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Golfers take a swing at proposed state golf tax

February 6, 2009 |  2:00 pm

A golfer walks in the rain at Wilson Municipal Golf Course in Griffith Park.

For those golfers who are struggling to get their desired tee time, don’t fret ... it may soon get easier.

In case you didn’t know, the controversial state budget being tossed around in Sacramento includes a proposed state service tax on golf that could, depending upon where you live, boost the cost of a round by 7.25% to 10.25%.

Some in the golf industry fear that the tax would make it too expensive for some golfers -- particularly seniors on fixed budgets -- to play the game.

To close the nearly $42-billion budget deficit that has already frozen some state services, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed several new revenue sources, including the proposed “golf tax.”

If approved, the tax would be levied on greens fees on all courses in the state, as well as driving range fees, cart rentals, club membership and dues. The tax would become effective April 1.

But it’s not just golf. The service fee also would be added to the cost of Fido’s veterinary shots and repairing the old Mustang. The governor also proposed taxes on tickets to sporting events, amusement parks and such things as refrigerators and furniture.

Golf seemed to be an obvious candidate for the governor because courses, golf centers and pro shops already charge sales tax on golf balls and other products -- so, arguably, it would be easy to program cash registers to incorporate the proposed tax.

The service taxes are among the proposals that are expected to generate revenue quickly, according to a California Department of Finance spokesman -- who, by the way, insists that the governor is not picking on golfers.

Here’s what the tax would mean for a round of golf for two people renting a cart on a Saturday morning at the Harding Municipal Golf Course in Griffith Park: Instead of $92, it’ll cost $101.43 at the 10.25% rate. If you and your buddy golf every Saturday at Harding, the tax would bump up the cost by about $490 for the year.

A guest at the private Glendora Country Club course would pay about $85 and $9 in taxes for one day's greens fee and a cart. For members, their one-time membership fee (the lowest is $7,500) could see a nearly $760 hike and monthly dues of $530 would jump by about $54.

The governor hopes to raise $80.7 million from the golf tax alone by the end of the current fiscal year. Overall, he expects the new services taxes to generate nearly $1.1 billion.

Some opponents argue that Schwarzenegger, an avid skier, is targeting golf because it’s considered a “rich man’s sport.” Others say the tax will hurt golf courses that aren’t set up to handle accounting matters that the tax would create.

And some say it’ll hurt local economies that are dependent upon golf.

“There are 160,000 golf-related jobs in the state,” said Bob Bouchier, executive director of the California Alliance for Golf, which along with several golfing organizations launched a campaign opposing the tax. “Just add an expense and soon there are fewer players and fewer jobs.”

Public courses say they’ll definitely feel the tax’s effects.

James Ward, golf manager for the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, said that half of the department's $30-million revenue comes from golf fees. And the city is facing its own budget problems.

“If we were to lose more rounds because of the cost and people deciding they can’t play, that would hurt the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks’ bottom line,” he said.

Any day now, Sacramento will approve a budget that could include the golf tax. So if you know a golfer who's playing a bit more -- he (or she) is probably just trying to save a little cash in advance of the tax.

-- James Wagner

Photo: A golfer is undaunted by the rain at Wilson Municipal Golf Course in Griffith Park in 2007. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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