Commission closer to bid award for 'The Patch'

Augusta’s troubled public golf course may have a new private manager.

The Augusta Commission’s public services committee voted 4-0 Monday to award a bid to Cypress Golf Management of Orlando, Fla., to turn “The Patch” into a moneymaking operation, which cash flow projections show will happen in late 2016 or early 2017.

Cypress “focuses on distressed courses across the country,” and has operated the city of Philadelphia’s seven public courses, Augusta Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Bob Levine told commissioners.

The firm was ranked highest by a selection committee over Classic Golf Management of Marietta, Ga. Bids from Reality Management Group of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Paul Simon, chairman emeritus of First Tee of Augusta were deemed noncompliant.

Simon, who wanted to merge the adjacent First Tee with The Patch and share resources between the two told commissioners Monday, “I think you’re making a mistake ... We can do a lot of things an out-of-towner can’t do.”

The proposed contract with Cypress is for five years. If the full commission agrees, the city will pay the firm $3,000 a month until it breaks even at the course. At that point, Cypress’ monthly fee will increase to $5,000 a month, with 70 percent of profits going to the city and 30 percent to Cypress.

The “unique” deal is “an exceptional value for the city,” but all the while will offer affordable rounds of Augusta golf, with rates not to exceed the mid-$20s per round, with a cart.

“The mission is to provide affordable golf,” Levine said. “Without The Patch in existence, there are no opportunities for affordable golf in Augusta.”

The contract also shows $2 per round going into a capital improvements account, aggressive pursuit of food and beverage sales and a majority of staff hired locally. Cypress President and Chief Operations Officer John Fogle said improving course conditions was “high on the priority list” but doesn’t happen overnight.

“There’s a good physical plant there; we just need to take it back,” Fogle said. “It’s not going to happen this summer.”

“Believe it or not, I’m excited about this project,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett, who served on an early steering committee to find solutions for The Patch, but voted against later efforts to outsource it, including a 2012 decision to lease it to The Patch in Augusta LLC, which abandoned its lease after a few months and left employees unpaid. Two subsequent attempts to outsource the course also failed.

“I’m one of the ones who grew up there,” said Commissioner Grady Smith, who golfed there when it was run successfully by Red Douglas. “These young kids need a place to start.”

Cypress plans to work with First Tee, surrounding schools and senior citizens and others to keep a community focus, Levine said.

He said he hopes to have the company in place by July, when existing staff would return to their regular recreation jobs. The bid award will go to the full commission next week.

IN OTHER ACTION MONDAY

Other items approved by an Augusta Commission committee Monday included:

• A $2.5 million “bridge loan” to continue Augusta’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment efforts until 2015, when the project’s outstanding bonds are callable. The project is guaranteed $750,000 a year in tourism enhancement fees for 50 years, but consultants spent its first $8 million bond issue in three years because “we’re buying and selling houses much faster” than anticipated, said Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler. The loan will come from Augusta’s Urban Services Fund, which would drop to $1.7 million until the loan is repaid.

• Forwarding to the full commission without recommendation revisions to Augusta’s “stealth” cell phone tower requirements. Under the changes, approved by the planning commission, towers in residential and professional zones must be camouflaged. Two representatives from the Georgia Wireless Association opposed the changes, which would require cell companies to seek special approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals to install a traditional tower in either of the protected zones.

• Approved increasing Procurement Director Geri Sams’ salary to $113,000 to cure an “internal disparity” that exists among city department heads with similar education and experience, according to Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant

• Forwarded to the full commission without recommendation paying approximately 40 public safety managers – including the 911 director, fire chief, disaster preparedness coordinator and approximately 25 sheriff’s personnel, all of whom are considered “exempt” from overtime requirements a combined $41,717.13 for extra hours they worked during Winter Storm Pax.

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