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!


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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Dickie Anderson
Dickie Anderson(@dickie-andersongmail-com)
10 years ago

Nice to see specific ideas for solution from someone knowledgable

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dwlottbellsouth-net)
10 years ago

Great piece Jim, well thought out with clear recommendations. I think we all realize that sometimes the best laid plans can be waylaid by Mother Nature with abnormal temperatures or rainfall levels (either way) and it would appear that some of that contributed to the current situation. But the recommendation for an independent, knowledgeable expert to come in and perform a turf assessment is spot on! As you said, BCG has done a lot of good things for the course, but transparency and communication going forward are essential. Thanks Jim.

Bruno Preuss
Bruno Preuss (@guest_5626)
10 years ago

Many organizations, such as non-profits, sports and athletic, and privately-owned businesses have one problem in common: Chain of Command, or the lack of.
This seems to be one of the City of Fernandina Beach’s problems. The City Commissioners of Fernandina Beach (CCFB) have the overall responsibility for the efficient operation of the city.
They have delegated the authority to manage the city to the City Manager – proper Chain of Command.
Unfortunately, here the Chain of Command has been violated. The City Manger has taken over the management of the three Enterprise Funds (airport, marina, golf course), as well as the management of the City itself. Basically, Mission Impossible.
To properly oversee the management of the city, the City Manger must appoint directors for the three Enterprise Funds, and give them the authority to efficiently manage these funds; however, the City Manager still has the responsibility to see that these directors operate these Enterprise Funds efficiently, and at no expense to FB taxpayers. Within the Chain of Command, the City Manger will have to hold the feet of directors of the Enterprise Funds to the fire.
This is where I differ from Jim Power’s who wrote “while delegating the actual oversight responsibilities is essential”. In the Chain of Command concept, the City Manager can never delegate responsibility. The City Manager will always have “the responsibility,” he can only delegate the authority to operate the Enterprise Funds, he will always be responsible, and the City Commissioners have the responsibility to hold the City Manager’s feet to the fire.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison (@guest_5633)
10 years ago

The problem is where does the money from. I proposed spending over $100,000 of my own money to immediately rebuild all 27 greens and all 27 tee boxes. I also proposed a plan which by every measure would bring more than $750,000 a year to the Golf Club for continuing maintenance and further improvements. In return I proposed leasing from the City its vacant and idle property along Canopy Drive to build an extreme high end low density RV resort. The City, under pressure from a handfull of misinformed homeowners, essentially decided to leave this property idle. This decision costs the City taxpayers and its Golf Club nearly a million dollars a year. It may in fact cost the Golf Club its future.

Bob Allison, CEO
Amelia Island RV Resorts

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_5764)
10 years ago

I don’t think we need City Directors for the Enterprise Funds, that is the purpose of outsourcing the Marina and Golf course. There does need to be oversight.

I personally am not sure the City needs a golf course or marina, but don’t think it is possible to sell them. I would be nice if the City did not have to continue to pump taxpayer money into these Enterprise Funds.

Phyllis L
Phyllis L (@guest_5814)
10 years ago

I hope those reading the above articles read the Nice article in Friday’s 3-29-13 FTU Sports section about the Palatka Golf Club ..Very Interesting…