Municipal courses thrive despite economy

The course turns out only $10,000 or $20,000 a year, said Runion, but that's with loan payments of about $500,000 being paid out of revenues. Once the purchase is paid off, that will become profit.

He added that Western Turnpike was operated as a public club before the town stepped in 2002, a key difference from Normanside.

"We took over a fairly strong revenue stream when we purchased it," he said. "In this situation, you've got a course that was a private club, so you have to set up some sort of a businesses model for that course."

Western Turnpike offers memberships, but those golfers make up a relatively small percentage of the 27-hole course's use.

Among the grandest municipal courses, at least in terms of scale, is the Colonie Golf Course, with 36 holes. Supervisor Paula Mahan said it's this size that gives the operation the flexibility to draw a lot of different kinds of play.

"That helps to give us an advantage of being able to host the major tournaments on 18 holes, then our golfers can golf on the other 18 holes," she said. "It is self-sustaining, and it does make a profit."

Even after putting some money back into repairs of the clubhouse, Colonie turned a $190,000 profit last year. It's also seeing high use, even in a recession, with 2009 being the second busiest year on record.

"The course that we run, it's a good place to play. It's a beautiful course, it's affordable and it's a good alternative to a country club," Mahan said.

Capital Hills welcomes change

Interestingly enough, there's a municipal course not a mile away from Normanside. Located just across the river is Capital Hills, a full 18-hole golf course operated by the City of Albany. Sitting on a 291-acre footprint, like Normanside, the course's land is also open to other recreational uses like hiking, cross-country skiing and sledding. It's about a 15-minute drive from pro shop to pro shop.

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