Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 26, 2014 4:24 p.m.

BCG-5On June 24, 2014 the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) met in workshop session to review proposed budgets for the city’s enterprise funds.  The fund generating the most discussion was the golf course fund.  Commissioners debated extending the Billy Casper Golf (BCG) management contract and accepting a $50,000 contribution from BCG to renovate the West Course greens.

Commissioners also discussed a possible ballot question:  a straw poll to decide if citizens want to sell the golf course property.  No consensus on either item was reached, but the FBCC directed City Manager Joe Gerrity to discuss possible terms with BCG and report back to the commission.

Five members of the Billy Casper Golf management team attended the workshop:  Southeast Regional Managers Dan Zimmer and Chris Cygan; local course manager Josh O’Brian; and both incoming greens superintendent David Hillhouse and outgoing greens superintendent Buddy Tate.


BCG Representatives Chris Cygan and Josh O'Brian
BCG Representatives Chris Cygan and Josh O’Brian

Zimmer and his team stressed their desire and commitment to work positively with the city to produce a positive outcome on both the condition of the course and its revenues.  O’Brian recapped the year’s successes, including adding 42 new members and earning a 96.1% score via a Mystery Shopper customer satisfaction program.  He said that the course now has 332 active members.  O’Brian stressed that the golf course is trying to send a positive message to bring repeat business and encourage former members to take a new look at the course.  He added that the city course would never be at the same level as Amelia River or Northampton, but that it will be strongly competitive with other regional courses such as Jacksonville Beach.

BCG-2DSCN2927Commissioner Charlie Corbett asked about pond excavations.  O’Brian said they would be completed in a couple of weeks.  In examining the balance sheet, Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican noted that facility rental was projected to drop to $1,700 from the $4,600 in the approved budget.  O’Brian replied that more of the rentals involved purchasing food and beverage from the clubhouse than BCG has originally anticipated.  When renters do that, BCG waives the facility rental fee for the event.  In response to another question, he replied that the debt service would be satisfied in 7 years.  Chris Cygan also participated in the briefing, speaking to future goals.

BCG-4DSCN2911City Manager Gerrity reminded commissioners that BCG had a time sensitive offer on the table that will require a decision by the FBCC soon.  BCG has expressed its commitment to partnering with the city to ensure Fernandina the long-term success of the municipal golf course.  To that end, BCG has expressed a willingness to contribute $50,000 toward renovation of the West Course greens to begin no later than August 15, 2014.  They believe that this would increase revenue potential heading into the fall and winter seasons.  Their offer is contingent upon extending the city’s management contract with BCG for an additional five years.   Gerrity reminded commissioners that it is highly unusual for a management company to offer to invest in a client’s facility, since that is the client’s responsibility.

O’Brian said that the August 15 deadline represented the latest that planting new grass could be delayed to see positive growth and change for next season.

BCG-3Commissioner Corbett announced that he would not be in favor of renewing the existing contract for 5 years.  He claimed that the contract had been written giving too much advantage to BCG, and that $50,000 “only” resulted in a contribution of $10,000 per year of the extension.  He raised this point again during discussion, but was not asked for nor did he provide information on what advantages he felt BCG enjoyed under the current contract.  Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican said that she had spent considerable time researching the current contract and was unable to locate an Exhibit 6 that had been stricken from the contract and initialed by “MC.”  Both City Attorney Tammi Bach and the Clerk’s Office tried to resolve the matter during the discussion.  Attorney Bach said she recalled that the item related to netting that was supposed to be provided in connection with a golf school that backed out of the agreement.  BCG representatives agreed.

City Attorney Tammi Bach
City Attorney Tammi Bach

Pelican said that she would prefer a year-to-year contract, rather than a 5-year extension.  City Attorney Tammi Bach explained to commissioners that regardless of the stated length of a contract, the agreement is only as long as the termination notice.  Should the FBCC decide to provide for a one-year termination notice, the contract would in effect become a one-year contract.

Chatter among the commissioners seemed to reflect support for Pelican’s position.

At one point Commissioner Johnny Miller suggested that the city consider selling the golf course and converting it into residential property.  Mayor Ed Boner had previously supported a similar move.  Miller said that such a question be put out on a straw ballot, suggesting that it might not make sense for the city to run a golf course with such a low membership.

Commissioner Corbett replied that the golf course was a city asset.  He said, “It was built for the residents, not as a moneymaker.”  He suggested that years of transferring money from the golf course, when it was making money, to the general fund has led to the current state of finances.

