Chart of the Day: Golf Course Opportunity Costs

Via Strong Towns, here’s a very simple chart showing the potential revenue vs. actual revenue of a golf course in Madison, Wisconsin. In one column you have the potential tax revenue if you had developed a 42-acre golf course to the average of its surrounding neighborhood. In the other you have the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) that the golf course provides

(Question: Do Twin Citeis’ golf courses also have PILOTs?)

Here’s the chart:

golf tax revenue

In the Strong Towns blogpost, Spencer Gardner concludes:

There is nothing inherently wrong with golf as a game. I’m even willing to be convinced there’s a place for golf as an item in the Madison city budget. But there is something wrong with reducing services to the homeless and cutting back other important municipal functions while subsidizing the existence of four different courses that serve a small sliver of the population.

I’ve focused this analysis on the economic loss that results from the golf course, but there are other important community concerns too. On environmental issues, the record is mixed for golf courses generally; stewardship has improved in recent years. It would be interesting to hear from experts on the impact to Madison’s unique water resources. Golf also has a history of racial and gender discrimination that it is still in the process of working through.

Nonetheless, based on economics alone it’s time to use a mulligan and figure out a way to make more productive use of this land.

Given the previous discussions here about golf courses, the declining use of them, and whether we have too many of them in the Twin Cities, especially city-owned ones, I thought it was interesting. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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7 Responses to Chart of the Day: Golf Course Opportunity Costs

  1. Justin January 22, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    Golf courses are large, exclusive parks that you can only do one thing in: play golf.

  2. Wayne January 22, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    I’m still firmly on team “No More Public Golf Courses.” Even if you want to keep 100% of the land as parks they’re wasteful and exclusionary, but you could do well to develop parts of them (carefully!) and use the money to make what’s left a really nice park. Or put soime towards the rest of the system. Either way you win.

    • Justin January 22, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

      Hear hear. Golf is on the decline as well so hopefully we can get rid of a few.

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 24, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    So subsidizing golf is the last remnant of the social safety net?

  4. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson January 25, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    Is a city owning a money losing golf course in another city (e.g. Meadowbrook in Hopkins in SLP) more of a win overall to that city that owns the course?

  5. Mplsjaromir January 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    Will neo-Liberalism ever end?


  1. Sunday Summary – January 24, 2016 | - January 24, 2016

    […] of the Day of the Week: Golf Course Opportunity Costs, Downtown East Commons Fundraising Shortfall vs. Local Fortune 500 Company Profits, […]

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