Salon, which singled out the Arizona Golf Resort in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for its displeasure. "The U.S. Army paid $71,614 [for the Arizona Resort in 2004]," it said. "The resort actually boasts an entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade, amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar — not to mention the golf course and a driving range."

In a stab at fairness, Salon pointed out that the military also maintains a ski resort in the Bavarian Alps, which opened in 2004 and cost $80 million, and that the DoD also spends $500 million annually on marching bands.

Another critic is Christopher Ryan, who writes on the PolicyMic website that "agreeing to stop supporting the military's golf courses should be an easy first spending cut" for President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in their ongoing budget debate.

PolicyMic uses some data from the USGA and golf consulting firm GolfMAK, Inc. to try to put a cost figure to the DoD's golf course operations. It concludes that the average course costs between $384,000 and $1 million per year to maintain, for a total of more than $140 million every year out of Pentagon coffers.

Ryan notes, however, that the courses do generate revenue through green fees, food and beverage income, and so on. But he says the revenue stream is blunted by the fact that the courses routinely charge below-market rates while buying supplies and equipment at "full price." 

I know from experience that some military courses do charge rates below what their local markets could bear – but, of course, their primary purpose isn't to maximize revenue. It's to provide military personnel access to good golf at a reasonable price. And while these critics also complain that about the cost of keeping these facilities secure, that security also makes them a perfect place for military members – and presidents – to get in some recreation.

One other point that Ryan touches on but doesn't emphasize: The courses that the military owns sit on land that could be leased or sold for millions of dollars. There's a big difference between an expense and an investment, and I'd bet that many of the courses are excellent investments based on the difference between the price paid when the government built or acquired them and what they're worth now.

Fort Belvoir's two 18-hole courses and Andrews Air Force Base's three 18-hole courses are both located in highly populated Washington, D.C., suburbs, an area that's home to some of the highest land values in the country, writes Ryan. He also notes that the military's valuable golf course properties even extend overseas — the army has three courses in Germany worth a combined total of $36.4 million, and another in South Korea worth $26 million.

That sounds good to me, not bad. Besides, every golfing president since Dwight Eisenhower has played at Andrews AFB, and it's the only course I know of where you have as good a chance of spotting Air Force One as you do of making an eagle.

If these critics want to contend that every single government expense ought to be up for review during these trying financial times, I can't argue with that. But the amount of money saved from dumping all these courses would amount to no more than a rounding error in the military budget – much less the overall federal budget – and the benefit they provide our servicemen and women is worth an awful lot. And as we see on a consistent basis these days, golf is an increasingly popular component in helping wounded warriors get their lives back together.

Are golf courses at the very top of the military "must have" list? Of course not. But if we're putting together a list of government expenses that have to go, I'd certainly argue that these courses belong far down the page.

PGA.com

Comments

chonghyonan

I have never served in Military but I have many friends who are either in reserves, retired or active. I belive that men and women who serve and lay their lives to protect us/ Americans deserves to have the best golf courses in the world to relax. I played on Fort Lewis golf course which is open to public and McChord Air Force Base golf course which is private but open to only guests.
people, when I play at Fort Lewis Army Base golf course, I pay going rate
so stop and leave our military personnel alone.

Searchin8957

Not all Military courses are off limits to civilians. I played both the North and South courses at MacDill AFB in Tampa Florida. Both very challenging courses. Guests are allowed on some of the courses. They generate enough revenues to be self sufficiant. In some cases they can even accumulate extra revenues to assist the posts in thier upkeep costs. The Media needs to stop trying to make news out of non news issues and start reporting on the news issues they refuse to cover due to the likability of THIER candidates.

wreaca

There are many services offered to the active, retired and reserve military. However, these services are not paid for by Gov't funding. They operate under the Military "Non-Appropraited Funds" (NAF). The NAF is operated by the fees that come from the bowling alleys, golf courses, NCO, Officer, Airman Clubs etc. As a Vet, but not retired, I can't utilize these facilites. To me, thats OK. These facilities were established eons ago, as in most cases of our military, they are under paid for what is expected of them. Voice of experience, as when I started serving in the 60's, I worked a minimum of 16 hours a day, 7 days a week with a monthly pay of $100.00. So leave our military alone, and let them have some benefits. Our idiots in Congress have already made major reductions in benefites for our devoted retirees, and are still bitching that Congress doesn't get enough benefits. As far as I'm concerned, Ovmit and his cronies can go pound sand, when it comes to our savors of the American way. This especially goes to Kerry and Gore, who say the were in the Military and in Vietnam, but I can guarntee, they never saw combat.

cagencies

As a retired MSG playing at Ft Buchanan Golf Course is a privilege that I earned. We pay green fees and cart fees, so is not free.

cagencies

After serving 34 LONG YEAR in the US Army, playing at FT Buchanan Golf Course is a Privilege that I earned. WE at FT Buchanan pay green fees and cart fees. So please get all the facts before open your mouth.

richarderdmann

Amen David. As a retired officer one of my duties a while ago was working on Morale and Welfare projects and you are 100% on the mark as it pertains to NAF budget/funding.
I wish people/critics of military operations would at least have their facts together before they spout off. I would have loved to have them serve with me...if only they would.
Thanks David.
Dick

David Crawley

As a GM of a military course in the US, and former GM of a military in Germany, I can assure you that this is not a direct expense to the US Budget. Most of our military courses are Non-Appropriated Funds, which means our budgets are not determined or directly affected by Congress. Our expenses come directly our of the revenues that we generate through greens fee, golf carts, etc. We get absolutely no support from Congress what so ever. In fact some of us have to pay the government for the use of our water that we use to irrigate our greens.
The same is true in Europe, except for the water, but we got money from our German guests for use of our golf courses, in fact used to be that we got over 100k per year from the German club for use of our course. Some clubs got around $300k per year.