LARGO – Those who use the Largo Golf Course should expect further fee increases in the coming years. But they should also expect better services and more programs.

That’s according to a January 11 City Commission discussion of the future of the course which has long struggled to be financially viable.

COVID-19 has doomed many businesses and industries, but the game of golf is not one of them. In fact, the need for social distancing and the ability to play outdoors has revived the game, which had been struggling for years.

The golf course also benefited. In the decade before the pandemic, the price lost around $1 million. Last year, however, around 3,000 more rounds were played on the course.

But even that increase is not enough to keep pace, officials say. Expenditures are expected to increase by 3.8% each year and capital requirements of approximately $876,500 are expected over the next decade.

The result will mean the depletion of reserves, with the fund balance falling from 33% in 2019 to 7% in 2026.

As a result, a team of staff members who have spent the last six months reviewing three years’ revenue and expenditure data, sought the committee’s opinion on two distinct types of fee increases.

The first, which aimed to track spending, included a 50-cent increase in 2022 and increases of 30 cents each year until 2026.

The second model targeted growth and rebuilt reserves. It included a $1 increase in 2022 and increases of 75 cents each year until 2026.

A consensus of commissioners said they preferred the second model, especially since fares are still among the lowest in the region.

An 18-hole round at Largo Golf Course is $39 in high season with a cart. That compares to $43 at East Bay Golf Course and $65 at Bardmoor Country Club.

“I would like to see the fees adjusted to increase the fund balance,” commissioner Eric Gerard said. “I don’t think we’re placing a heavy burden on anyone by increasing fees by a dollar and then 75 cents.”

To show creativity

Nearly a year ago, the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit network of real estate and land-use planning experts, presented its analysis of options for the 18-hole, par-62 executive course.

The alternatives were to turn it into a golf course, turn it into a park, or sell part of it to a real estate developer.

Golfers came out in force and commissioners said they wanted to stay the course, instructing city staff to explore creative ways to generate more revenue.

Mike Baker of the Department of Recreation, Parks and the Arts said that is exactly what they did.

Some of the new programs they have introduced include night golf and disc golf tournaments, as well as footgolf nights.

Upcoming programs, he said, include expanding dining options in the cafe, adding a beverage cart, hosting watch parties for professional sporting events, hosting entertainment and food trucks on Friday nights, yoga, more special events like Taste Fest and game nights with cornhole, darts or bocce ball.

Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he appreciates the staff adding programs that will open up the course to non-golfers.

“It would be cool to go there and get some food from a food truck and watch a football game,” he said. “Those are good ideas. I think the community would really get involved in that.

Officials said they are optimistic about the direction staff have taken with the course and its programming.

“I’ve heard a lot of great things from the people who play…about everything from the employees to the condition of the course to the hot dogs,” Mayor Woody Brown said.