Oversight lacking at Fernandina Beach Golf Course – An Opinion

Submitted by Jim Powers

Fernandina Beach Golf Course Club House
Fernandina Beach Golf Course Club House

I believe that the oversight  — or lack thereof — of the Casper golf course contract by the City is a significant  contributing factor to the current inferior course conditions at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club. The current damage  happened on Casper’s watch. But what was known, when was it known, how was it communicated , and what was done about it, and by whom — and what part did the City play? — are questions that haven’t  been answered. 

There are indicators and tests that normally allow timely, effective action to be taken as grass and turf conditions start to decline. But what happened that our course deteriorated so rapidly with nobody taking remedial action?  What was Casper doing, and who was watching the store on the City’s side?

To make a public/private relationship work as intended, it is necessary to have the right talent and dedication on the government’s side  (in our case the City’s side) to perform the monitoring and evaluation of the performance required.  I found in over 30 years of directing Federal public/private space program contracts that no matter what contracting organization was/is involved, there is a tendency for a contractor to become  influenced by non-local factors (internal company pressures) and motivations coming down from their own corporate Headquarters unless there is strong local oversight on the government side.


Good, highly productive public/private relationships can be forged, based upon open and timely communication, transparency,  honesty, and mutual respect. (Look what happened in the Manned Space Program when a bunch of 30 year olds from NASA joined forces with several companies full of equally young engineering talent.)   When government and private industry work together,  the two sides can most often surmount hurdles not possible by one or other of the parties alone.   Together, they can tap each other’s resources and thought processes.  They can circumvent problems by eliminating organizational cloaks and inter-organizational posturing.

A good example:  If Casper believes that the course has been seriously under-funded,  as they state, why haven’t they recommended raising the rates?  Their doing so would put the low-cost-to-play  issue front and center for the Commission to consider.   A rate increase could be advocated as a ” Path to Success” . The Commissioners would then be given the opportunity to decide whether or not approving a few dollars increase in rates is a highly important step for the long-term physical and financial health of a key City asset.

The City Manager has stated that he is the person responsible  for oversight. It is my opinion that his oversight has proven ineffective because he has assumed for himself an impossible task.How can he possibly be educating himself on golf course issues — and evaluating the performance of Billy Casper Golf when he is still learning the complexities involved in managing the City itself.  Add to that his taking on the job of airport manager.   He has also stated  to the City Commission that he does not interact directly with the Golf Course Advisory Board.  How can he oversee the golf course when he doesn’t have any direct “interaction” with the Commission-selected Golf Course Advisory Board (GCAB)?  That is contrary to the  charter of the GCAB.  I have asked him to clarify this ,and to help define what is expected of the Board and to ensure that the Board is supported in its role.

One specific example of how the GCAB has been ignored is the golf course presentation that Casper made to the City Commission in January.  GCAB members were not invited to attend nor were they even informed that the presentation would be taking place.   Could the GCAB have done more ? We’ll never know because they have been ignored and not kept informed.   

The GCAB was successful in encouraging the City Manager to invite the USGA agronomist for our area to make a site visit and prepare a written report of his findings. That report is due in a couple of days.  How will it be received and acted upon ? I am hopeful.

This article only addresses the municipal golf course,  but I believe that similar questions might be warranted about how other key facilities and services of the City are managed. 

Jim PowersJim 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.

April 16, 2013 11:49  a.m.

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mike spino
mike spino (@guest_6476)
10 years ago

The city needs to get out of the golf course business and sell the land. There is no public purpose served. The land should be returned to the tax rolls.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_6521)
10 years ago
Reply to  mike spino

Should the City also be out of the Parks and Recreation business? Do away with the airport and marina? Are there public purposes there?
A golf course will draw tourists who seek vacation locations where they can find affordable golf.
What a provincial attitude! The golf course is an asset of the community.
Also, what if the land were sold and developed as an RV park? There are a ton of people opposing that proposal. Develop it as a park- at whose expense? Housing- don’t we have enough developed properties for sale as it is? Industry- NIMBY?

mike spino
mike spino (@guest_6527)
10 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Smyk

Pretty simple: Parks and Rec serves a public purpose. Golf courses do not. Tourists can find lots of golf opportunities without help from the city. Marinas and airports serve a public purpose: they provide regulation and opportunity for public transportation. Nothing could be more provincial than a city owned golf course. Its hilarious watching the tiny handful of local golfers claim that this gigantic waste of public resources is a valid public purpose. Time to sell the course and return the land to the tax roll.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison (@guest_6525)
10 years ago

Oversight lacking?………… no worse…………Casper in their annual update to the City Commission in January never mentioned the decline in rounds played……or that they missed there own budget projections by more than $100,000…..or that more than $600,000 in taxpayer money has now been spent trying to keep the Golf Club afloat. Here is a situation where City Hall has blindly relied on the fox for 100% of their information on conditions at the hen house.

Bob Allison