DSCN2930Commissioner Pat Gass said that some in the city walk the beaches daily; others take advantage of other city offerings, like the golf course.  “We are going to have to spread around and hang on to everything because everyone likes something different.”  She said she was not in favor of selling any asset that a segment of the people enjoy.

Manager Gerrity stressed the generosity of BCG’s offer.  He said that it is the city’s job to invest in its assets, and that it was extremely generous of BCG to make such an offer.  He also cautioned commissioners “you can’t change drivers every 5 minutes and expect to win the race.”

Both Boner and Pelican referenced different expectations of the public when BCG was hired.  Some people thought that BCG would be responsible for all the expenses because the golf course had been “privatized.”  Attorney Bach said that the assets had not been privatized, and that neither the golf course nor the marina could be leased without subjecting the city to significant tax burdens.  Comptroller Patti Clifford said that there would be no interest in a lease if the leaseholder were required to pay the taxes.  

BCG's Dan Zimmer addresses FBCC questions.
BCG’s Dan Zimmer addresses FBCC questions.

Gerrity told the commissioners that if there was no interest in pursuing BCG’s offer, further discussion was moot, because the existing contract remains in effect for 18 months.

Mayor Boner asked BCG manager Dan Zimmer if BCG would be amenable to renegotiation or including a longer termination period.

Zimmer replied, “It is worth exploring.  BCG’s objective is to improve the course and the course revenues.”

DSCN2928Corbett again expressed his opinion that the existing contract is too one-sided favoring BCG, but did not close the door to a new, longer contract.  Boner opined that he liked the longer agreement, believing it to be logical and reasonable.

Gerrity will discuss the contract with BCG representatives and report back to the FBCC.

Suanne ThammEditor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_19949)
8 years ago

Nothing like selling one of Fernandina’s best assets for condo development……. How about Ft. Clinch State Park next. Remember, the best golf courses in the world are in Scotland and a bit eclectic and somewhat wild. Perhaps a new definition of “improvement” and a new vision for the course is needed.

jean taylor
jean taylor (@guest_20002)
8 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

You are so right, thanks for articulating my feelings. 23 year resident, faithful supporter of the golf course, jean taylor

Andrew J.Curtin
Andrew J.Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
8 years ago

Well now,did you not hear Comm. Corbett state his objection to extending the current BCG contract was the lack of any performance measuring criteria? I certainly did.He also left the door open to negotiating a new contract.
Oh,BTW,did you miss the discussion about the non-profits?Not only was the funding increased,but Comm.Gass put forward a proposal for voluntary community funding in the future.Sounds like a good idea to me.Wasn’t that worth a mention?

Co Editor
Co Editor(@co-editor-2)
8 years ago

Suanne Thamm, our reporter-news analyst, did not miss the discussion on the non-profit funding idea under consideration by the commission. She broke up the workshop topics into different articles. The last to be posted was the non-profit discussion and as I recall, the last topic to be discussed at the meeting.

Andrew J.Curtin
Andrew J.Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
8 years ago

Article not posted when comment made.

Bill & Diane Boyd
Bill & Diane Boyd (@guest_20098)
8 years ago

We had been coming South for many years but not here in Fernandina and one week end we visited and liked what we saw. Both of us being golfers we went over to Fernandina CC and played a round before we left. That Country Club played a major part in our decision to rent here. Then we bought a home and move to the Island and are supporting the local economy and vote here. Please keep the golf course it’s a asset for the town and it’s people.

Bill Boyd
Bill Boyd (@guest_20099)
8 years ago

If you keep making the improvements that are needed to up grade the courses you’ll get back those that jumped ship because of playing conditions. Fernandina has (2 ) women friendly courses, no waiting to play, scheduling flexibility, challenging, great club house and a group of very nice people working there. You’ll get your membership numbers back up. People of Fernandina don’t let the Commissioners give up on the Golf Course and it’s land. Bill

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_20193)
8 years ago

I appreciate the last two comments to the article. The writer pleading with the City to not give up on the golf course, etc. And they support the local economy and vote here too!!! Wow. What is not stated is that they do not live in the City. They do not vote in our local elections (well, I hope not anyway) and certainly do not pay the ridiculously high City taxes that are subsidizing the golf course. I appreciate their concern … if I was getting subsidized entertainment on another taxpayer’s back I would want to hang onto that too!!! Too often we have non-residents weighing in on what the City should and shouldn’t do. When you pay the tab … and it is a hefty tab … then you can speak up. Otherwise … just sit back and enjoy your free ride.

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