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School-start legislation non-starter for tourism

Golf industry swings into action to sink rule change

The tourism industry has taken a big hit during the current economic downturn. And recently proposed legislation could have further complicated matters.

In Minnesota, legislation to start the school year before Labor Day was on the agenda until a coalition that included the Explore Minnesota Tourism Council, the Minnesota Golf Association (MGA), and the Midwest Golf Course Owners Association (MWGCOA), among others, opposed it.

“Once school starts, the world ends” for tourism and recreation, says John Valliere, who  spearheaded opposition to the legislation.  Valliere, who was appointed by Minnesota’s governor to represent golf on the tourism council, testified before the state’s Senate Education Committee and provided written testimony to the House Finance Committee, urging that the school-start rule remain as is, starting the school year after Labor Day.

Valliere also is general manager of Braemar Golf Course in Edina, Minnesota and past president of the Minnesota Golf Association.

“Why would you want to increase the cost of schooling and, at the same time, further jeopardize the economy of a state that depends so heavily on tourism during economic times like these?” asks Curt Walker, MWGCOA executive director.  “It just didn’t make sense.”

He says the legislation was proposed because Labor Day this year will be latest it can be – September 7.  

“The late date helped bring this on and it was going to be a one-year, temporary rule change,” says Walker. 

But as anyone knows, very little government does is temporary, and the tourism industry, particularly resort owners which recruited golf to help in the fight, looked at it as a foot in the door for a permanent change.

According to Valliere, school administrators wanted the change as an energy saver for schools because lengthening the school year would mean more use of air conditioning in June, even though Minnesota weather in August and September is warmer than it is in June.   To make matters worse, administrators sought local discretion in the matter rather than having a statewide rule. 

Educators wanted the legislation because it was a way of getting students who were already practicing football and other extracurricular activities back in school.  For the most part, parents opposed the change.

“None of this added up or made much sense, including the need for local discretion” says Valliere.  “This is definitely a statewide issue.  Young people employed throughout the state by the tourism industry would have to leave early, effectively shutting down some businesses and adversely affecting the amount of money the state collects in sales taxes.  Labor Day is Christmas for resort owners, golf course owners, restaurants, and others because it’s considered the last full summer week for family vacations, get-togethers, and outings.  It’s huge.” 

Of the total sales tax collected in Minnesota, 15% comes from tourist-related activities like golf, according to Valliere.  “The irony in this is the school systems are the recipients of a large portion of state revenue, including these same sales taxes,” he says.

Moreover, golf has a tremendous economic impact in Minnesota.  The Minnesota Golf Economy 2006, the latest study done for the MGA by SRI International, found approximately $2.4 billion of annual direct, indirect, and induced economic output, $776.7 million in wage income, and 34,653 jobs.

Fortunately, says Walker, the legislation “died in committee from lack of common sense as much as from opposition to it.”

Now, however, similar legislation beginning the school year on September 1 is being proposed in neighboring Wisconsin.  Jeff Schwister, executive director of the Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin, is cooperating with a number of trade associations involved in Wisconsin tourism and recreation to make sure it doesn’t get past the committee stage. 

In a series of e-mails to all of his members, Schwister has summarized the legislation and provided them with information on how to contact their legislators.  

“All states need to keep on eye on this popping up,” he says.  “I question whether such a change would enhance education, but it certainly can make a bad situation worse for the tourism and golf industries.”

As long as the date of Labor Day varies every year, this legislation will come up.  “It seems to me as if this appears every 2-5 years,” warns Walker.

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