By Chip Ross
April 25, 2022
A recent News Leader editorial boldly declared that the City golf course now needs outside management. The editorial suggests outside management will either vanquish or ameliorate the City golf course woes.
In 2010 the City Commissioners hired a management company to make the golf course profitable and contribute revenue to the general fund. The management company then spent 10 years trying to provide an affordable course with exceptional conditioning and a first-class club house with exceptional food. According some of the current commissioners and others the management company failed. The previous City Commission voted to not renew the management contract and hire City staff to manage the golf course.
Others think you get what you pay for, the course is in an acceptable condition, affordable and they are satisfied. On average, over the last 10 years, 42,000 rounds of golf per year have been played on the course. The course is widely used by the community.
The editorial advice continued: “At some point, city commissioners must decide the future of the golf course”. City commissions have been avoiding that decision for more than 15 years.
It comes as no surprise the City golf course loses money. When your business plan for the last 15 years has been to offer something for less than it costs to provide, that tends to happen.
Some background information may help to explain the golf course dilemma.
The Fernandina Golf Course is a 27-hole facility with a driving range, maintenance facility, pro shop, restaurant and banquet room. The North Nine first opened in 1957, the West Nine opened in 1959, and the South Nine opened in 1972. Golf courses age and mature. Even with the best maintenance, golf courses need periodic renovation to replace aging turf and other infrastructure. The putting greens and fairways need renovation every 15-30 years. The bunkers [sand traps] need replacement every 5-7 years. The tees need renovation every 15-20 years. If these renovations are not done, the cost of maintaining or minimizing the decline of a golf course escalates.
The City Commissioners have funded few renovations to the course over the past 65 years. Over the last 15 years, the City has funded several studies to recommend what was needed to replace or renovate the turf and other infrastructure. To finally do the recommended improvements today, would cost approximately 4 million dollars. This is another example of the City Commission (present and past) paying for studies and then not implementing the recommendations.
The current club house was built in 1972. It shows its age. The carpets have never been replaced. Much of the kitchen equipment is at the end of its useful life. Parts of the interior ceilings need replacement and the rest rooms have never been renovated. Approximately $250,000 would be required to provide a friendly, useable public space for community activities and the food and beverage services for the golf course.
All the above capital projects have been in proposed previous budgets but removed or only partially funded due to the previous or current City Commissions not committing to the expenditures.
The business plan the City Commissioners have adopted for the golf course, for at least the last 15 years, is to promise and offer something for less than it costs to provide. The consequence of that is “deferred maintenance”. Without replacing and / or renovating greens, fairways, bunkers, cart paths and other facilities they come to the end of their useful life and are difficult to maintain in any useable condition. Most of the golf course is at that point.
Before deciding who is going to manage a declining golf course and facility in dire need of renovation, the City Commission needs to come to a consensus on the future vision for the golf course. Will the golf course be closed to save money? Will the golf course be minimally maintained for those who accept its current condition? Or will the City Commissioners fund the renovations to create a well-regarded municipal golf course. Until that decision is made by the City Commission, it is unlikely that any management change at the golf course will make any significant difference to the condition or profitability of the City golf course.
Without such a decision, metaphorically, the City Commissioners are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: Chip Ross is a Fernandina Beach City Commissioner.