By Alan Prescott
January 11, 2022

In my last article, I reinforced the new golf course (hands-on) management team again. Both Mike Cooney and Blaine Ellerby are instrumental to the re-development of the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course (FBMGC). However, there are several aspects that I’ve apparently neglected to discuss in the past and which are an essential part of the discussion today. I sincerely hope that, at the end of today’s article, both non-golfers, as well as the patrons of FBMGC, will have a better understanding of why the golf course continues to struggle.

Let me pose a few questions. How much turf management experience and golf course operational experience would you say that someone who is an engineer or a medical doctor or a “mayor” or politician have that would qualify them to actually run a 27-hole golf facility? How long would you think that it takes a qualified golf course staff to reverse the damage done after years of neglect? How long would you expect a golf course to survive when being starved of adequate operating capital? How profitable would that golf course be after an elected official published an article (that received national attention in print) stating that, the golf course, that he is responsible for, wasn’t worth playing and that he plays other local courses instead? Why would those people who control the purse strings starve the golf course of money while wasting almost $500,000 on Top Tracer with no restrooms or snack bar and yes, no money allocated to support that investment? WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

If YOU did the same thing, that never worked, over and over again with the same negative outcome, how would that define YOU? Instead of sweeping all of these problems under the rug or running from them, why don’t we get a group of business savvy individuals who realize the golf course can be profitable to put pressure on the elected official who control the purse strings.

Even though I haven’t been to your golf course in months due to Covid, I will be in Fernandina Beach soon. Honestly, it takes more than 5 months to reverse what 10 years of neglect at the golf course. 2021 was a year of heavy rain and colder than usual temperatures, resulting in a shorter growing season. Even the grass didn’t know, from one day to the next, whether to grow, to drown, or to survive a daily, nature-induced flood.

In sum, I want to thank all of those people who responded to my last article. However, there was one individual (who left a phone number but no email address) that was highly critical. This January 22, is the first anniversary of the appearance of my first article in the Fernandina Observer. I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute. I am thankful for being able to suggest increased wages for the golf course maintenance staff, to write, in part, about my experiences in the golf business, to meet with those who will effect a complete transformation of the FBMGC, those who play the course, and to discuss the concerns of non-golfers in the community.

This discussion is NOT over by any means. There is a considerable discussion about the current status of municipal golf courses in the United States. My next article will discuss what other municipalities have done and are doing and what the results of their efforts have been.

I am Alan Prescott. I can be reached by email at alanprescott528@yahoo.com. I welcome ALL comments and opinions. Their author’s name(s) will remain anonymous. Please be well and remain healthy. Best wishes to all for a healthy and successful 2022.

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DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_63544)
8 months ago

Alan, thanks again for all your articles. However in this article I believe you are casting the majority of the blame in the wrong place. No, Mayor Mike should have never made those comments in that manner as the commissioners are supposed to be goodwill ambassadors for the city. Not to cover things up; but not to pile on either. The reality is that it is the City Manager that is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the golf course as he is for all the other departments operating in the city. As the Truman saying goes, the buck stops here. The current City Manager inherited a management company contract that was approved by the City Commission. He had the authority at any time to declare that the management company was in default of their obligations, but never did so. Where did the TopTracer idea originate? I am unclear on that as some early reports from the golf course manager said they were never consulted on the matter initially, but then subsequent articles reported them as all onboard. The City Manager waited to the 11th hour of the contract renewal before the management company threw up their hands and walked away. Was that a negotiating strategy that went wrong? Now the reality is that the City Manager has responsibility for managing the golf course. So what experience does the City Manager have with regards to turf management and course operations experience. I would dare say “None”.
It is the City Manager that prepares the initial budget and it is reviewed and finally approved by the City Commission. Where is the plan developed by the current golf course manager and superintendent to improve the golf course? Were there options presented with varying capital outlays? I heard of none but I, like you, are looking from afar and perhaps missed them. If you look at the budget numbers for the TopTracer operation many of them have no relationship to reality based on performance for the first year. It was only due to pressure from myself, some of the commissioners and other citizens to separate out the TopTracer revenue and expenses in order to truly evaluate its performance. What is the role of Golf Course Advisory Board in development of such a plan recognizing they are only advisory?
Yes, comments from the cheap seats such as mine are easy, especially with the recognition that the City is facing numerous financial pressures due to the marina and a substantial increase in staff positions over the last couple of years. I think what most citizens and the Commissioners would like to see is a plan to improve the playing conditions of the course and the related costs. I am sure you can cherry pick some examples of municipal golf courses that have rebounded or are flourishing, but from my reading of industry research, the majority of municipal courses are struggling unless they have a bountiful budget for their operations subsidized by highly profitable departments.
I look forward to your future articles and hope you will be able to get back down to FB soon.
Take care.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_63546)
8 months ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

In the 4+ years I was on the Golf Course Advisory Board, neither the Commission nor the Manager ever asked for our input. The only times we heard from the Commission were the 2 times they dissolved the Board – no discussions. They did not care.
The proximate cause of the golf course’s deterioration is and was a lack of funding.
I understand the Top Tracer fiasco was precipitated when the City cut the bar and bathrooms from the design to save money. It had the chance to do things right and the City went cheap.

Lou Goldman
Lou Goldman(@lgoldmngmail-com)
8 months ago

I have always felt that Island was over golfed. The City has 27 holes and at one time was considering adding 9 more. I don’t feel that we need three 9 hole courses. As a business man I would have closed the least played 9 years ago. That would cut the maintenance by a third. The are others things that could be done with that property. One would be to build a Par 3 course for older golfers and a starting course for new and/or younger players.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery (@guest_63553)
8 months ago

20 years ago the City course was in great playing shape and was one of the most heavily played public courses in Florida. Then came 2008, the economic downturn, and a decision to fire almost every city employee employed in the maintenance of the course and choose to outsource their work. That was a very bad idea as the management company appeared to be a shell game of funding and shoddy work……they made out……the City did not.
Once neglected, it takes a lot to recover and I’m not sure the FBCC has the desire to do what it takes (money).
Prices to play at the “other” courses are rising faster than the rate of inflation, but all that money seems to be properly used to further the operation.
Bottom line is…..if you want things done right you have to pay city employees more and give them the resources to do their jobs (and I’m not just talking about the golf course). That takes money which means higher taxes……and therein lies the problem that the FBCC will never solve.

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