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Three private developers and four cities are either talking about building golf courses or are doing so.

No wonder! The sport is drawing record numbers; experts estimate 21 percent of the state's population older than 12 play the game compared to 13.5 percent nationwide.Those numbers turn to big dollars at golf course cash registers every spring.

But does Davis County need seven new courses? If not seven, fewer? And should government entities be in the golf course business?

Most Davis policymakers and golf insiders agree on one thing: The county's existing courses are full; getting a weekend tee-time takes careful planning and a phone with a redial button.

Go north

Rick Mears, the pro at Farmington's Oakridge County Club, a private course, believes the county could likely support at least a couple more courses right now.

"There seems to be a lot of frustration not to be able to get on," said Mears of Davis golfers who frequent the public courses. "More people are Playing and they're playing more often," he said.

Most of those interviewed suggest the south end of the county has plenty of courses. Bountiful has 18 holes, West Bountiful is expanding from nine to 18 and construction is under way for a course in North Salt Lake.

"I think northern Davis County needs one in the worst way," says Scott Gardner, who has presided over Salt Lake City's $16 million golf course development program. "Layton City or Davis County ought to get going on one."

Gardener also sits on Centerville City's golf course committee, which is waiting for a consultants' report before going further with plans to build a course in the foothills.

Most courses proposed recently are, in fact, planned for the north - West Point, Syracuse, Layton and Clearfield.

Moving cautiously

Planners, however, are moving slowly, especially those involved with city proposals.

All but the Layton plan are inactive, due partly to the demise of North Salt Lake's plan, according to Gardner.

North Salt Lake had hoped to build its course with money from the sale of tax-free revenue bonds. No buyers have shown interest, despite five months of marketing.

The no-sale means the course, named Eaglewood, and its potential profits are in the hands of private developers, since the City Council won't consider financing the deal with a general obligation bond.

"I think everyone has definitely had their eyes on North Salt Lake," Gardner said. "It's made all the municipals nervous."

Privately or publicly owned?

Cities throughout the county have watched Davis County's Davis Park and Valley View courses fill to capacity and turn a profit over the years.

Each averaged between 90,000 and 100,000 nine-hole rounds last year and generated revenues of about $500,000.

Bountiful City's course also has been able to set aside about $900,000 during the past several years of operation, according to City Manager Tom Hardy.

Witnessing that kind of success can be tempting for cities looking for revenue.

Though optimism has been tempered somewhat by situations like North Salt Lake, it seems few realize the county's courses and Bountiful aren't golden eggs.

Revenues for the first several years have gone to pay-off construction loans. And all of the profits on the courses are sunk back into upgrades like new clubhouses, course work or other construction.

Besides, golf coursing can be a political hot potato.

Salt Lake City recently faced the wrath of golfers and the Utah Golf Association for raising green fees to fund other city recreation programs.

If other cities plan to do likewise, then every new course should be privately owned, said Joe Watts, Utah Golf Association executive director.

"If that's their attitude, then I oppose municipalities being in the business," he said.

Most government-owned courses have, to date, made golf a game accessible to rich and poor alike, he said.

But Salt Lake City's direction is "disturbing" and won't serve golfers well, Watts said.

"Golfers have always paid their own way and we always will. That's never been a problem," he said, promising that Utah politicians can expect a better organized lobby that will make a difference in elections.