Closed since Wednesday, Augusta Municipal Golf Course will reopen at 7:30 a.m. today under city management, with free rounds through Sunday, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.
Former course manager Ed Howerton will be back from his reassignment as a recreation safety coordinator to keep the course operating until another private operator is found, Russell said.
In a closed-door meeting Monday, the Augusta Commission authorized Russell to seek immediate outside assistance with the course, put its management out for bids and make an estimated $62,000 in repairs, he said.
“The money has already been dedicated,” Russell said.
The money and repairs were a sticking point with The Patch in Augusta LLC, which started leasing the course in January, and The Golf Course at Augusta LLC, which sought to take over the lease but declined last week because the commission refused to make the repairs.
About $300,000 in sales tax money is already available for the course, Russell said.
The commission refused in March to give it to The Patch in Augusta, headed by Scottish businessman Brian Hendry. Hendry said he hadn’t planned for the sales tax allocation.
“It’s funny we can fix it after the fact but we couldn’t for the Kellys,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who supported Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles’ effort to have the lease assigned to Dennis, Pat and Brian Kelly, local brothers who called for repairs before they would take over.
Bowles said Monday he was “perturbed with the way the situation with the Kellys was handled” and questioned sending city employees to the course to run it.
“I know we don’t have anyone in house,” Bowles said, stressing the need for emergency outside assistance at the course. “I think if we can put city employees in these positions, what were they doing to be able to go there? We acknowledge that we have more people than we need working for us.”
Howerton and his staff ran the course at a loss for years before the commission’s 2009 decision to hire an outside firm.
Hendry’s bid was the only qualified one obtained, though last year the commission considered hiring Affiniti Golf Partners, which runs Forest Hills Golf Course for the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, for a $5,000 monthly fee.
The commission agreed last year to lease the course to The Patch in Augusta, trading the operating losses for rent, until the rent stopped coming in April.
With Hendry’s departure, Club Car hauled away 50 golf cars he had leased, so they won’t be available for the free rounds this week, Russell said.
The commission authorized Russell to settle claims made by employees of The Patch in Augusta, who worked for Hendry from January until Wednesday and weren’t paid for about the last 10 days they worked.
“It’s a shame what happened to the employees,” Guilfoyle said.
Russell said he had about $15,000 to settle the claims by 15 to 16 employees.
He said bids to run or lease the course would be obtained “with a short turnaround. I’m looking at 40 days or a month” to get a new company in.
Publicity surrounding the closure had the benefit of attracting interest in managing the course.
Russell said he had five calls last week, including two from large golf management firms, seeking more information.
The decision on The Patch came in a legal meeting that preceded regular commission committee meetings.