GOLF IS VERY important to our community. Each year the economic benefits flowing from the Masters to Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties are tremendous, matched by no other event during the year.
With this month’s attention on golf, it is time to discuss a plan that is under consideration by the Augusta Commission. The city of Augusta owns the golf course between Highland Avenue and Damascus Road, known as the “Cabbage Patch.” The Patch was designed by golf course architect David Ogilvie and opened in 1928. This is a diamond-in-the-rough that many cities would like to own.
Augusta, the golf capital of the world, should have a first-class public golf course for the benefit of all its citizens and visitors. The Patch could and should be a showcase for Augusta. The city has not had much success in attracting an operator for the Patch since it was operated by “Red” Douglas. The golf course has been allowed to deteriorate.
The city is now considering operating the Patch through the city recreation department; hiring a management company; or leasing or selling to a third party. There is a much better option.
In 1998, I was chairman of a group of local business people who started the Augusta chapter of The First Tee. We have a six-hole golf course, driving range and clubhouse-teaching facility on Damascus Road adjacent to the Patch. The mission of The First Tee is to teach kids between ages 8 and 18 positive life skills through the game of golf, with special emphasis on our nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, perseverance, courtesy, judgment, confidence and responsibility.
IN 2012 MORE than 1,000 youths participated in our program. The demographics are interesting and gratifying. More than 35 percent are female; 55 percent are black; 20 percent of their household incomes are less than $20,000; and 20 percent of their household incomes are more than $100,000. Other than the public school system, our First Tee chapter is likely the most diverse organization in our community.
Our plan is for the city to enter into a partnership with The First Tee to operate the Patch. The cost for The First Tee to operate the Patch will be much less than any other operator because of duplication of several positions and expenses. In this partnership, substantial cost savings can be achieved, thereby lowering the operating losses that the city now suffers.
However, for any operator to be successful, major expenditures must be made to the Patch. Our plan includes a major make-over of the Patch, reconstructing all the greens, tees and fairways and beautifying the course. We will make the course family-friendly. With these changes, I am confident that the Patch will become profitable, even with below-market green and membership fees. The level of these fees will allow the public to have greater access to golf.
A partnership between the city and The First Tee will allow cost savings and profit-sharing opportunities for both. In addition, The First Tee will be able to extend the reach of its programs. The city will gain a well-run golf course that it can be proud of, and one that provides its citizens a first-class course at a reasonable cost.
THE AUGUSTA Commission understands the enthusiasm that The First Tee has for this project and for Augusta. I believe this partnership, if approved by the commission, will be an exciting and successful new chapter in the history of the Patch. I hope you will agree and add your support by becoming a member of the Patch or a friend of The First Tee.
The city of Augusta now directly or indirectly provides funding for tennis, swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer and football. Why not golf?
(The writer is chairman emeritus of The First Tee and is former president of Morris Communications Corp.)