Augusta commissioners gave the go-ahead Thursday to lease Augusta Municipal Golf Course to a Virginia Beach, Va., golf management company at the year’s final called meeting.
The course has been under city management since September, after previous lessee The Patch in Augusta stopped paying rent and subsequent negotiations with an Augusta firm failed.
The vote to lease the course to Virginia Beach Golf Management passed 6-2, with commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason opposed.
“This really just does not rise to the level of being down here for a special called meeting,” said Mason, who wanted to wait until the new year. A Dec. 18 vote on the same lease failed, 5-3.
Virginia Beach Golf Management’s proposal, recommended by Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan, is to lease the course for $250,000 over 10 years. The city gets an additional 5 percent if revenues exceed $650,000 and 7 percent if they exceed $700,000.
The firm includes three PGA professionals with a combined 100 years of golf course management experience, according to Shanahan. One of the pros is Andrew Menk, an Augusta native.
Lockett, who headed an ad hoc committee three years ago to chart the future of the course, known by locals as The Patch, said he was still waiting on a cost-benefit analysis to show the lease was a better option than having city recreation staff operate it.
“It should have been pretty simple, looking at our past four years’ budgets,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who voted in favor. The course operated in the red by about $200,000 annually the three years before the city’s 2011 decision to outsource it.
Commissioner Grady Smith, who was absent Dec. 18, returned Thursday to vote in favor. As a longtime member of the board that governs nearby Forest Hills Golf Course, Smith said he had been skeptical of hiring outsiders to run Forest Hills but later changed his mind when the course started to thrive.
That’s not happening now at The Patch, Smith said, noting the condition of its greens.
Under the lease, which will likely require final commission approval, Virginia Beach will be responsible for capital improvements under $5,000, according to Shanahan. Anything more than $5,000 is the city’s responsibility, with commission approval, he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, a longtime advocate for outsourcing certain city services, said he asked Mayor Deke Copenhaver to call the meeting to avoid the decision being gridlocked when four incoming commissioners take office in January.
Bowles said a former commissioner returning to office was known to deliberately abstain to prevent the mayor from casting a tie-breaking vote. The only returning commissioner is Marion Williams, recently elected to represent Super District 9.
“I’ve seen the theatrics play out before,” Bowles said, which “protect certain things that they think are more important than allowing the mayor to cast a vote.”
Mason took issue with Bowles’ comments.
“The assumption is there are going to be others that will be in cahoots,” he said. “That’s not going to be the case.”
For years, Augusta voters elected five white and five black commissioners, which often resulted in gridlock falling along color lines, with strategic abstentions to prevent the mayor from taking a side.
That changed during the three-year term of Matt Aitken, but Aitken’s defeat Dec. 4 restores five black commissioners to the body.