November 14, 2002 11:00 pm

By Jayson Jacoby

For The Observer

BAKER CITY — If you're a golfer seeking to straighten your slice or perfect your putting stroke, 2003 might be the year to discard the status of duffer.

And the 18-hole Baker City Golf Course is the place.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to cut the cost of 2003 annual passes for couples and families at the Baker City Golf Course.

A pass for two members of the same household will cost $590, down $100 from this year. A family pass, for three or more members of the same household, will cost $690, a savings of $200.

A season pass for an individual golfer will cost $490, the same price as this year.

However, individuals who have never bought an annual pass will receive a $100 discount.

In addition, golfers from any of the three categories who buy an annual pass before Feb. 15 will earn a 10 percent discount.

The new rate structure the council approved Tuesday is almost identical to one the golf board recommended.

Board member Alan Stephens told the council that the board tried to design rates that would encourage people who didn't buy an annual pass in 2002 to do so in 2003.

City Manager Gordon Zimmerman said the city sold approximately 100 fewer season passes over the past few years as prices increased.

Boosting revenue is crucial for the city-owned course.

This spring the council approved a $54,000 general fund loan to balance the golf budget.

That deficit could reach $100,000 by the end of the current fiscal year, said Laura Harryman, the city's finance director.

One way to reverse that trend is to attract new golfers.

"We need to entice people to play," Stephens said.

Councilor Charles Hofmann said he understands the theory behind the golf board's proposal.

But he said he's skeptical that reducing rates will bring in enough new golfers to offset the effects of charging less for two-person and family passes.

"I need to understand how charging the golfers less money makes the golf course more money," Hofmann said. "I understand your line of thinking, but when I do the arithmetic I still don't see a significant impact."

The key to success, Stephens said, is a single word: "Volume."

Obviously if the city sells the same number of season passes as it did this year, but at the new, lower prices, overall revenue would drop, Stephens said.

But the golf board hopes the cheaper costs will lure a lot more golfers to buy an annual pass, he said.

How many more is impossible to predict, Stephens said.

In addition to reducing rates, the council approved a new option for golfers who play frequently on weekdays, but rarely on weekends.

The option is a season pass that's valid Monday through Friday. The pass is available for individuals, couples and families, for $100 less than a pass that's good every day of the week.

Golfers who buy a Monday through Friday pass would have to pay regular daily greens fees to play the course on weekends.

Daily greens fees will be the same as last year — $22 for 18 holes, $14 for nine holes weekdays ($24 and $15 weekends and holidays).

Punch cards also will be available again, 10 rounds of 18 holes for $200.