Augusta Municipal Golf Course is at a management crossroads that could substantially affect both golfers and the city's bottom line for many years.
On the table and up for discussion during Tuesday's Augusta Commission meeting are three options, two of them private, but only one immediately revenue-neutral.
According to finance statements, since 2003, Augusta's annual transfer of funds to cover the course's operating deficit has ranged from zero in 2004 to $242,000 in 2005. Its total subsidy to course operations from 2003 through 2010 is about $1 million.
The Patch in Augusta LLC, made up of Scottish golf developer Brian Hendry and Savannah, Ga., businessman Michael Kistler, has offered to pay the city $12,000 annually to rent the 119-acre par-72 course for 10 years, bringing annual operating losses to a certain end.
The Patch in Augusta has agreed to keep the course open 364 days a year, purchase all existing equipment, manage the facilities, pro shop and snack bar, keep 50 golf carts on hand, offer golf instruction and membership plans, and keep the course open for charity and group tournaments.
Those requirements were in the city's request for proposals, as were the cost of a beer license ($1,850), the water bill (around $3,792) and a monthly golf cart lease ($3,607).
The 1928-era course, nicknamed "The Patch" for an old cabbage patch that once grew near the clubhouse, has 110 paved parking spaces and offers quarterly memberships for $185, although there are discounts for ladies, families, seniors and Augusta employees. Eighteen holes are $34 with a cart on weekends, very close to rates at area courses Pointe South and Midland Valley, but substantially less than the $50 or more charged for a weekend round at Bartram Trail, The River Club and Jones Creek.
The Patch in Augusta has agreed to purchase the equipment for $80,000, according to city Recreation Director Tom Beck, who favors the other private option for what it guarantees junior golfers.
In response to Augusta State University's stated desire to acquire nearby real estate, the city has offered to the university half of the land it leases to First Tee of Augusta, a youth golf program funded by charitable donations. The six-hole First Tee course adjoins both The Patch and Augusta State's student housing on Damascus Road.
While the other vendor has already agreed both to enter into a maintenance agreement with First Tee and provide First Tee youth with options for play, The Patch in Augusta has asked for more information.
In a recent letter, Hendry said the membership structure he plans to implement will "solve many problems." The structure will offer junior, adult and senior memberships, all with benefits such as priority tee times, range balls and discounts. Hendry was less amenable to selling junior rounds for $3 each, a deal the city offered First Tee juniors.
Affiniti Golf Partners' "unsolicited proposal," as City Administrator Fred Russell has called it, took the form of a study the firm did on Patch operations for a subcommittee formed last year. That committee, headed by businessman James Kendrick, included representatives of Augusta State, Paine College, the Richmond County Board of Education and a group of course members called "Patch Loyalists," according to Kendrick.
The Alpharetta, Ga.-based firm recently had its contract to manage nearby Forest Hills Golf Course renewed.
The study, which panned the notion of a 10-year lease as potentially allowing a lessor to "run it into the ground" in search of profits, prompted commissioners earlier this year to authorize Beck and Russell to attempt to strike a deal with the firm to manage the course that involved First Tee and didn't exclude The Patch in Augusta.
Its ideas for the course are extensive, from officially renaming it "The Patch" to increasing rounds from 20,000 annually to "well over" 30,000, closer to the 32,000 played at Forest Hills. Employees should wear uniforms and name tags, and the club needs a Web site and more marketing, according to the study, which also recommends raising rates slightly, to $35.70 for 18 weekend holes with a cart for regular golfers, juniors, seniors and women. The study also suggests increasing annual membership dues to $888 for individuals and $672 for seniors, and keeping $30,000 in merchandise stocked in the pro shop, and opening a commerical-grade kitchen to enhance menu offerings.
The study even included a cash flow sheet, later released by Beck with a numerical correction as projections should the city contract with Affiniti. It reveals a projected net loss of $88,824 during the firm's first year, decreasing annually until first posting a net profit of $28,604 in the fifth year of the contract.
Reached via e-mail, Affiniti principal Whitney Crouse said he couldn't provide evidence of Affiniti's financial success at University System of Georgia Board of Regents-owned Forest Hills, but that "the financial performance is much better today than when we took over."
No commissioner is more open to Affiniti than Grady Smith, who also is a board member with the group that oversees Forest Hills and hired the firm last year to manage the course.
Prior to Affiniti, the group, Augusta Golf Association, managed the course.
Since they came on a year ago, Affiniti personnel have met monthly with that board to review course finances and activities
The firm has made a change at Forest Hills that would be a dramatic turnaround for The Patch, implementing uniform policies for dress, play and behavior on the course, Smith said.
Whether that would go over well with regulars accustomed to a more laid-back attitude at The Patch is unclear.
Golfer Brandon Boatright said The Patch seems to appeal to players who "want to play in T-shirts" instead of getting "all dressed up."
Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he hadn't made up his mind about the private options, but had ruled out leaving The Patch as it is.
More reluctant to go private, Commissioner Bill Lockett said he preferred Commissioner Corey Johnson's suggestion that the city hire a consultant in-house to manage the golf course.
Augusta State University, meanwhile, says acquisition of part of the First Tee property will help the university achieve a statewide strategic goal of increasing university enrollment.
Jeff Foley, the commanding general at Fort Gordon before he was named ASU assistant vice president for campus development seven months ago, said he hadn't been involved with the subcommittee that commissioned the study on Patch operations.
"Part of that plan is growing the university," Foley said. That growth is under way at ASU West, where an academic building is being designed to go on another tract, 9.5 acres that was formerly a skate park donated by Augusta to ASU last year.
The university plans to build a new student life center in the same area, funded through a new student fee approved by the regents last year, he said.
The third component is the addition of housing that resembles nearby University Village, a complex of 500 apartments.
"Where do we do this?" Foley said. "There are options out there, but boy, oh, boy, is the First Tee property wonderful. That is the best opportunity for us to expand.
"Our goal right now is how can we get to 10,000 (students) by 2020. These academic buildings and housing and the student center are all part of the package."
Rick Allen, the chairman of the First Tee board of directors, and ASU President William Bloodworth signed a letter last week committing to "continue discussions" until a mutually beneficial agreement between the city and First Tee is found.