NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Golf boomed in Nashville during the pandemic, but Metro Parks blames the hiring struggle for what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars left on the table.
Joey Hickman is a retired golf pro who worked in public courses for more than 25 years. He said there’s no question the in-season hours at all six of Metro’s public golf courses have kept people away when they should be capitalizing on the sport’s newfound popularity.
It’s no secret Nashville is growing every day with people moving here from around the country. Hickman said waiting lists at virtually every private course in Middle Tennessee make Nashville’s public courses well worth the 30-mile drive for people like Kyle Green.
“Especially considering what they charge to play here,” Green said.
“Pretty competitive?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
“Absolutely, very competitive,” Green said.
Metro Parks officials said that with the few people they have working, the last call at their courses to rent a cart for 18 holes is typically 1:30 p.m. For those playing 9 holes, the deadline is sometime around 4:30 p.m. That way, they make sure all carts are returned by the time they close at 7 p.m., even though the sun won’t set for another couple of hours in the summertime.
“It would probably deter me from playing if I didn’t have access to a cart,” Green said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates ran the numbers to better understand how much of a difference a few hours make between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the evenings.
Let’s say you’ve got two people per golf cart. That’s $6 each, which makes $12. Most groups need at least two carts, so now we’re talking $24.
They can get about six groups per hour, so that’s $144 times the two and half hours we’ve got before close. Now we’re at $360.
Multiply that by seven days in a week, 24 weeks of peak season between April and September, and finally six courses. Total: $362,880 in cart fees alone.
We do the same math, this time for green fees, or the cost of admission. Total: $226,800.
Now of course some days are busier than others, and some people may not want a cart knowing they only have a short time to play, but the city could be losing out on $589,680 in just six months.
Metro Parks officials said NewsChannel 5 Investigates' numbers don’t take into consideration weather and seasons.
They also said: “It does not take into consideration that we collect green fees from golfers even after we stop cart rentals at a pre-determined time, which of course is based on the availability of the staff. We are not deliberately not filling positions. The vacancy status of our staffing has been challenging for the last couple of years. We know this is true not only for us but for businesses in the city and across the country. This fact needs to be given just as much weight as any other aspect of your story. We continue our efforts to fill vacant positions and expand hours as staffing levels increase.”
Hickman said even if they spend $50,000-$60,000 to increase pay and attract more workers, they could bring in hundreds of thousands more in return. Every dollar, the courses bring in goes into the city’s general fund and helps fund countless Metro programs.
John Holmes is the Assistant Park Director for Metro Parks and oversees golf finances where he says the starting pay for new seasonal and part-time hires much of last year was $8.25 per hour. They’ve since bumped that pay to $11.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him why they can’t pay more.
“We are. Every year we’re evaluating positions, evaluating salaries. Trying to stay competitive with other industries," Holmes said in response.
But on the same day, NewsChannel 5 Investigates interviewed Holmes, Metro HR director Shannon Hall said in a Metro Council Budget Hearing that she tried convincing Metro Parks Director Monique Odom to take her recommendation and increase what they pay their seasonal and part-time employees.
“I offered her my recommendation. We did ask again this year like we ask every single year. Do you want to update? Do you and the Board of Parks want to change the pay rate? The response from Parks was no for this year,” Hall said.
Metro Parks responded in a statement saying in part, “Monique did not turn down any recommendation to increase the rate of pay. Good financial stewardship takes into consideration the budget. In fact, under her leadership, the rate of pay for seasonal and part-time workers has increased over the last two years. (Hall’s) discussion, which you referenced, was about increasing the range of pay, not the rate of pay. There’s a big difference between the two.”
Hall did say that Odom appeared eager to find a resolution to attract workers, while at the same time working within the budget they’ve been allotted.
Since 2019, golf spent nearly $4 million each year paying its employees. That left Metro Parks paying more than they made in two out of the last three years.
Holmes said that despite having full-time staff, seasonal workers and volunteer help, they’ve never had the challenges they face this year with finding help.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked about the volunteers, Holmes said that each course is allowed to have volunteers that work a certain number of hours and get free golf in return for a week.
Some told us that it’s not just the compensation they have an issue with. They told NewsChannel 5 Investigates you could apply one day and wait nearly a month or even longer to get the job.
“It’s Metro government and there are processes that we have to follow and we’re following them,” Holmes said.
It is a process that hasn’t changed and some argue it’s time for a new approach. Ultimately we all want to find the best way to the green, even if some say it’s harder than you think.
“I get that. I understand that, but from a golfer’s perspective and that’s where I’m coming from. There’s revenue being left on the table,” Hickman said.