By Mike Lednovich
Failing for years just to even break even, the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course is pursuing a new revenue opportunity by increasing food and beverage sales.
The golf course now has an executive chef on staff with a yearly compensation package of $103,495.
That salary was mistakenly omitted from the city’s 2023-24 budget so next Tuesday the city commission will approve taking $68,000 allocated for part-time salaries at Top Tracer and $35,495 from the golf course food and beverage part-time salary account to pay for the executive chef’s compensation.
“When I took over we were doing practically zero special events,” said Golf Course General Manager David DeMay. “This is an area of revenue where we have a real opportunity. To do that we have to improve our food quality, service quality and we have to market what we’re offering to the public. We’re changing the entire narrative of this golf course from top to bottom.”
Golf course operations management experts maintain that successful golf courses generate 30-50% of their revenues from food and beverage operations that include special events like weddings, celebrations and corporate events. The Fernandina Golf Course food and beverage revenues have been running in the range of 5-7% of total revenues for the past few years.
Executive Chef Ed Bennett was added to the golf course staff last June.
According to city documents, Bennett’s position includes $65,620 in salary, $14,035 in retirement, $20,777 in health benefits, $2,718 in FICA, $325 life insurance and $120 in Workers’ Compensation.
DeMay said the money for the executive chef is budgeted but unspent.
“Most of our folks are retired or semi-retired and work 15-19 hours a week. Our part-time positions are budgeted for 29 hours, so we have the extra funds to pay for this,” he said.
The executive chef job was created in 2023 as a part-time position, but changed to full time for the 2023-24 budget year “to enhance the golf course dining experience and to generate additional revenue for the golf course’s future operations,” the city documents state.
Since taking over 10 months ago, DeMay said, improving food and beverage revenues was an immediate goal.
“For the past 15 years all areas of the golf course have been under marketed,” DeMay said. “Food and beverage is a category that can be improved dramatically. The work in front of us is letting residents and visitors know about our new menu, quality food and specials events.”
Since Bennett’s arrival, the golf course has featured monthly special menu events. In October it was prime rib night, and DeMay said 82 people came out to the golf club to dine. There is now once-a-month Sunday brunch that DeMay said eventually will become a weekly event and happy hour on Fridays.
The city golf course has not been able to break even for nearly 10 years which necessitated the city using a $220,000 subsidy from the city’s General Fund for almost 10 years, which ended with the 2023-24 budget.
The golf course recently had to pay more than $270,000 for a new irrigation pump, which has yet to be installed.
The city’s financial reporting for the golf course last month stated, “Green Fees and Range Fees revenues were over budget for FY2023 however, the golf course expenses exceed revenues on a year-to-date basis by $76,000. The transfer from Wastewater Fund to the Golf Fund for the accumulated deficit balance was recorded in October.”
Bennett is the former executive chef at the Windsor of Ortega, an assisted living complex in Jacksonville. He also previously worked at The Golf Club of Amelia Island located at the Ritz Carlton, Brett’s on the Waterway, the University Club and The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona.
DeMay knew of Bennett’s talents when both worked at the Golf Club of Amelia Island.
“He is a talented, wonderful chef, and I recognized right away he would greatly improve the quality and variety of our menu,” DeMay said.
DeMay acknowledged that revenue improvements at the golf course will take time.
“We’re building the foundation from better turf conditions, new golf carts, an upgraded dining facility and a focus on training and customer service,” he said. “We’re getting really good feedback on the food and beverage improvements and additions.”