Pittsburgh Councilman Corey O'Connor says it's time to drum up business at the city-owned golf course bearing his late father's name, even if that means a redesign that reduces the number of holes from 18 to nine.
Now named for the city's 58th mayor, who died of brain cancer months after taking office in 2006, the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park was built in the 1890s on land donated by philanthropist Mary Schenley.
It sports impressive city views and inexpensive green fees -- a round costs about $15. However, it's a short course and lacks three of a golf course's big revenue generators -- alcohol sales, carts and a driving range.
It's the only course in the city, "and it's not getting enough play," Mr. O'Connor, an ardent golfer and chairman of council's Urban Recreation Committee, said.
He proposed a free weekend of golf to introduce more players, including suburbanites, to the course. He said he would like to hear first-time visitors' impressions.
The city leases the course for $1 a year to First Tee of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit focusing on youth development. The city gives First Tee an annual subsidy of about $160,000. Because of the city's perennially tight finances, Mr. O'Connor said, he would like the course to generate more revenue and rely less on government money.
About 120,000 rounds were played at the course last year. Marc Field, executive director of the First Tee chapter, said finances would be much improved if play were increased to 160,000 rounds annually.
The course sits on 51 acres in Oakland, half the size of many courses. Mr. O'Connor said the short course may be a turn-off to some competitive golfers.
At the same time, the course's tight layout helps golfers develop their putting and short-game skills. "It's a great place for beginning golfers to learn how to play the game," said Mr. O'Connor, who is a member of the First Tee board and has played the course since childhood.
Because of topography and layout -- holes are located on both sides of busy Schenley Drive -- the course does not use carts. That is another drawback, Mr. O'Connor said, noting the course is a difficult walk for some.
Mr. O'Connor said the city and First Tee should consider various changes to attract more golfers, such as a reconfiguration that reduces the number of holes to nine. The change would allow for some longer holes. In addition, Mr. O'Connor said, concentrating nine holes on one side of Schenley Drive would make the use of carts possible.
The course has no space for a driving range. But if some holes were eliminated, Mr. O'Connor said, the space could be used for a practice area.
Revamping the course would be a project the city cannot afford, said Mr. O'Connor, who suggested seeking a private partner. He said officials would have to ensure a balance between the partner's profit motive and the city's desire to keep golf affordable.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is open to ideas for improving the course, said his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven. Mr. Ravenstahl has played the course and "thinks it's beautiful," she said.
Mr. Field said First Tee is exploring the possibility of introducing carts to the current course but hasn't considered selling alcohol. The city currently does not permit alcohol sales, he said, and the group has been reluctant to explore the option because its work revolves around children.
First Tee, which has managed the course since the late 1990s, uses golf to teach character development to young people.
Mr. Field said First Tee has ramped up marketing and has seen some improvement in business. Greens fees over the past 12 months neared $119,000, up from about $106,000 during the preceding period. The annual operating deficit is now less than $70,000, down from $150,000 as recently as 2008, he said, noting First Tee receives financial assistance from a number of organizations.
He said a reconfiguration of the course might be tied to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservatory, which could use golf course land for storm water remediation in the Panther Hollow Watershed.
Correction/Clarification: (Published September 27, 2012) Of the 120,000 rounds of golf played last year at Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park, about 15,000 were paid public rounds. The balance reflected free use of the course by various youth and school groups. That breakdown was not provided Monday in a story on the golf course's future.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.