There's a big problem with the recent selection of Jim Monaghan, Wellington Webb's campaign consultant, to lead a study on why Denver's seven municipal golf courses are operating at a $429,000 deficit this year: Monaghan & Associates knows nothing about golf.

Then again, the current flap surrounding the courses isn't about golf. It's about politics--and, perhaps, development around Denver International Airport.

Monaghan's $57,000 bid beat out proposals from several well-regarded local and national firms that specialize in golf-related work, and the choice of the mayor's pal has aroused exasperation, disappointment and anger from members of the city's golf community.

The city conducted what some say was a hurried selection process, ignoring its own Golf Advisory Committee. Now the city's talking of bypassing its golf panel again by appointing a special "task force" after the consultants finish their job.

Monaghan wouldn't talk with Westword, but one of his employees, David Kenney, who was Webb's campaign manager earlier this year, insists that the public relations and lobbying firm is more than qualified for the public-policy end of the study.

"This is really something we do all the time, so why shouldn't we do it here?" says Kenney. "He [Monaghan] happens to be friends with the governor and friends with the mayor, but should that stop us from doing work in our hometown? Is our team qualified? You bet. Did we put together a good proposal? You bet. Is it going to work out well for the city of Denver? You bet."

Are some local golf experts miffed? You bet. John Edwards, publisher of Colorado Golfer newspaper, describes the selection of Monaghan as "the biggest pit of cronyism I have ever seen."

Even Perry Dye, president of Dye Design, an experienced golf-design company that is a subcontractor for Monaghan's firm on the project, doesn't discount the possibility that Monaghan's selection represents cronyism. But he says it was still an "ingenious" decision.

"As odd as it may seem for a municipality to seek out a political-style consultant in this issue, it is really a touch of reality," Dye says. "Municipalities who run municipal facilities can create immense amounts of animosity among constituents by providing golf in a poor manner. To say municipal golf is not political is to deny reality."

The city's courses, which charge suburbanites considerably higher greens fees than Denver residents must pay, are meant to either break even or generate revenue that can be used for future improvements. They've done neither the past two years, and this year's losses are even worse than 1994's $298,000 deficit. A $1.3 million loan from the city's contingency fund--which the Denver City Council will vote on later this month--is expected to bail the system out for now, but will have to be repaid, and no one is sure exactly how.

One reason is that revenue from non-resident golfers is declining; they're taking advantage of newer, tougher suburban courses. The number of non-resident rounds at Denver's courses dropped from 150,000 in 1990 to just over 100,000 last year. While non-residents account for only 30 percent of the golfers, they provide half the revenue--because they have to pay higher greens fees.

And while the city's golf courses are losing money, some people are clamoring for the city to build another course--one that would benefit the developers of acreage near DIA.

What could become Denver's eighth municipal golf course would be built at Green Valley Ranch, a growing area around East 48th Avenue and Tower Road. It would be the closest golf course to the new airport, and that's where Monaghan's links--which have nothing to do with golf--may pay off.

In the mid-Eighties, Monaghan & Associates worked for a land planner who in turn represented a consortium of developers. That group of developers included a current owner of Green Valley Ranch, the Alpert Corporation. Now Monaghan's firm will help decide whether a new course, which would be a boon to the ranch's owners, will be built. A total of $2.5 million from a 1989 bond issue has already been earmarked for the new course, but estimates place its final cost at anywhere from $4.5 million to $6 million. "Why are we doing this if we can't afford to maintain our current courses?" asks one member of the city's ignored Golf Advisory Committee.

Kenney insists that Monaghan never worked for Alpert directly, and has no conflict of interest in the new city contract. But previously Monaghan has found himself in situations that critics complained were conflicts. Within the past year, his firm simultaneously did consulting work for both Webb and the Anschutz Corporation--while Anschutz was a partner of the Denver Nuggets in the team's negotiations with the city for a new arena.

The golf woes pose the same kind of sticky political problem that Monaghan specializes in. "We're not going to be able to present to downtown a win-win deal without the heat," Dye says. Which means that, when Monaghan's work is completed early next year and presented to the city, its recommendations will likely step on some toes.

Developers and city officials expect construction of the Green Valley Ranch course--which has been in discussion or planning almost since the land was annexed by the city in 1973--to begin sometime next year. "It's a great public amenity that's been a long time in coming," says Bernie Milliner, an aide to councilmember Allegra "Happy" Haynes, whose district includes Green Valley Ranch. "We'll be glad when we finally break ground. We're expecting it's going to happen."

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