Augusta commissioners championed the success of turning the city golf course over to a private firm during a hole-naming ceremony held by the new course manager Wednesday.
“This shows you the possibilities in putting it back in private hands,” said Commissioner Joe Jackson, who last July joined five other commissioners in voting to lease the city-owned property to The Patch in Augusta LLC, a firm headed by Aberdeen, Scotland, native Brian Hendry.
Inside Red Douglas clubhouse, changes to Augusta Municipal Golf Course were apparent with a display of hats, shirts and other merchandise bearing a new logo Hendry designed. Staffers wearing uniforms with the logo served mimosas and Scottish eggs to a group that included four area golf pros and several of the club’s 106 members.
Jackson said the $1,000 Hendry pays the city monthly to rent the Highland Avenue golf course was a vast improvement over the sometimes $400,000 annually Augusta was losing when the city recreation department operated it.
“We couldn’t have kept it going that way,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said. “This is ensuring the future of public golf in Augusta.”
The decision was controversial, with only six commissioners voting in favor of leasing the course to Hendry instead of Affiniti Golf Partners, which runs nearby Forest Hills Golf Course and offered to operate Augusta’s course for $5,000 a month.
Some commissioners had concerns about the city jobs being eliminated if the course was outsourced, although most of the former recreation employees either were hired by Hendry or transferred to other positions. Former course manager Ed Howerton now has the title of recreation safety and training coordinator, according to a new organizational chart.
Golfer Wendell Scott said he has played the course, nicknamed “The Patch,” about three times a week since the early 1990s.
Scott said after the ceremony that he bought an annual membership Jan. 4 and was impressed with the clubhouse’s new homemade sandwiches and soups, lower cart fees and improved conditions.
“They’re running the course like a professional business, like you’d see anywhere in the United States,” Scott said. “It’s customer-friendly and family-friendly.”
The ceremony was reminiscent of the Dec. 20, 1928, grand opening of the city course, which was designed by David Ogilvie, a Scottish immigrant then working as head pro at the Augusta Country Club.
In the 1928 opening, four Augusta golfers, including Ogilvie, took part in an exhibition foursome.
On Wednesday, pros from The First Tee of Augusta, Forest Hills, Augusta Country Club and The Patch teed off after the dedication of the first hole to Carol Lee.
Lee said she has known Hendry since 1991 and was “honored” to have the first hole named for her.
“Brian is a very special person,” she said. “He loves golf; he loves the city of Augusta, and we can expect to see a lot more from him.”