Augusta commissioners authorized further pursuit of a golf “partnership” between the municipal golf course and a national youth golf program, but left options open with two private companies that previously bid to run the city course.
The city-owned course, known as “The Patch,” has been in limbo for more than three years since commissioners first voted to seek private management and make it self-sustaining.
After at least three efforts to secure a private operator, Augusta businessman Paul Simon, who co-founded First Tee of Augusta, presented a plan last week to partner First Tee, a six-hole youth golf program, with the 18-hole Patch, which it adjoins.
“Think what golf brings to Augusta. Millions in economic benefits. Then we've got a city-owned golf course that looks awful. You could have a showcase up there,” Simon said before Tuesday's regular commission meeting. The course was designed in 1926 by Scotsman David Ogilvie.
Simon, also president of Augusta Riverfront LLC – who spent the last 18 months negotiating management contracts for Augusta Convention Center and its parking deck with the commission – hasn't presented a business plan or management agreement for the partnership, but Tuesday's commission vote authorized him and City Administrator Fred Russell to develop one. Augusta Riverfront, which operates the city's convention center, shares management with Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
Simon said he expects sharing a golf course superintendent and other staff between the two courses will create savings that will help First Tee with expenses, give advanced youth golfers a full course to play and turn The Patch into a money-maker for the city. He wants the city to pay for capital improvements at the course and shoulder any continued losses, should they occur.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he'd talked with several former Patch players who were receptive to the idea.
“They liked the idea of the municipal golf course partnering with First Tee, and many said they would come back to The Patch if that took place,” Fennoy said.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle mentioned that Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson previously refused to support a lease of the course because the city had no permanent recreation director. New hire Bob Levine is expected to begin work in May, according to Russell.
Commissioner Marion Williams said he wanted to make sure the proposal came back through a committee cycle, “so I can hear whether that Ragu sauce has all the right stuff in it.”
Commissioner Mary Davis offered a motion for Russell to return with the First Tee proposal plus those of two prior bidders recommended by the procurement department but rejected by the commission.
Russell said he'd invite the firms to present their proposals when he returns with Simon's, and Davis’ motion passed 9-0. Commissioner Joe Jackson was absent Tuesday.
In other business during Tuesday’s regular commission meeting:
• Commissioners took no action on renewing the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative, whose board had advertised a public hearing at 5 p.m. in commission chambers on CADI but had no commissioner add it to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, according to city General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie.
CADI, a private cleaning service administered by the Downtown Development Authority for the last five years, was terminated after a failed commission vote in December to renew the special tax district that funded it.
Property owners who paid the tax remain divided over whether the services are necessary, but CADI board members recently announced plans to address commissioner concerns about the program in an effort to win their approval.
• A motion to ask Augusta legislators to review the salary amounts of the city’s elected officials passed 6-1, with Davis opposed and Williams and Guilfoyle no longer in their seats.
The move falls on the eve of a Wednesday deadline for legislators to drop a local bill, but Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, said last week the delegation would be prepared to meet the deadline if the commission approved.
• After an hourlong closed-door legal meeting with attorneys on various matters, the group voted 6-3 to approve a $25,000 “supplement” to Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick’s salary the city has been paying above the minimum required by state law since Kendrick took office in 2009. Commissioners Donnie Smith, Grady Smith and Davis were opposed.