It seemed like a good idea at the time. And, in fact, for several years after Brigantine purchased the Links at Brigantine Beach in 2002, the municipally owned golf course generated a surplus.

Alas, then came the recession. The area found itself with a glut of newer and nicer public and private golf courses - and too few golfers to go around. And then came Hurricane Sandy.

Now, the Links at Brigantine Beach - where 31,000 rounds were played in 2008, producing a surplus of $840,000 - are suffering. As of June 30, only 7,531 rounds had been played. Last year's operating deficit of $43,000 will be even higher this year.

And a host of infrastructure problems that must be addressed, exacerbated by Sandy, now have Brigantine officials looking for a financially responsible way forward. Which won't be easy.

Last week, City Council approved a $281,000 bond issue for the golf course and hired an architect for $15,000 to develop a master plan for making the necessary improvements at the course. Poor drainage and the need for a new roof on the clubhouse are the chief problems.

The hope of some city officials is to find a third-party operator who will sign a long-term lease and make the necessary improvements.

Brigantine still owes nearly $2.3 million on the course's mortgage. And since the financing for the original deal also included $800,000 in state Green Acres money, the 185-acre course cannot be subdivided and developed.

This is what golfers call a very bad lie.

And it's a cautionary tale for other government-owned golf courses.

In the past, governments purchased golf courses for good reasons - to preserve open space, to provide an amenity that might even turn a profit. But that last part is no sure thing.

As Gary Shea, a Brigantine resident who sells package golfing tours in the region, told Press staff writer Wallace McKelvey, "Golf is a very risky business. Guys don't buy golf courses because they are looking to get rich."

Taxpayers, of course, shouldn't be subsidizing golf courses. And it's fair to ask if government should even be in the business of competing with privately owned golf courses.

Egg Harbor Township's municipally owned course, McCullough's Emerald Links, saw a 17 percent increase in revenue last year - but that's after years of decline. Atlantic County's course, the John F. Gaffney Green Tree Golf Course in Egg Harbor Township, is on track to break even this year after years when it did not even do that well.

The point is - admittedly, with all the benefit of 20/20 hindsight - that golf courses may not be the wisest investment for government.

The good news is it's highly unlikely that any town or county not currently in the golf-course business will be jumping in any time soon.