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Buying 'Patch' is cheap ASU option

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The Augusta Municipal Golf Course isn't for sale, but purchasing it "is an option" among several presented to Augusta State University master planners detailing how the university will double enrollment in 20 years.

The 78-acre "Patch" property appeals to Augusta State University, which projects enrollment will increase by 7,000 over 20 years.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
The 78-acre "Patch" property appeals to Augusta State University, which projects enrollment will increase by 7,000 over 20 years.

The city-owned golf course has not recorded a profit, and in fact has posted an annual loss of more than $100,000 for several years.

Its distress recently attracted the attention of university officials, who are moving forward with plans to grow despite widely reported state cuts totaling 30 percent of ASU's operating budget.

The course, known to locals as "the Patch," is next to the university's only housing complex in an area south of existing ASU holdings soon to be known as its West Campus.

"It would be cheaper to purchase the Patch than to purchase the property around where we had originally planned to expand -- $2 million versus $30 million," Kathy Schofe, ASU's director of public relations, wrote in response to a reporter's questions.

The cost of acquiring 78 acres of privately held land next to ASU's West Campus needed to accommodate 7,000 more students -- the growth plan -- is even higher, at $35 million, said Kathy Hamrick, a former ASU math professor who is now a planner for the university.

No one on a subcommittee charged with recommending the fate of the Patch, nor any of its 150 members who have spoken out, want to sell the course, said Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett, the chairman of the subcommittee.

"We have lots of people that are on fixed income and love to play golf, and it's the government's responsibility to make sure certain things are provided to them," he said.

Lockett, whose district includes the Patch , said that though he'd be "ecstatic" if ASU decided to expand into the area, the course's losses are not unusual.

"You don't really expect those things to make a profit; if they can break even, it's great," he said.

An informal poll of six publicly owned and operated golf courses in the Southeast showed just one -- Charleston, S.C., Municipal Golf Course -- making a profit last year, according to Augusta Parks and Recreation Director Tom Beck.

Ultimately, the course's fate will be decided by the Augusta Commission, and Commissioner Don Grantham said he will make his vote count. Though the Patch is a public course, Grantham believes its losses show it doesn't cater to the public.

"We're not serving the general public; we're serving a few," he said. "Do you continue to deteriorate while you're serving a few? I think not."

Board of Regents-owned Forest Hills, meanwhile, has been solvent enough to make a $4 million contribution to the Augusta State golf program and facilities and make $1.6 million in improvements to the course, he said.

Grantham, an avid golfer and chairman of the board that operates Forest Hills, said he's stayed out of Patch discussions to avoid a conflict of interest.

Hypothesizing about ASU purchasing the Patch, Hamrick has said its members would be granted automatic membership at Forest Hills.

"It's a win-win for everybody when you look at the total picture," Grantham said.

ASU, which already has approval to build a new $28 million nursing and education building, must finalize a master plan for growth before planners select a site for the building, Hamrick said.

That plan must include at least three options for acquiring land for facilities, and ASU has cataloged everything available within a half-mile of its West Campus, she said.

The university's Walton Way campus, to be known as its East Campus, is at capacity with current enrollment of 7,000, and the school offers just one housing option: the 167-apartment complex on Damascus Road.

"That's our housing," and it's full, Hamrick said.

Nearby on Damascus Road is First Tee, a community golf center for youth; Augusta's Aquatic Center; about 35 acres owned by a private developer; and the Patch.

Hamrick said that until the subcommittee met ASU didn't have the Patch on its radar.

"They talked about how to save the Patch and the financial difficulties they were in," she said. "Only then did we start looking at the Patch as part of our master plan."

ASU is examining the Patch for an academic building. It's also considered putting the building on an existing athletic field and moving the field elsewhere, she said.

Building on Forest Hills Golf Course is not an option, she said.

"We'll do that when UGA puts a building right in the middle of Sanford Stadium," she said.

Enrollment has increased 3 percent to 4 percent annually in recent years, and planners don't expect it to slow. With a down economy, it will only grow more, Hamrick said.

"My job is to look 20 years down the road and say, 'These students are coming, how are we going to handle it?' " she said.

She hasn't had an environmental study performed at the Patch, but she did check with the Federal Aviation Administration because of the proximity of Daniel Field airport.

On Friday, the Patch was host to a church golf tournament, and no one who plays the course wants to see it go, Manager Ed Howerton said.

Some golfers on the Augusta Commission, such as subcommittee member Joe Bowles, don't want to abandon the Patch. Bowles would like to see a private management firm take over operations at the course.

"You know you can break even if you get a professional firm to come in with buying economies and professional expertise," he said.

The subcommittee will recommend a direction when the results of an audit come back in a few weeks, Lockett said.

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Ben There
Ben There 03/13/10 - 01:28 pm
I am both an ASU graduate and

I am both an ASU graduate and occasional golfer at the Patch and while I understand the dreams of ASU to grow and I am supportive of that goal, and I am firmly against the idea of ASU taking away the ability of economically challenged people, such as myself, to play a round of affordable golf.
For me to play 18 holes on a Saturday with my 13 year old son with golf cart cost $45 at the Patch. The same cost $63 at the Forrest Hills course. $18 might not seem like a lot of money to those that pay green fees at Jones Creek or any other better golf course, but just to come with $45 once a month to play with my son requires some dollar stretching! But I can usually pull it off once a month.
The idea to give memberships at Forrest Hills to those who are members at the Patch is great, but what about those, who like me, can’t afford a Patch membership, but only an occasional round?
I could stomach losing the Patch only if ASU and the Forrest Hills course can provide rounds of golf at what I pay at the Patch and accommodates the needs of the constituency that they'd displace by taking away the Patch. If ASU can honestly commit to that, then I think the City should just GIVE them the golf course. That way the City would stop losing $100K to $160K a year, and ASU would recieve 78 acres of prime real estate for $0 and I think ASU would be more than adequately compensated for absorbing the mission of the Patch.

