New management favored at Northwood Golf Course
Committee supports terminating golf pro, restaurant operator
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Facing an accumulating deficit of more than $1 million at the city-owned Northwood Golf Course, the Rhinelander Golf Course Advisory Committee voted 3-1 Tuesday in favor of hiring a management company and/or a manager with total golf course operation experience to run the course.
Committee members Alex Young, Sonny Paszak and Mike Harvey supported the motion, Steven Sauer cast the lone dissenting vote and Tom Kelly was not present for the vote.
The recommendation the committee backed from interim city administrator Keith Kost also calls for terminating the employment of the course’s golf professional, Dan Buckley, as well as the lease of the restaurant operator, Dave O’Melia. However, the proposed changes at the Northwood Golf Course don’t call for getting rid of the golf superintendent, Joe Andersen.
The committee’s action comes on the heels of a report completed this fall for the city by a hired consultant, Green Golf Partners, which reviewed the course’s current management practices.
Kost made reference to that report and the course’s declining revenue in recent years when he stated to the committee, “There is no reason to think the city can operate the course and make it financially viable.”
“It’s time to do something different,” he said. “The city doesn’t have the ability to run the golf course.”
Kost said it is his opinion the city is incapable of developing a plan to increase revenue or reduce expenses, which would necessitate the hiring of either a management company or a full-time manager. The recommendation he presented to the committee calls for looking at management companies in December to be able to hire one in January. He noted a one-year management agreement likely would be sought initially.
Young said a promise made by a previous City Council about the course never costing the taxpayers money can no longer be kept.
“Everybody’s looked at the numbers for the last 10 years, and it’s unsustainable,” Young said. “It’s not going to change, unless we do something. It’s been brought up a number of different times before, and we’ve never done anything, aside from watching the (deficit) number get bigger and bigger.”
Young favored someone managing the course to also include non-golf uses when he noted the adjacent city-owned Heal Creek property is available for “silent sport” activities.
Upon hiring a management company, Kost said the city would pay the company to manage the course with all employees being hired by the company instead of the city, noting Andersen, whom the consultant’s report praised for maintaining the course, could end up being employed by the management company in that situation.
Kost said the city would still receive money from greens fees, cart rentals and driving range revenues with a management company operating the golf course.
“Most of them, they’ll take a flat fee,” Kost said. “They want ‘X’ number of dollars per month, and then they want a piece of the pot at the end.”
After the management of the course has stabilized, Kost said the city should then explore its options to sell the course. He noted the selling price would reflect how much revenue the course could bring in.
In addition to the consultant’s report finding the overall financial performance of the course needs to improve, if the city would retain the property, the report also found the service and perception of the course to be in need of improvement.
As for the option to sell the property, the report found a “reasonable assessment of value” ranging from $500,000 to $750,000 could be expected, given the market for golf courses presently being limited, though there would be interest in the Northwood Golf Course because of its quality.
The city received the property about 30 years ago from Wausau Paper for the purpose of it being used as a public golf course.
The Golf Course Advisory Committee’s recommendation was also discussed Tuesday by the city’s Finance, Wage and Salary Committee. Finance committee members noted restrictions that previously were in place not allowing the city to sell the property are no longer in effect.
The recommendation is being forwarded for final action by the full City Council at Monday’s meeting. If approved, Kost said Buckley’s employment with the city would end at the end of 2017, while O’Melia has agreed to terminate the restaurant lease and begin shutting down operations on Dec. 17.