Paul Simon, chairman emeritus of the First Tee of Augusta board of directors, is proposing the six-hole youth golf program partner with the city-owned course to reduce costs for both and offer skilled junior players an 18-hole course to play.
“They’re side by side,” Simon said. “They can save a lot of money operating them together.”
First Tee, run by the Fore Augusta Foundation and located off Damascus Road, backs up to “The Patch,” the name locals use for the historic Highland Avenue course.
The national First Tee program helps expose underprivileged youth to golf. The Augusta program served 1,016 children last year – 37 percent female, 56 percent minority and 15 percent from families earning less than $24,000, Simon said.
Simon, who presented the ideas to the city’s Public Services committee Monday, said if the city opts to absorb capital costs of equipment in its first year instead of leasing the equipment, operating losses that have plagued the course for years will be erased. He sees the courses sharing a greenskeeper and other services, but with separate golf pros at each.
“Why not? We spend money on all the other sports through the budget,” he said.
The partnership could spell the end of more than three years of uncertainty at the course. The commission leased the course last year to a Scottish businessman only to see his firm abandon its lease and leave employees unpaid.
Later negotiations with two other interested golf management firms also failed.
Monday’s committee meeting was markedly different from those of the last 18 months in which commissioners routinely sparred with Simon over the details of management agreements for the new Augusta Convention Center and its parking deck. Simon’s firm, Augusta Riverfront LLC, runs both and shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
“I’m negotiating on your behalf,” Simon told commissioners Monday.
“Mr. Simon, it’s about time,” joked Commissioner Bill Lockett.
Simon, who co-founded Augusta’s First Tee program, said he’d happily provide an annual plan for The Patch partnership, with details such as rates, fees and capital improvements subject to commission approval. The city and Fore Augusta would divide profits evenly.
The committee received Simon’s proposal as information and asked the city administrator to follow up.
Commissioner Donnie Smith, an avid golfer, said he approved the “concept” of partnering with First Tee.
“If they can come up with some concrete figures and a business plan that helps Augusta and helps the kids, then I’m for it,” he said.