Changes at Duncan Park stir debate

Published 12:01 am Thursday, November 15, 2012

NATCHEZ — K.G. Watkins doesn’t like surprises.

So when he found out he was no longer eligible for senior discount rates at Duncan Park, Watkins said he was very disappointed.

According to Watkins, Duncan Park gave him no notice that rates had increased beginning Nov. 1. In addition, the rate of being eligible for senior rates went up from 55 to 65, At 58, Watkins said he’s not going to wait seven years to get senior discounts.

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“I would never buy another membership under these circumstances,” Watkins said. “By the time I’m 65, I’ll be a member somewhere else. I’d rather go to Panola (Woods Country Club) and pay $100 and have people up front with me.”

Duncan Park’s green fees for adults went from $12 to $14 on weekdays while remaining at $14 on weekends and holidays. Fees for seniors stayed the same at $9, and fees for juniors — ages 12 to 18 — are $3, up from $2 on weekdays.

In addition, memberships for individuals are $350 every six months, and $250 every six months for seniors. Neither is an increase from the previous costs. Golf memberships at Duncan Park allow for unlimited golf, but people are still required to pay fees for range balls and carts. Cart fees are $14 per rider for 18 holes, up from $12, and $10 per rider for nine holes, up from $8. Range balls are $5 per bag.

Dan Bland, a consultant who has worked with Mayor Butch Brown and Alderman Mark Fortenbery, said the increases in prices happened because the course lost $150,000 last year.

“We all agreed that we had to do something,” Bland said. “I grew up playing there. It’s a beautiful place, and Natchez is lucky to have it, so we want to keep it.

“It’s difficult to run a golf course in today’s economy. Beau Pré is looking at foreclosure, courses are closing all throughout the South. The city can’t afford to lose money.”

Watkins argues that by increasing the age for senior rates and making rates go up for everyone, it will drive away long-time members.

“The course is going to suffer,” Watkins said. “You have to be a people person, sit down and communicate. No one wants to be dictated to at a public facility.”

But Bland said he’s more than willing to hear suggestions from disgruntled members.

“No one funds it but the city,” Bland said. “I need ideas instead of complaining. If they want to drive 22 miles to play golf, go. I can’t do anything about that.”

Membership fees have also been changes from being paid quarterly to bi-annually, another sticking point for Watkins.

“That’s totally unfair,” Watkins said. “When you start dictating how people will budget their money, you’re going to suffer.”

Bland said the reason for bi-annual membership dues is that it prevents people from only paying during warm months while not paying for a membership during colder months.

The increase in the age eligibility for senior membership is part of an overall attempt by the course to cut down on what Bland calls “charity.”

“Why do we have to lose money?” Bland said. “We can’t compete with country clubs unless we have more money.”

Not all golfers at Duncan Park are unhappy about the changes. Long-time member Pete Powell said that increasing prices was to be expected with the cost of everything else going up.

“I don’t know of anything that’s going down,” Powell said. “If someone can name anything, I want to hear it. It’s just economic. It costs so much to rent golf carts and put gas in them. They did a pretty good job to hold the rates down as long as they did.”

Most of the current fees are actually cheaper than they were in 2009. Green fees for adults were $16 on weekdays, $13 for seniors and $4 for juniors. They were $19 on weekends and holidays for adults, and $7 for juniors.

Cart fees were $18 per person for 18 holes, and $10 per person for nine holes. In addition, Membership fees totaled up to $800 per individual and $600 for seniors.

By comparison, Panola Woods Country Club charges $15 green fees for 18 holes for adults and $10 for nine holes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday through Sunday, the fee increases to $20 for $18 and $10 for nine.

Range balls are $2.50 plus tax, and the club also offers a range ball program: $50 per year for individuals and $65 for families, which includes unlimited range balls. Cart fees are $5 plus tax per nine holes for members, and $7 plus tax per nine holes for non-members.

Full membership fees at Panola Woods, which include the course, clubhouse, tennis and pool, are $100 per month for families and individuals.

At Beau Pré Country Club, green fees are $60 per 18 holes, which includes range balls and cart fees. For nine holes, it’s $30. Full memberships, which include course, clubhouse, tennis and pool, are $295 per month.