by Dan McClelland
Town leaders as a whole were very impressed with the work and study that went into the new report of the committee of experienced and very interested golfers who studied the local 18 over the summer, judging by comments Thursday night. The finished report was filed a month ago but was not released until Thursday when more elected leaders could be present.
Attending Thursday's session for a board discussion on the new document (see related story this week) were Gerry Goldman and Golf Pro Evan LaBarge, two of the dozen members of the study group.
Councilman Mike Dechene explained the committee was comprised of past golf course members and people “very adamant of keeping our golf course alive.”
The intent of the work, he said, was to benefit the current board and their plan to “keep things moving forward there, with the small amount of members that we have!”
“Very, very good meetings we had. A lot of good ideas came out of them.”
Of the report itself, he admitted he felt the finished product lacked a little bit about what we can do for the board that is in place right now. “The majority of this is about what happens if the town takes over or what needs to be done by the town to keep the golf course alive.”
He said the report, though, contains “a lot of good information.”
“This recommendation is that the town should take over the insurances, the fertilization programs at the golf course. My belief is that the greens, the tees, the fairways all belong to the town and we do not want this to fall apart. If we lost a green, for example, it would be unbelievable how much it would cost to rebuild it.”
“I agree with a lot of the stuff they have here. Whether or not we can fit it into our budget, that's something we need to talk about.”
He said the town currently budgets $4,500 for fertilizer used at the golf course and the Verizon communication tower yearly stipend of $4,000 also goes to course improvements.
So of the $30,000 request outlined in the report, he calculated that $8,500 is already going there.
As a municipality we just can't give money to an organization, but we can pay for services like a fertilizing company to treat the greens there. “They are our grounds being fertilized!”
“The town cannot let this golf course close up. I believe this committee was set up in case the board of directors does throw up their hands and say they can't do it anymore, the town would have to take over. I believe the board sitting here now would do that. Although we don't want to do that. We want the golf course board to be successful!”
John Quinn thanked his colleague and the volunteers who sat on his committee. “I know the time and effort was considerable!”
“-And they were happily there...meeting after meeting,” Mr. Dechene told him.
“I see this report a little differently,” Councilman Quinn told his colleagues. “I didn't see this as any kind of blueprint for the town to take it over. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as far as I'm concerned. I want the current club and its board to continue to exist and prosper.
“We all want that!” Supervisor Patti Littlefield echoed.
“It makes recommendations not only for the town but spells out some specific things for the club to do! I see the success of the club would involve a closer working relationship and partnership between the two boards,” the councilman said.
“It's our property. It's an asset. If we did nothing and the place folded, it would be a great loss to the town. Much like Big Tupper was! -And we all know where that got us!”
Of the four major requests of the town in the committee's report, he said the one stipulating that all future equipment would be bought through the town on state contract is “a no brainer.”
“Taking advantage of state pricing and having tax exempt status, however it can be done legally, is something that can be done easily.
He called the $30,000 request to buy all fertilizer “pretty substantial.”
“But I talked to a few of the older members and the town board used to do that back in the 1980s when the costs were about half of what they are now. At that time they were kicking in about $15,000 per year. Subsequent boards decided that wasn't the right thing to do!”
“Whether we can foot the whole bill, especially in one chunk, I guess we'll have to see on what impact it has on our budget.”
“I'm not so sure- and I'd want to get more information about the insurance costs. We do carry insurance on that property for the winter time at least, probably year round.”
Mrs. Littlefield confirmed the town has insurance on its umbrella policy for that property. All individual buildings there are listed separately, she noted.
She said, however, the town does not carry insurance for what she called “a golf club operation.” The golf course board buys that and provides the town with a proof of insurance, she added.
The supervisor said the insurance coverage by the two parties should be studied, to see if there is duplication of coverage and there could be a savings found there if there is.
Mr. Quinn said he believes the town should get back in the fertilizer cost underwriting- “at least to the point of sharing the cost of keeping the grounds up. One of the recommendations I haven't been convince of yet is the club could turn over its assets- its buildings and equipment- in lieu of the $83,000 still owed to the town as interest on the bond to fixing the upper nine. I'm not convinced that's the right way to go, but I'm wondering if the club could meet the town half way” on the interest monies owed.
Asked to comment, Gerry Goldman said it would “certainly be a net gain for the club if the town were to assume” some of those costs. Assuming the entire fertilizer costs would be a gain of over $20,000 for the club in any year, he gave as one example.
“We've had a successful year this year, by the bar we set. We're certainly better off than we were last year. I think we're in better shape at the leadership level with Evan (LaBarge). And Sonny working in the garage. The fundraising has been a big boost to us.” Over $25,000 was raised by the board and its members this year in fundraising. He called it “a significant part of the club's surplus” at the end of this year.
“The volunteers also did a great job this summer and the golf course, as a result “looks better dressed.”
Mr. Goldman said the brush removal, the work to the fairways, cart paths, made a great difference. He calculated that the contributions of the volunteers this summer came out the equivalent of one full-time worker the club didn't have to pay.
He said too many volunteers gave a lot more than four hours a week that they signed up for.
“I think we have our head above water, but we're just not going to be able to survive any calamities!”
He said because the board is currently putting its budget for 2019 together, it would be helpful right now to know if any new town funding was coming.
Mr. Goldman said it's the view of most of the golf course leaders that if there was a surplus found next year, that money would go to updating course equipment.
Evan LaBarge said right now most of the equipment at the golf course is owned by the club. Some is leased.
As leases expire, the board would like to look at buying machinery outright, he said, cautioning that there are many variables.
The state contract option to the town would be very important, he noted.
He mentioned that for the first time in many years all the equipment the club owns was in operation this summer.
“It doesn't mean that it's in good shape or that it will run next year, but it just reflects the work of a good team!”
Councilman Dechene asked Mr. Goldman if he had noticed “any issues” between the two boards this year and was told there didn't seem to be any.
“I think we're going to face some challenges down the road. We're going to have to reexamine our relationship with the restaurant vendor. I know with all of our attention to the course, our board has some responsibilities to the vendor” which he said it hasn't been able to meet.
One of the board's responsibilities, for example, was the maintenance of 200-place settings. “I can tell you right now if you go to a wedding at the country club, you're going to get Chinette. That's just one of responsibilities we haven't been able to meet.”
Concerning a lot of the fixtures in the kitchen, he said it was safe to admit the club has been remiss in its obligation to replace things...simply because the club doesn't have any money.
He said the club couldn't replace a gas stove that was needed and Operator Jim Ellis had to buy his own.
Mr. Goldman speculated that if Mr. Ellis doesn't renew his lease, the club's on the hook for finding a $8,000 or $10,000 gas stove.
Kitchen equipment is expensive and many of the club-owned pieces have been cobbled together over the years, he noted.
Unless there are improvements made there, the club may eventually have to renegotiate the lease with any current or future vendor, he suggested.
“We are mindful of the burden you all face in guarding taxpayer dollars and making decisions how to best spend them. I think we would be idiots if we came in here and held our hands our and said 'give us money no matter what'.”
“We're just hopeful we can look at the whole operation as a plus for Tupper Lake!”
He said he agreed with Mr. Dechene that he has an affinity for playing the course over the years with “guys like his dad.”
“The thought of that place not being there just doesn't make any sense to me!”
“You can't have a Preserve Associates resort up there without a golf course!”
“We must find a way to keep it going!”
“Well said,” Mrs. Littlefield told him.
Next week: long time golf course employee Daniel “Boonie” Carmichael weighs in on discussion of course's future.