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KFOX14 Investigates: Airport-owned golf course losing millions

Butterfield Trail Golf Course .jpg

Butterfield Trail golf course is in the hole, financially.

KFOX14 Investigates has learned that the course, which is owned by the El Paso International Airport, is losing money.

Budget records show the course regularly operates with a deficit of $1 million every year, but the airport has no plans to sell or close the course.

The course is on par with some of the best public courses in the country.

“We are ranked third in municipal courses,” said Jeff Schultes, Deputy Director of Aviation for the El Paso International Airport.

It has earned accolades for its coveted Tom Fazio design and level of play on the greens.

"We're actually ranked ahead of Torrey Pines,” said Schultes.

But the course is struggling when it comes to making the green.

“That's correct,” said Schultes. The course makes about $1.8 million per year.

Nearly $1 million comes from green fees while the rest comes from food and beverage sales at the airport, pro shop sales and driving range fees.

“We have some people say that it's a little expensive, but at the same time it's a Tom Fazio course,” said Schultes.

Management services from a Chicago-based company total $2.8 million annually.

“We've hired one of the top companies in the country for managing the golf course,” said Schultes.

This puts the course $1.2 million in the hole each year and KFOX14 Investigates found the course has lost at least $1 million each year since fiscal year 2014.

Schultes said it doesn't directly affect the taxpayer.

“The airport gets no taxpayer money, property taxpayer money from the citizens at all. We are totally self-supported,” said Schultes.

That money could, theoretically, be spent on other projects.

KFOX14 Investigates asked Schultes what the airport would spend money on if it wasn’t spending money on the course.

“It may go in the bank, it may go to other projects. It's not really holding us back from stuff we need to do,” said Schultes.

Butterfield Trail was built to be an amenity near the airport, with a science and technology park surrounding it. The course opened in 2007.

“Of course, the minute it opened, the economy went down the tubes, we had a big recession. We haven’t been able to move forward with the science and technology park,” said Schultes.

The airport hasn't given up on the prospect of what could happen, including a hotel to attract tournaments.

“We can't get tournaments now because we don't have the hotel,” said Schultes. “Those are all the things that will hopefully make the golf course so much better and so much more profitable.”

KFOX14 Investigates asked whether the airport has considered selling to a private company or shutting down the course.

“It's really a very tough choice. Does the airport want to spend extra money? No, but it's part of the overall big-picture plan,” said Schultes.

If the course were to shut down, Schultes said it would be difficult to come back.

So for now, golfers can continue to tee off.

“I would really hate to take that amenity away and that quality away from the citizens of this region,” said Schultes.

KFOX14 Investigates contacted the mayor’s office for comment and were directed back to the airport.

The department tells us development is part of the five-year plan for the region and the golf course is a key asset to that.

The airport confirms staff is in discussions with a hotel developer.

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