The Centennial Golf Course: A Model for Failure

The following, which can be verified online in  the FY2000 finalized City of Oak Ridge Budget, provides a brief history of a project that was forced upon our citizens  in spite of  vehement protest twenty years ago and for which we are still paying heavily.

In 1995, the City of Oak Ridge issued $6.2 million in debt to finance the construction of the Centennial Golf Course. In 1998, the City essentially refinanced this loan for over $7 million. This debt was to be paid for “by the revenues of the Golf Course Fund which includes operations of the course and sale of land surrounding the course for residential development.”

Unfortunately, minimal, if any,  revenue has paid down this debt. Instead, taxpayers have funded nearly all of it out of their pockets, plus over $2.5 million in interest. And we’ll continue to pay  roughly $500,000 per year for five more years.

Taxpayers are also paying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital maintenance expenses. This is due to a very poorly negotiated contract that has largely favored the private company. The City of Oak Ridge has contracted with Billy Casper Golf Management (BCGM) for operation of the course since 2000. BCGM has operated at a loss nearly every year since they took on the contract. Total actual revenues from 2000-2014 are about $18 million while expenditures totaled $20 million.

While there are no performance measures in this contract, there is a stipulation that the city pay BCMG a monthly fee. It originally totaled $60,000 annually with a 5% yearly increase. By my math, we are currently paying them $119,000 per year to operate at a loss.  (See page 79 of the agenda/contract here.)

Now, in addition to a tab that amounts to over $10 million thus far, taxpayers are being asked to subsidize operations by $325,000. City Council will vote on the matter this Monday night.

Over the last twenty years, our poor financial decisions have taken a serious toll on our community. Both our debt and our low income population have nearly tripled. All the while, we continue to neglect necessities like our crumbling roads and buildings.

With the shrinking of the middle and upper class, the quality of life we enjoy is at risk. Spending money to make money has proven to be a losing strategy. Regardless of what angle it is viewed, be it the privatization of government services or the promise of economic stimulation, this golf “curse” is a model for failure. It is time to sell it and cut our losses. At the very least, we should provide free golfing passes to each and every one of our residents and businesses.


  1. But, there have been many high-dollar homes built around the golf course. Is any consideration being given to the added tax revenues in your calculations? Capitalism has more than proven that you have to spend money to make money. Oak Ridge needs to take a harder look at the life-style they have to offer young people. Farragut is laughing all the way to the bank. The idea that Oak Ridge is going to become a mecca for commerce because of the new City Center I find very questionable. Turkey Creek is 15 minutes away. Oak Ridge must re-invent itself. You have the most advanced research facility in the world and no one can seem to figure out how to capitalize on it. Focus on your attributes.

  2. How many times has the Oak Ridge City Council done ANYTHING right when it comes to businesses? Having lived here for seven decades it is a very simple answer. NEVER. I am reminded of the mental patient who keeps hitting himself in the head with a bat. When asked by the psychiatrist why he didn’t stop, he said that next time he hit himself it wouldn’t hurt. Take the bat away from the Council. They won’t stop spending until they run out of your and my money and whoever is dumb enough to loan them more. After all, they don’t personally foot the bill. Woe be to us.

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