FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

Fernandina Beach Golf Course – Where do we go from here? – An opinion

Submitted byJim Powers

Jim Powers

We have a “situation” at the golf course.  Golfers are very unhappy with the condition of the course, and have been vocal in displaying their displeasure at two recent meetings called by Billy Casper Golf, the management company that operates the golf course for the City.

The golf course is in bad condition;  there is no doubt about that.   And Casper has been made well aware of how the golfing community feels about their inadequate performance when it comes to what the golfers perceive as Casper’s poor course maintenance.  The question is:  where do we go from here?

Do we fire Casper out of hand, as some have suggested?  I recommend against that approach.  In fact, I’m strongly against that option.  That would be like throwing your teenager out of the house because he came home with one “F” on his report card.  Casper probably has 4 “A’s” and the one “F”.   They have performed well in other areas.

Do we put them on notice that they need to do better?  And fast?   I say, “Yes.”

How do we go about putting them on notice and setting out our expectations?

Require that a detailed plan of actions — with dates — be prepared by Casper and signed at the home office by the CEO Peter Hill, or by the VP In-Charge-of-Getting-Things-Right!   The Golf Course Advisory Board has been asking for a long range plan from Casper, as called for in the contract, for the last 2 years.  To no avail!

Require the Golf Course Superintendent  — who is in charge of maintenance — to attend all Golf Course Advisory Board meetings, and honestly discuss his and Casper’s maintenance issues and concerns — and their possible remedies.  (It is my recollection that the superintendent  has only attended one meeting since Casper has come on board.)  Honesty and  transparency from Casper is important and we have seen little of that to date.

Insist that Casper points out how many $$$$ were removed from the Maintenance Budget in 2012.  And for what reason?  And what impact did that cut have on their ability to keep up with the maintenance needs of  the golf course?

If it is the City Commission’s desire to put Casper on formal “notice” regarding the above expectations, I would support that approach, with one important caveat :  that the Commissioners invite independent golf industry professionals to address the issues involved,  and  that they also call on the expertise of the seasoned golfers who now serve on their Golf Course Advisory Board.  I am not at all suggesting that Casper be fired, but I think the Commission should seek the advice of “outside” professionals — who don’t have any local or Casper loyalties — to give them independent advice on how best to ensure that Casper does a better job at living up to their contract. In that regard:

I recommend the City invite  the knowledgeable USGA Turf Advisory Service to make an independent agronomic evaluation of our course conditions and their recommended corrective actions.  The cost is minimal for USGA member courses — and we are a member course.   This particular action should be done as quickly as possible.  (It’s one of those “Just pick up the phone and do it” things.)

Other comments:

The condition of the course slipped under Casper’s management, when they were using City money. I think Casper  should fix the  problem  — and consider doing so with their own money.   (I even asked that of them at tonight’s meeting.  The answer was, “No.”)  It is my belief  that a good long range plan, well executed,  could have minimized the situation we see on the course today.

PrintCasper assured the Golf Course Evaluation Committee during our selection process that they had never lost a renewal contract.  Therefore, it seems to me that they would be working overtime to be sure it doesn’t happen in our case.

The oversight issue of the contract must be addressed.  Right now, according to the City Manager, he is the one designated to do that job.  He is also overseeing the airport,  the marina, and the City itself.  I do not believe he can wear all those hats at once.  I think his understanding the overall contract — in general —  while delegating the actual oversight responsibilities is essential.

For example, should that oversight role be assigned to the Golf Course Advisory Board?  If so, that should be clarified and understood by all concerned!

Conclusion:

Casper needs to fix the problem.  Bad conditions lead to less play which leads to less revenue which leads to lost reputation which leads to less demand which leads to a fiscal and financial mess!  Slipping down that slope can happen very rapidly.  Recovery will be much more difficult and an uphill climb.

Jim Powers is a two-term member of the City of Fernandina Beach Golf Course Advisory Board, and was vice-chairman of the Golf Course Evaluation Committee .  The Evaluation Committee selected Billy Casper Golf as their recommended choice for management of the Golf Course.  The committee looked at several options:  management by the City or conversely, choosing from a variety of contractual opportunities.  Jim, himself, spent  several months researching the various possibilities — and the pro’s and con’s experienced by municipal courses around the country — when it came to managing their city golf courses.

March 29, 2013 4:25 a.m.

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