After years of study and debate, the Augusta Commission on Tuesday approved a lease of the city-owned golf course, known as "The Patch," to a private firm.
The commission voted 6-4 to approve the agreement with The Patch in Augusta LLC, whose principal Brian Hendry said he plans to reopen the course in January with improvements, cheaper annual memberships and a Scottish flair.
The lease includes a negotiated water rate for irrigation of $275 a month, up from the $145 flat monthly rate that last week shocked several commissioners when compared with nearby six-hole youth golf clinic First Tee of Augusta's hefty water bill.
On Tuesday, Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said The Patch likely used more water than First Tee, which paid nearly $5,000 for water during a dry summer month.
"It seems like over the past 10 years, The Patch has been set up to fail," said Commissioner Bill Lockett, who voted with commissioners Corey Johnson, Alvin Mason and J.R. Hatney against approving the lease.
Lockett questioned when the course got in on the $145 monthly deal also enjoyed by Forest Hills golf course, alleging some of the city course's losses could have been avoided if it had happened sooner.
"We've tried everything," including lowering the water rate, said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles. The current deal, leasing the course for $1,000 a month "will save taxpayers $150,000 a year," Bowles said.
Reached en route to the airport after a week examining operations at The Patch, Hendry, of Aberdeen, Scotland, said at last the firm can officially begin preparations.
"We're delighted. The real work can start now," Hendry said.
Among his plans are a Web site to launch in November that spells out the rates, rules and offerings at the course, which he plans to officially rename The Patch.
"I don't intend to raise the prices, but I do intend to raise the standards," he said.
Hendry said he's searching for old photos and other details from the 1928 course's history to put it in context with the area's other historic courses.
The lease means no more golf course work for some Augusta employees, but according to the city's human resources department, most of the staff will be transferred to other jobs Jan. 1.
They include golf course manager Ed Howerton, who has accepted the position of safety and training coordinator with the recreation, parks and facilities department, the department said in response to an open records request.
Also reassigned to similar positions in other recreation divisions are the course's office manager, two maintenance workers and a groundskeeper, while Operations Supervisor Larry Guy retired last month but will work on a part-time basis until January, the department said.