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City-owned Ironwood Golf Course seeks to limit financial deficit during difficult budget year for Gainesville

Ironwood Golf Course’s financial position appears to have been lofted out of the bunker and might be headed for the green.

A year ago, as Gainesville city officials faced down a budget shortfall tied to its loss of fund transfer from Gainesville Regional Utilities, they had to scrutinize anew every expense.

Ironwood, which for years has spent more than it made, was one possible target for cuts.

But at the meeting this month of the city’s finance committee — comprised of commissioners Ed Book, Bryan Eastman and Casey Willits — the news was akin to a drive slicing back toward the fairway. The committee reviewed the budget-to-actual analysis for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and saw positives.

The Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, golf enthusiasts and dedicated volunteers are seeking to improve the course experience and give it a more secure future despite mounting deficits in the 2024 fiscal year.

As of Dec. 30, the course had spent about $357,000, and its revenues were short of that number. An approximately $39,000 shortfall means the city and course management have to change the approach. Closing the gap means, in part, adding a 20% fee for venue reservations and buying smaller amounts of alcohol for inventory in the pro shop. Ironwood’s pro shop has stopped purchasing bulk inventory, selling what it has in-store beyond the essentials: golf balls, tees and gloves.

City officials had projected Ironwood’s deficit for the year to end up around $250,000. The fact they’re on pace for only a $160,000 annual loss had at least one commissioner encouraged.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Book said at the Feb. 6 meeting. “That’s a realized savings. … That’s good.”

Roxanne Gonzalez, the city’s parks department director, elaborated during the meeting on the approach, noting the increase in cost for all tee times of 25% across the board. The city raised those fees to help offset a 3% bump on its utility bill.

“Even with a 25% increase, we're actually just below Turkey Creek,” Gonzalez said. “So, we are either at market or just below.”

Tee time rates fluctuate depending on what time you play. Morning prices are more expensive than twilight hours, and each course differs when its rates change. Its Friday tee time and cart fee of $47, for example, compares favorably to its competitor course, Turkey Creek, at $54. That means Ironwood Golf Course is currently the lowest price in the area for a full round of golf.

Golfers on the course on a recent Friday afternoon acknowledged the value.

“The quality of the course may not be the best, but the price makes it worth it.” said Frankie Rodriguez, a 20-year-old business major at the University of Florida and avid golfer. “I came here because Mark Bostick (the UF-owned golf course) was too packed.”

Still, if Ironwood’s rates continue to rise, Rodriguez said, “I’d like to see more consistent greens here, but if not, I’d stick with Bostick unless I get used to the sandy greens here.”

Course volunteer Quintin Kampmeier, 59, sees the smaller details making a bigger impact for the long-term success of the course.

The change in fees doesn’t scare Kampmeier, who worked for the city water department in Rockford, Illinois, before moving to Gainesville.

“I understand the cost of certain situations like the uptick in grass seed (cost), all that stuff goes up,” he said. “So yeah, obviously the price is going to have to go up at some point.”

Andrew Millman, a 29-year-old Gainesville police officer said before his round, “From the sandy greens to the actual quality of the course, there’s a lot I’d rather see.”

Millman, a Gainesville native happened to be in the area following a court case but prefers to play other courses further away in Ocala. However, the affordability of Ironwood’s playing fee and cart rentals make it a worthwhile compromise for him.

“As far as price goes, this is an ‘OK’ place in Gainesville,” he said. “But obviously you have better places to play. I’d still rather play here than Turkey Creek.

Other golfers alluded to excessive flooding and the overall lack of maintenance on the course being kept in shape. Rodriguez’ fellow golfer, Eddy Hagan, a 19-year-old accounting major at UF disagreed with his partner saying he would still play at Ironwood, contingent on those changes to the course coming to reality.

“Though I do still enjoy Ironwood, there definitely seems to be a draining problem along with overly sandy conditions on some holes,” he said.

The city’s focus remains on finding ways to “purchase less and make more money,” Gonzalez said.

“I think the community and the local businesses that have utilized the golf course are fully understanding of the need of the revenue at this point,” she said.

Another city official whose job is to know the full financial picture also told commissioners he likes what he sees so far.

“The trend is positive,” said Steve Varvel, acting director of the Office of Management Budget. “Yeah, it's not where we want it to be, but it’s moving in the right direction.”

Jesse is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing