Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Editorial ~ Notes from the “Gaslight” Workshop: Part 1.

On May 4th, the Town held a Q&A Session/Workshop at the Gaslight Theater to receive input from residents living along the golf courses as to what they believe should be the future of the Community Center golf courses.

The Consultants
The meeting was facilitated by consultants from the Golf/Food/Beverage industry, hired by the Town to address the golf course and restaurant facilities. The Consultant team consists of Richard Singer of the National Golf Foundation (which has a consulting arm), Forrest Richardson & Associates (Golf Course Architects from Phoenix) and The WLB Group, (a local engineering and land development firm).

The presentation was handled by the National Golf Foundation consultant as the lead, with the Golf Course Architect group also presenting. We did not hear from the WLB Group representative. The Consultants introduced themselves, and told us about their backgrounds. One of them has 27 years experience in the golf industry and lives in Florida. They stated that they obtained this assignment by answering an RFP (Request For Proposal) put out by the Town.

The National Golf Foundation’s consulting arm works with a number of municipalities in assisting them to evaluate their golf courses and operations.

The Presentation
The meeting began with an approximate 30-minute presentation from the consultant team, followed by an approximately 90-minute Question and Answer session with the audience. The only Town officials recognized at the meeting were Councilmember Bill Rodman and Assistant Town Manager, Chris Cornelison.

First Speaker: Richard Singer of National Golf Foundation
The Consultants and the Golf Course Architects will do a thorough review of the golf courses and restaurant with the goal of assisting the Town to “Maximize their Assets.” They understand that the value and condition of the Town’s golf courses will affect the property values of surrounding properties as well as the value of the courses themselves.

He stated that they have seen a trend in municipalities acquiring private facilities and turning them into municipal facilities. Very few are sold for development. Privately owned golf courses, however, have been redeveloped as housing and/or commercial developments, usually with much community opposition.

They are aware of the history of how the Town acquired the golf courses and all the controversy surrounding it, although it appeared that they were not aware of the details of the contract. They were planning to meet with the hotel owner on Friday to ask questions and make suggestions for marketing the courses.

He stressed that they want to move forward and evaluate where the Town should go from here. Their task is to make recommendations for the continuing operation of the restaurant and all 45 holes of golf.  Ideally, the Town would like to keep all the holes open, but the consultants are looking at all options, including a possible reduction in holes, reconfiguring some courses, etc. His job is to review the golf facility and see how it fits into the Oro Valley community.  They will not be addressing any other Community Center activities.

Singer has done a lot of Economic Impact Studies on golf over the past 25 years. He stated that if you have one bad year, it takes five years to catch up. He stressed that a failing golf course does not help anyone and that it’s a tough business right now. It has a high fixed cost and is at the mercy of many things that you cannot control.

Second Speaker: Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect
They met with Community Center Golf Members earlier in the day. The following day they are meeting with owners of the Hilton Hotel. Although they will be evaluating everything, the Town has told them that their first priority is to keep all the holes open. His role is to crunch numbers on the facility.

They will be evaluating the efficiency of the course and of the irrigation system. The two 18-hole golf courses are now on effluent water, however, this is now almost as costly as ground or potable water. Newer golf courses are being built with “Smart” irrigation systems which can precisely pinpoint and target irrigation at each hole. Our courses do not have such a system. Installing one could save 25% on watering costs, but the installation is costly and Oro Valley doesn’t have the money to do this.

As part of their work, they are obtaining the history of the golf course development, going back to the 1970s and 1980s. They have spoken with one of the original golf course architects, and also with the engineer who worked on the initial irrigation system. The architect told them that the housing developments around the courses actually drove the layout and design of the courses.

The Pusch Ridge 9-hole course is problematic from a golf perspective. It costs almost as much to operate as an 18-hole but does not bring in the same revenue stream. It is also a hilly course and not particularly easy to play.

Part 2. Question and Answer session with the audience will be published on Thursday.