The firm that manages Forest Hills Golf Club is on its way to taking over Augusta Municipal Golf Course, if six Augusta commissioners approve the deal.
Alpharetta, Ga.-based Affiniti Golf Partners followed a roundabout path to becoming the city's latest private management firm, not bidding last year when Augusta twice sought proposals from firms to manage the course.
Instead, after gaining a contract last year with the Augusta Golf Association to manage Forest Hills, owned by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Affiniti authored a study of operations at Augusta Municipal -- known as "The Patch" -- recommending that a private management firm such as itself be hired.
Fast-forward three months, when Commissioner Grady Smith, who serves on the Augusta Golf Association board, strongly recommended that the city seek a proposal from Affiniti. A June 6 vote to negotiate a deal "with all parties involved," including The First Tee of Augusta and previous bidder The Patch in Augusta LLC, passed 9-0.
The result of negotiations between Affiniti and Augusta officials came in July 1, when city Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Tom Beck e-mailed all 10 commissioners a draft agreement between the city and Affiniti, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle .
Under the five-year contract, the city would pay Affiniti $5,000 a month, plus an annual incentive if the course's earnings meet a predetermined goal. The city also would be expected to cover all salaries and benefits, repairs and improvements to the course and Affiniti's expenses, such as travel and lodging, according to the agreement.
City employees at The Patch, who numbered six full-time and four part-time in February, would become Affiniti employees, subject to the firm's decisions on discipline and retention. However, while Affiniti "will retain key city employees" at the city's recommendation, the company considers hiring "a golf director and/or head golf professional" necessary to successful course operations, the contract says.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham, one of just two commissioners who responded to requests for comment, said a projected cash flow sheet showing Affiniti not turning a profit at the course until 2015 caused him concern.
"That's not what I'm looking for," said Brigham, who has previously cited the course's ongoing annual losses as reason to either privatize management or lease the centrally located course outright, which is what The Patch in Augusta LLC proposed to do.
Brigham and three other commissioners -- Joe Bowles, Joe Jackson and Smith -- were present for a July 1 meeting at Forest Hills with Affiniti staff that was barely legal. The meeting, requested by Bowles two days earlier of the entire commission and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, was not advertised, but a quorum did not attend.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said July 1 he'd received an invitation but "wasn't interested" in attending. "I believe in transparency," Lockett said. "I don't believe in these little meetings."
Last year, Lockett called several meetings with loyal Patch members to seek solutions to the course's problems, which led to a set of recommendations for improvements and cost savings. A few months later, another committee led by James Kendrick was formed with representatives from Augusta State University, Paine College, First Tee, Richmond County Board of Education and golf course members.
That panel produced in February a set of recommendations for improvements at the course, in the form of a study authored by Affiniti.
Affiniti principal Whitney Crouse wrote in an e-mail that the firm was unaware of the city's request for proposals last year, but wouldn't have bid to manage the Patch because its "capital is at work at another club in Atlanta."
Commissioner Matt Aitken said The Patch in Augusta LLC's proposal was "cost neutral." The firm, composed of Scottish and American golf course developers, proposed to pay the city a monthly fee to lease the course and subsidize operations by increasing rates during Masters Week.
Beck, expected to present the alternatives to commissioners at an upcoming meeting, said leasing the course to The Patch in Augusta LLC remained among the options.
Augusta's procurement code permits the city procurement director or administrator to purchase "professional services" such as architecture, accounting and "management and analysis" without a bidding process. It also allows "sole source" procurement from one vendor with a certain level of documentation.