The city of Augusta quietly closed its once-popular public golf course this week, leaving one city commissioner fuming, a potential course manager losing money he spent on a youth tournament and Club Car employees showing up Thursday to collect 50 golf cars leased to the previous management group.
At the close of business Wednesday, the city shut the Highland Avenue facility, affectionately known as The Patch, with unspecified plans to put the lease or a management deal out for bids, City Administrator Fred Russell said.
The city was hoping to boot Brian Hendry and his Scotland-based management group because it had missed several monthly payments on a lease agreement it had signed with the city last year to manage the course.
Three local brothers – Dennis, Brian and Pat Kelly – offered to take over the course if certain requests were granted, but the Augusta Commission made a decision behind closed doors Tuesday not to turn over management to them. The brothers wanted the city to repair a leaking roof and fix air conditioning for the clubhouse, and they agreed to honor the dozens of memberships that Hendry’s firm sold. The commission decided not to make the repairs or comply with other requested concessions, so the Kellys backed out.
“We had a good alternative, but they didn’t like it,” an irritated Commissioner Joe Jackson said Thursday, referring to other commission members.
In fact, someone placed a sign at the clubhouse Thursday pointing those wanting to play to three commissioners – J.R. Hatney, Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason – and suggesting they were responsible for the public golf course’s closing.
Jackson said those commissioners certainly didn’t help The Golf Course at Augusta LLC, the new firm headed by the Kellys.
Jackson even suggested the city’s handling of the situation might warrant termination of top city personnel.
“Someone’s going home,” he said.
Climent Gardner, a Patch member, was with a group on the 12th tee Wednesday when they were informed the course was closing.
“By the time we got to the clubhouse, there were signs that they were closed,” Gardner said.
Conditions have gone down in recent months, he added.
“The course really got to the point you could lose your ball in the middle of the fairway or in front of the green,” Gardner said. “It was really terrible. It’s something you wouldn’t believe would happen in Augusta, the home of the Masters.”
The brief experience of trying to do business with the city left a bad impression on Dennis Kelly, a longtime player and Patch enthusiast. Kelly said he and his brothers already purchased food and equipment to prepare for the Mayor’s Cup Junior Tournament held the weekend of Aug. 25.
“Nobody’s going to take that clubhouse with inoperable AC,” he said. “It’s over; it’s in the hands of the politicians.”
Representatives from Club Car showed up Thursday to take back 50 golf cars and three carry-all maintenance vehicles that had been leased to the previous management group.
Eric Ott, a Club Car service employee, said he hopes the next manager of the course will start a lease with them, and they look forward to seeing Club Car golf cars on the course soon.
“We’ll bring them right back,” he said of the golf cars.
Michael Carlisle, the USC Aiken golf coach and director of the Augusta Area Junior Golf Association, said news of the closing is tough to hear. The golf association held an event at the course during the summer, and Carlisle said the course was in good shape.
“It’s been a great place for people to afford to play,” he said. “This day and time, though, it may not be feasible because every decision is made because of money. If there’s not any money to keep it open, that’s a tough one.”
Staff Writers Chris Gay and David Westin contributed to this article.