noway 03/13/10 - 01:21 pm
First, don't say that it's

First, don't say that it's the democrats that want to keep the patch for the city. Isn't Bowles and all of the others republicans or call themselves Libertarians? The government shouldn't be in the business of running a golf course and subsidizing old folks pleasures. They either need to raise the prices to come out even or make money, or get out of it. There are other things that government SHOULD be providing that it isn't, but for some reason it's okay to lose money on a stupid public golf course when there's one right around the corner. Ridiculous. It just goes to show you that our city doesn't care about the city as a whole. Why shouldn't they want ASU to expand? It helps our entire city. And Bowles suggestion to just privatize the course - get rid of it. Government has no business owning a golf course. If you don't have the money to golf, then too bad, you don't get too. It's no ones responsibility, including the government's, to make it affordable for people to play golf. It's an expenseive sport, so you need to pay for it. Everyone should pay for it. And the same people who think the government should be subsidizing their pleasures, but losing big on the golf course, complain about taxes going up. Maybe our taxes wouldn't go up if the Commission had some sense! And some cents...

rwjackson4 03/13/10 - 03:31 pm
The course's revenue is

The course's revenue is grossly mismanaged. Here is an approximate recollection of my experience at the Patch in the last year.

1) Last fall their credit card system was not functioning. I received 2 free rounds instead since I don't carry cash. $42 lost revenue ($21/rnd). Solution: Take down the golfer's credit card info and run the card when the system is working or get a new system.

2) In the last 6 months I have received 2 free rounds because the attendant was too lazy to ring the sale since it was "late in the day". Lost revenue $42. Solution: Policy for no free rounds and better management.

3) Recycled balls are offered for $1 each. However, the management requires "cash only" for these balls. I have NOT purchased about 10 balls in the last year because either I don't have cash on me or I refuse to participate in this shady cash transfer. This is likely an unreported revenue and probably violates state tax collection laws and is unreported income to the course or an individual who works there. Solution: Add a "Used $1 Golf Ball" item to their point of sale system and capture this revenue.

4) Snack bar items are offered at a low cost. Snack bars should always be profit centers and the prices should be increased. Approximately lost gross revenue on my few purchases alone in the last year are about $15.

5) Few or no golf accessories are offered for sale. Recently, I have been unable to purchase golf balls or a towel. Approximate lost gross revenue of $20. Apparently, management is unwilling to manage inventory and thus unable to obtain obvious revenue on golf equipment. Solution: Obtain new management with inventory control skills.

6) No selling skills. I have never been upsold on range balls or any other services (i.e. membership, etc.) when paying for a round. The attendant should always up-sell a bag of range balls with every round sold. I may have purchased range balls on at least 5 occasions over the past year if I was offered this option. Lost revenue of $25. Solution: Train and require attendants to sell additional services.

Total Lost Gross Revenue To Me This Year = $154

I would speculate that about half of the $150K revenue shortfall could be recouped by addressing the above issues.

On a positive note, the Patch is a great, old course and is a beautiful green space in our community. Municipal courses like this are a great place for our youth and those without excessive cash to enjoy golf. The idea of using the course for expansion of the ASU physical plant is absurd. Higher eduction is a train wreck precisely because colleges decided to become unaffordable country clubs (the irony of them buy and old golf course!) instead of educational facilities with high quality professors and low student/teacher ratios. The Patch merely requires accountable management and a tiny bit of creative marketing to allow the course to operate at break even.

Boogaloo 03/13/10 - 03:32 pm
I sure wish Red Douglas, his

I sure wish Red Douglas, his wife and son, Lawson, were still running the place in the old army barracks building. It wasn't fancy but it sure was adequate. And those delicious steamed hot dogs with that really hot mustard were the best. The new facilities are nice but it lacks the character of the old place.

DAMY46 03/13/10 - 06:56 pm
Lots of property for sale in

Lots of property for sale in Augusta...ASU does not need to buy the 'patch'....Why don't they purchase the Regency Mall?...

jam30830 03/13/10 - 09:30 pm
Once, again, Deekster

Once, again, Deekster research. The golf course next to ASU "public housing" is the one they are referring to in the article known as the Patch. Come on. As usual, you are talking in circles and your argument is senseless. I stopped reading the comments after that one because I could tell it was going nowhere so I apologize if someone clarified that in the comments listed after that one.

corgimom 03/14/10 - 08:23 pm
Let's see... what would be

Let's see... what would be better for ASU... spend $2,000,000 on land right next to them, that has just a small structure that would be easy to tear down, or spend $52,000,000 for Regency Mall, several miles away, that would involve millions to renovate.

That's a tough decision.

Newsreader 03/15/10 - 10:42 am
Maybe I am missing something,

Maybe I am missing something, but I think this should be a win-win. If the city is losing 150K+, simply allow the Patch users to go to Forrest Hills and subsidize their play. Allow members to transfer and the city pay the difference in dues. Allow city residents a reduced rate, with the city picking up the difference for an occasional round players. When Forrest Hills raise rates, raise the city subsidy an equal percentage. We could even put a end date on the city subsidy, allowing Forrest Hills to continue to offer the discount without city funds, or the city members and an occasional round players time to make other arrangements. I would recommend this be at least a five year deal. However, if ASU is not ready for the Patch at this time, why not try a professional managment contract and see if the course can turn a profit.

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