Eight months into its lease of Augusta Municipal Golf Course to a scottish businessman, the city is booting his company for three Augusta brothers intent on making The Patch a successful operation.
In a move pushed by Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, Dennis, Pat and Brian Kelly, whose father was a founding member of the “Irish Mafia” golf group that has frequented The Patch since the 1950s, were assigned Friday the lease held by Aberdeen, Scotland businessman Brian Hendry under his firm The Patch in Augusta LLC.
“We just decided that we needed to do it,” said Dennis Kelly, who also serves as the chief financial officer for Morris Visitor Publications. “Brian’s a good mechanic; Pat’s a good front man; and I’m good with the numbers and legal. Together we’re a pretty good team.”
After learning last week of Hendry’s failure to make rent payments at the course since March, the brothers vied with several other interested groups to become its new lessee. Bowles contacted commissioners Thursday about assigning Hendry’s lease to the Kellys, and six commissioners and Hendry’s firm agreed, Bowles said.
Hendry and Patch golf pro Ronnie MacDonald, who was denied re-entry into the United States earlier this year because of a visa issue, did not reply to e-mailed requests for comment.
“I think they were well-intentioned,” Dennis Kelly said. “The golf courses in Scotland are considerably different, and I don’t think you apply the same golf course management techniques.”
The Kellys hope some loyal Patch players who went elsewhere after Hendry instituted new rules – against card games, for example – will return, he said.
“That’s a good clientele that play 18 holes, then want to relax, have a sandwich and a beer and play cards,” Dennis Kelly said. “That’s fine; they do that at every country club I’ve been to. Why shouldn’t you be able to do so at The Patch?”
According to Bowles, the terms of the lease will remain the same, including the $1,000 monthly rent, although Hendry’s firm is returning to the city some $80,000 in existing golf course equipment it purchased to cover any liability from existing annual memberships Hendry and MacDonald sold.
Commissioners considered it a bargain when they voted last year to trade what had become as much as $300,000 in annual operating losses at the golf course under city management for the $1,000 monthly rent payment. Hendry said he hoped to cover any losses by playing host to international visitors during Masters Week.
Since Masters Week, when Hendry said participation wasn’t quite what he hoped for, local players have complained of poor conditions at the Highland Avenue course.
“We think they skimped on fertilizer, weed killer and the necessary supplies for grounds maintenance,” Dennis Kelly said. “I just don’t think they had the money for that.”
Hendry, who owns rental properties in Augusta, came in with a flourish and planned to incorporate the course’s Scottish roots — it was designed in the early 1920s by Scotsman David Ogilvie, who developed Bon Air Golf Club in the 18-hole course that is now Augusta Country Club. He visited Ogilvie’s grandson in Chicago for details, created a Web site and “Patch” patch complete with a tiny cabbage and officially renamed the course “The Patch” for its familiar nickname.
Patch players, including those who have purchased annual memberships, should expect a seamless transition, Bowles said.
Bowles and Commissioners Joe Jackson, Jerry Brigham, Corey Johnson, Wayne Guilfoyle and Matt Aitken supported assigning the lease to the Kellys, Bowles said.
Brigham said the Kellys are “very capable” of taking on the lease.
“Local management will be good for The Patch and good for the city,” he said.