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Revenue is rising sharply at San Diego’s three city-owned golf courses thanks to a 36 percent increase in rounds played ever since the COVID-19 pandemic boosted the nationwide popularity of golf.

The city’s annual golf course revenue has risen to nearly $30 million and annual profits climbed to nearly $10 million, mostly due to sharp increases in rounds and revenue at the Mission Bay and Balboa Park golf courses.

The two courses have historically been money losers for the city and have required millions in subsidies from the more popular and prestigious Torrey Pines course. But in the fiscal year that ended last June, all three courses turned a profit.


Profits climbed to $9.9 million during that fiscal year, up from $3.9 million in the previous fiscal year — a 150 percent jump.

But that comparison year includes the early months of the pandemic, in spring 2020, when the courses were completely closed for two months. Compared to the fiscal year before the pandemic, revenue last year was up 52 percent — $9.9 million versus $6.5 million.

City officials say they expect the windfall to continue thanks partly to modest fee increases that start this Saturday at all three courses.

The increases, which vary by day of the week and tee time, are between $1 and $2 per round for city residents and between $4 and $13 per round for non-residents. Fees won’t increase for junior passes or resident identification cards.

But officials say there also is some cause for concern, particularly steadily rising expenses, difficulty hiring staff and fears that golf’s pandemic surge won’t be permanent.

Golfers tee off on the first hole at Balboa Park Golf Course on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021 in San Diego.

Golfers tee off on the first hole at Balboa Park Golf Course on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021 in San Diego.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Unfortunately we don’t believe these increases are going to be sustainable,” John Howard, assistant deputy director of the city’s Golf Division, told the City Council’s Environment Committee last month.

Annual expenses increased 9 percent from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2021, $18.3 million versus $20 million. That continues a steady string of increases to annual expenses, which were just $15.6 million seven years ago.

Howard said the city’s courses also are facing the same challenges with staffing and supply chain problems as many other businesses which, he said, could reduce the quality of the experience golfers have in coming months and years.

The rise in rounds played at Balboa and Mission Bay is remarkable, officials said.

Nationally rounds of golf are up more than 22 percent since the pandemic began. At San Diego’s three courses overall, annual rounds have increased from 305,524 to 414,572 — a 36 percent spike.

At Mission Bay, rounds increased 66,404 in pre-pandemic fiscal 2019 to 102,025 in fiscal 2021 — a 54 percent surge. At Balboa’s 18-hole course, they increased from 61,871 to 83,015 — a 34 percent jump.

But at Balboa’s nine-hole course, a shorter layout popular with people trying golf for the first time, during the pandemic rounds increased from 44,267 to 79,426 — a 79 percent spike.

The additional revenue will allow the city to tackle a variety of planned upgrades that aim to make the courses more appealing to golfers — and more profitable.

At Mission Bay, the city plans to install a modern irrigation system similar to systems installed recently at the other two courses. Mission Bay, the county’s only lighted golf course, also is slated to get a new clubhouse and restaurant.

At Torrey Pines there are plans to demolish and replace the clubhouse and maintenance building, which will require relocation of the putting greens.

Golfers Tom Cudal, Manny Celedon, Nick Cudal, and Dan Martin putt on the 18th green at Balboa Park Golf Course

Golfers (from left) Tom Cudal, Manny Celedon, Nick Cudal, and Dan Martin putt on the 18th green at Balboa Park Golf Course.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At Balboa, the county’s oldest municipal golf course at 102 years old, the city is planning to rebuild several putting greens, reshape the fourth hole and realign Golf Course Drive to make it safer for bicyclists.

The revenue numbers from the city courses don’t include lease payments. The city gets about $800,000 in total lease revenue from Mission Bay and Balboa Park, and about $1.6 million from Torrey Pines.

The annual payments are equivalent to 10 percent of gross revenue plus $1,806 per acre.

On top of that, the city receives roughly a combined $2 million each year from seven other courses it owns but doesn’t operate: Carlton Oaks, Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, Tecolote Canyon, Mission Trails, Presidio Hills, The Vineyard and the Pro Kids Golf Academy.

For details on fee increases that start Saturday, visit

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