A New Dawn for Sunrise Golf Course


Libby Bronkella

Overlooking the practice green and hole number 10 at Sunrise Golf Course

Keara Eder, Staff Reporter

Adjacent to Michigan Road, you will find Sunrise Golf Course, the city golf course for Madison, Indiana. For decades, Sunrise operated the same way by the same golf professional. In early 2021, Madison mayor Bob Courtney examined the Sunrise Golf Course budget and decided that the course was drawing too much funding away from the city that could be used to repair parks or community centers.  

Mayor Courtney and the Parks Department board implemented action in January of 2021 to make Sunrise more self-sufficient. According to Courtney, the golf course and other city-owned properties should be self-sufficient without draining additional funds away from locales in the city.

Mayor Courtney said, “If we can manage these assets to where they can become self-sustainable, then that money will be reinvested into that asset. But what it won’t do is dilute the revenue that’s needed to maintain the rest of our parks.”

The new plan with Sunrise included raising the price of daily fees and member passes, expanding the online presence to get more regional play rather than local play, and obtaining a liquor license. Along with these changes, Mayor Courtney also created a golf board focusing on Sunrise Golf Course. The new board members are Zac Laughlin, Kathy Crafton, Kenton Williams, and Karl Eaglin. These members were chosen because of their connection to Sunrise and the parks department. 

Inside the remodeled clubhouse at Sunrise golf course. (Keara Eder)

In addition to the new golf board members, Sunrise golf professional Roger Gallatin has also joined the parks crew as the new golf pro at Sunrise, taking over for the recently retired Jeff Bridgeford. Gallatin said that the relationship between Sunrise and the Parks Department would be changing as well.

Gallatin stated, “The kitchen will be independently run, and all that money goes down to the city. I will run the pro shop side of the business and keep that for the course. And I’ll go back to how Jeff [Bridgeford] reported cart and green fees to the city.”

Part of the new changes includes a new restaurant menu to attract outside attention from customers other than the regular golfers. New GPS systems installed into the carts notify golfers when they are at a particular location to call ahead and order food. Gallatin said that a few of the systems have stopped working, but a technician has been scheduled to fix them. Some players feel that the GPS systems were a waste of money because most people have personal rangefinders or devices with the same effect as the GPS systems.

Along with some of the GPS systems malfunctioning, a few course carts have stopped running. Workers have speculated the reason for this is that the batteries are old and need replacing. Gallatin also noticed this issue and redistributed funds towards the end of the season to invest in new batteries to bring the cart fleet number back up. Gallatin plans to increase the cart fleet as Sunrise heads into the 2022 season. 

Gallatin comes with around 14 years of experience from various golf courses. Gallatin, an MCS graduate and the son of former MCHS principal Roger Gallatin, Sr., has come back home to help Sunrise and develop Madison’s young golfers. He knows that improving Sunrise will be a struggle at first but will be good in the long run. With Sunrise running on a lower maintenance budget than a typical public course, Gallatin stated it would take some adapting but still head in the right direction.

A comfortable nook inside the clubhouse at Sunrise Golf Course (Keara Eder)

Gallatin’s plan includes hosting several tournaments and starting programs for younger golfers. Gallatin is joining the First Tee Program, whose mission is to help develop young golfers in life skills and leadership skills. Gallatin is also hosting a junior tournament at Sunrise through Indiana Junior Golf. Along with hosting a junior tournament, Gallatin plans to host a monthly tournament at Sunrise and the Madison High Schools’ Sectionals.

Gallatin and Mayor Courtney are confident that Sunrise is moving positively and will thrive in years to come. Gallatin hopes to build up the facilities that Sunrise offers so that the youth of Madison have better practice facilities than there currently are. Gallatin looks forward to starting a youth program and building young golfers into successful players. 

While Mayor Courtney and Gallatin have positive outlooks, some course members are not so positive. Members have not liked the changes made earlier this year and do not believe that the course condition is improving.

Former Hanover College Assistant Coach Bill Tereshko said that many fairways and greens have multiple dead spots, and the rough is at the point where he can hardly find his ball. Tereshko is not the only player to notice the decrease in the course conditions. This reporter has personally heard other golfers comment on the course conditions.

However, Parks Director Matthew Woolard stated that he has only heard praise about the conditions, and the dead spots result from not having a driving range, so people practice and warm up on the actual course. 

City of Madison Parks Director Matthew Woolard

While the goal of raising the fees for golfers is obviously to generate revenue, an argument can be made that fees should be cheaper to draw more play. However, with higher daily prices and some members noting that Sunrise’s conditions are worsening, regional golfers might look elsewhere like Belterra, St. Anne’s, or Shadowood. Shadowood is most similar to Sunrise based on the style of the course but is about 2,000 yards longer with a higher difficulty than Sunrise. Shadowood has similar green fees to Sunrise, only varying by a few dollars. However, Madison has a lower membership fee for an adult with a cart, by about $200. Madison also allows personal carts to be stored in a barn at the golf course for $300. Once family members are added, the membership rates become more even. Gallatin has said that he is looking to get some discounted rates through the online Golf Now service to create a more significant attraction to outside players.

It is typical to see people who are not fans of changes, and Sunrise could risk losing regular players to other area golf courses with competitive prices or more mystique. In 2021, Sunrise reported having a little over 13,000 rounds, while Mayor Courtney says the average yearly play is about 25,000 rounds. The system through which played rounds are counted has changed over the past few years, making the statistically accrued number of rounds played more accurate than in previous years. Previous Sunrise board member Tim Whitaker stated that the increase in membership fees covered the loss of the members, but “the number of paid rounds was down considerably, and thus the revenue was down.” Even with a slight decrease in daily play in 2021, Gallatin said that financially the course was still moving in the right direction.

Sunrise Golf Course PGA professional Roger Gallatin

Many places, including Sunrise, have struggled to find employees during the Covid crisis. Gallatin is hoping to find an assistant pro who will be able to work some of the First Tee camps and help introduce golf to more kids around the city. Gallatin is also looking for part-time workers from high school golf teams around the area. Similar to Shadowood Golf Course, the city just approved Sunrise to start a work-for-play program where anyone can work a day at the course in exchange for a free round of golf.

Along with Mayor Courtney and Gallatin, Sunrise is finding the best fiscal strategies for maintenance.

As a golfer myself, I believe that Gallatin can take Sunrise in a positive direction. He has a list of goals he has created and plans to stick to them in the hopes of continuing the positive influence the course has had from many golfers, junior golfers, and MCS.