After initially removing Ironwood Golf Course from the proposed budget, the city of Gainesville has placed the municipally owned course onto a watch list, giving a year to solve issues.
City Manager Cynthia Curry told the commission at its regular meeting on Thursday that the golf course will be under a management watch. By the first of the year, she said the city hopes to present recommendations to the commissioners.
Curry said city staff and experts in the field will come up with a list of problems that the city needs to address about the golf course and then find solutions.
The City Commission can then give directions based on staff recommendations for the 2025 fiscal budget.
Mayor Harvey Ward said cities operate golf courses in a variety of ways and many have opened and closed over the years.
“It’s important that we think critically, as the board for our community, of exactly how we’re doing it,” Ward said.
He added that the city should review its operation of the course periodically.
When staff returns, Ward said he wants data on who uses the golf course and its operations to inform votes. City staff will also present information on the impact of increasing fees.
The potential of losing the Ironwood Golf Course prompted community concern, and several public commentors spoke on the importance of the city amenity. Some said players would support moderate fee increases to help sustain the course.
After hearing the news, Bev Caley and around 15 other residents met to discuss Ironwood. They formed an informal Help Save Ironwood group and started to advocate for the course, gathering more than 1,000 signatures in a week.
“I would prefer to have a golf course here, but for me, it’s more of an inconvenience,” Caley said in a phone interview.
She said she can drive to Ocala to play and make do. But, many in community may not have that option—especially for youth.
The group points out that four local high schools use the course to practice and at-risk youth programs also operate there. It’s also one of two public courses in Alachua County—compared to 18 in Marion County.
Caley said the city should promote the golf course and all the programs that run from the site. She also pointed to the impact on organizations that use Ironwood to hold fundraisers and events, with around 50 tournaments each year.
One tournament, “The Bob,” raised more than $30,000 last year for Stop Children’s Cancer, Caley said.
Caley supports raising the price. In a press release, Help Save Ironwood noted that a $5 increase per round would generate $220,000 in additional revenue while remaining competitively priced.
In 2023, the city of Gainesville operated over a $750,000 budget for Ironwood.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she would like to see information on price increases, but she said management needs to balance that increase with keeping the course an option for at-risk youth and other services.
“I am concerned about how this increase in fees can happen but also keeping it affordable to some of the populations that would want to be introduced to this,” Duncan-Walker said at Thursday’s meeting.” There are already some amazing programs that I know are already coming out of Ironwood that serve at-risk youth.”
She said that concern comes as the city has already cut millions from its parks and recreation budget.
In the past several years, the public has lost access to two Alachua County courses. West End Golf Course was closed in 2019 and Meadowbrook closed its doors because of flooding issues in 2021.
Since closing, the Meadowbrook owner proposed a two-story driving range to increase the viability of his course. The West End owner proposed building a 70-unit neighborhood on the site, but the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners denied the application.