Fernandina Beach Golf Course Advisory Board discusses oversight and why are we here?

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Fernandina Beach Golf Course
Fernandina Beach Golf Course

Susan Hardee Steger

Members of the City of Fernandina Beach Golf Course Advisory Board (GCAB) along with commissioners Arlene Filkoff, Ed Boner, Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett, and new general manager Chad Barhorst met to discuss golf course conditions and the role of the GCAB going forward.  Chairman Bailey asked, “If we are not wanted as an advisory board, why are we here? We spend a lot of time and effort on this.”

Bailey’s question was the result of an  April 2 regular meeting of the city commission when Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett’s motion that local resident and long time golfer Tommy Shave form a committee of five golfers and bring back reports on the state of the course. His motion was approved 4 – 0.  (Commissioner Filkoff was not present for the vote).  Corbett requested that the  committee be separate from the Golf Course Advisory Board.  (Click here for previous Fernandina Observer article.)

Commissioner Ed Boner acknowledge that the decision to form a committee was “awkwardly handled,” and informed the advisory board that the commission will clarify the decision at the next commission meeting.  Chairman Bailey responded to Shave’s appointment with an invitation; “We have an opening on our board and I encourage Mr. Shave or other citizens concerned about this [golf course] to get on our board so we can operate in the sunshine.”  There is no indication at this time that Shave’s committee is required to operate according to Florida’s open meeting laws (Sunshine Laws).

Board member Jim Powers voiced his concern that”the City’s oversight [of Casper contract] is a big issue for me.” Powers spoke to the email sent by City Manager Joe Gerrity to city commissioners and advisory board members in which Gerrity said, “I  don’t have any involvement with the GCAB. The only Board I  directly interact with is the AAC [Airport Advisory Commission,] because I am also the airport manager.”

“This has got to be resolved. I’m going to send him [Gerrity] a message. He needs to clarify that because he definitely does,” says Powers.  “The GCAB charter specifically states the advisory board not only advises the commission, but the city manager.”

Driving Range
Driving Range

According to Bailey, during the last month the board became more concerned about Billy Casper’s coming forward with critical information.  The GCAB suggested to the city manager that Billy Casper be put on notice and hire a USGA agronomist to survey the course.  Gerrity did follow through with their advice. But Bailey says, “We as a board  feel we are pretty much like a toothless dog.  Suggestions we  make are not being implemented.” In addition, the board, “doesn’t feel a lot of engagement from the city manager who is actually in charge of the whole process in terms of the GCAB board and the golf course,” says Bailey.

When the conversation returned to golf course conditions, Commissioner Boner directed a question to Chad Barhorst golf course general manager.

“Are you getting enough money within your budget to do what you should be doing with the course?”

“It depends upon what your expectations are with turf quality and consistency of the grass.” answers Barhorst. “I believe the course is underfunded.  The amount of money in your budget makes a huge difference on the maintenance side and on the result you are going to get.”  Barhurst expects to complete a long range plan by April  18.  A rough estimate to redo bunkers, greens, tee boxes,  and “surrounds” is  1.5 million.

New to the conversation concerning the grass conditions is use of environmentally friendly weed and mole cricket chemicals in order to be certified in the Audubon Sanctuary Program.  Weeds, and mole crickets are becoming resistant to the chemicals, according to Barhorst. There is no indication the Amelia River course holds the Audubon Sanctuary  designation. However, the Golf Club of Amelia, and the Amelia Island Plantation courses are involved in the  program, and the designation is touted on their websites. According to comments from area golfers, the weed, cricket mole problems at the City course have not appeared at other area courses.

Those in attendance then directed comments to General Manager Barhorst.

“We are not a training ground.”

“We are not here to teach people to grow grass by trial and error.”

“Does Casper know what it needs to do to be successful in Fernandina Beach?

“Do you understand what is expected from you [to the general manager]?

“If you knew this was coming a heads up would have been appreciated.”

Editor’s Note:  The following individuals are members of the Fernandina Beach Golf Course Advisory Board: Doug Bailey, Chair, Jane Paige, Women’s Association Representative, Bruce Smyk, Vice Chair, James Powers, Gary Farnsworth, and Michael Hentigan.

April 11, 2013 6:22 p.m.

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Bob Allison
Bob Allison (@guest_6387)
10 years ago

Ladies and Gentlemen,
This all boils down to money and who is willing to write the checks to revive and rebuild the City’s 55 year old golf course. Will it be City taxpayers? Will it be Billy Casper Golf? Will it be private enterprise? I raised $7 million in private money to build the Fernandina Harbor Marina and to clean up what what was a stinking delapidated mess at the foot of Centre Street which was the Gateway to downtown for the thousands of people on yachts transiting the the ICW waterway. I have offered to bring serious new private money into the equation to reverse the downward spiral at the Fernandina Golf Course. Mike Boyle, who I have tremendous respect for, suggested in a recent NewsLeader letter that my offer should be discounted because an improved golf course might be an amenity for the RV Resort we need on Amelia Island. So what? If the City can have the finest golf course in NE Florida, why do the motives of those that actually made it happen really matter? Private money deserves some return for improving public property and every RV patron who chooses to play golf on the City’s rebuilt course would pay greens fees just like everyone else. Mike goes on to write “The golf course, as an enterprise fund, ought to pay for itself, and not be dependent on the largesse of an outside developer” and so I pose this question to Mike….what happens when the golf course can’t pay for itself even though it “ought to”. What if it actually can’t pay for itself and as a result it declines into a condition where it is no longer playable by anyone? Everyone loses in this scenario….the golfers…the taxpayers…..the City. I realize my proposal for the RV Resort, although constantly misrepresented by Mile Boyle and others as some kind of visual blight on Amelia Island, which it would never be, is a realistic and viable solution to an expensive problem now standing in the face of the City of Fernandina Beach. I am reminded of those who opposed my plan to build Fernandina Harbor Marina because they preferred the sunset view of pelicans roosting on broken down docks to the new image the marina would bring to downtown FB and to the new commerce it would bring to downtown merchants. Bringing true leadership to the serious issues facing our community and City is no different for me now than it was 30 years ago when I appeared before the City Commision 128 times over two and half years to get permission to clean up the down town waterfront and build the new marina. Everyone will benefit from a new RV Resort on Amelia Island and I will remain unwavering and courageous pushing ahead on this issue knowing knowing that my lonely effort on this defines true community leadership.

Bob Allison