No rescue for closed Canton golf course; city on the hook for bills

The city put the financially troubled course up for sale last month, but got only one bid to buy it by the Thursday deadline.

"And the one bid, I would list it under ‘ridiculous,'" said City Councilman John Beresford.

A company offered to pay Canton $300,000 over six years for the $3 million, 212-acre property. The city's payments on the land are $300,000 a year until 2017.

The course opened three years ago as an amenity for city residents when Canton was one of the fastest-growing bedroom communities in Georgia, but it has become a white elephant thanks to bad timing and planning.

Golf courses were overbuilt during the last decade; at the same time the number of rounds of golf played were dropping, according to a study from the National Golf Foundation in Florida. The recession has exacerbated the trend. The result is an industry facing unprecedented challenges.

Georgia clubs have undergone ownership or management changes, including the Country Club of the South in Johns Creek, Heritage Golf Club in Tucker and Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell. Government-owned courses, such as those operated by the state, are also facing financial losses.

A second whammy for Canton is the loss of impact fees. It used its quasi-governmental Canton Building Authority to buy the land for the course and negotiate a public-private partnership to develop and run it. The land payments were to come out of impact fees, which have withered with lack of new development.

Besides the yearly $300,000 payment, the city put $40,000 into mowing and maintenance after the course closed. It is trying to keep it in good enough shape to lure a buyer.

Mayor Gene Hobgood said, "It is going to be a council decision as to whether or not they want to pump any more money into it."

"When you look at it right now, the golf course is costing the city $1,000 a day," Hobgood said.

He was not surprised at the lack of interest from buyers.

"People we have talked to over the last couple of months were saying they wouldn't take it if we gave it to them, if they had to run it as a golf course," he said. "Golf courses are going under left and right."

Alternatives are few.

Greg Nathan, a vice president with the National Golf Foundation, said course land is often sold to be used for a different purpose, such as housing developments.

"But since there is so much inventory available, building more or new residential space is not really an option. It's a tough spot for the city to be in."

Beresford, who was not on the city council when the course was approved, said Canton is stuck at a time when it is already struggling financially, like most governments.

"It looks like we are going to be saddled with the golf course for a number of years," he said.

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