The Orange County, N.Y.-owned properties could be managed by outside firms after the county issued a request for proposals, but some legislators argue that there are other courses of action, including offering nine-hole options with minimally increased fees.
Some legislators are opposing a plan to outsource management of Hickory Hill Golf Course in Warwick, N.Y., and Stony Ford Golf Course in Montgomery, N.Y., both owned by Orange County, the Chester, N.Y.-based Chronicle reported.
Legislators and other county officials had looked into selling one or both of the money-losing ventures, but the Democratic Caucus leader, Matt Turnbull—who has managed several golf courses himself and actually has a degree in golf course management—objects to this plan. He spent months with fellow golf enthusiast Legislator Barry Cheney (R-Tuxedo) to study the courses and come up with suggestions to improve their financial performance, the Chronicle reported.
Meanwhile, county Executive Steve Neuhaus is looking for a new manager outside county government, and has already sent out requests for proposals, which angered Turnbull, because all county property technically belongs to the legislature, and because most of his and Cheney’s recommendations were never taken up. But legislative attorney Antoinette Reed said Neuhaus is within his rights to contract with an outside manager without the legislature’s approval, the Chronicle reported.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Physical Services Committee, Legislative Chair Steve Brescia (R-Montgomery) told Turnbull that the move to outsource “has been in the works for a year and a half. It should be a surprise to no one.”
Turnbull and Cheney called the current management system “just terrible” and said the county should try their recommendations first, to see if the courses could at least break even. Their most important recommendations—offering a nine-hole option and minimally increasing fees—appear to have earned an additional $100,000 for the county last season, cutting recent yearly losses by about one-third, the Chronicle reported.
The courses suffer from poor advertising, no scheduling coordination, a weak lessons program, and no useful web page. “There is a highly skilled professional golfer in the pro office whose abilities could be much more efficiently utilized,” Turnbull said.
Leagues, tournaments, and camp programs would also build clientele, he said, along with coupons offering, say, a free game at Stony Ford for every three games played at Hickory Hill. Turnbull wants to see an official subcommittee dedicated to guiding the golf courses, similar to the one formed for Orange County Airport, the Chronicle reported.
Orange County has had problems recently with outside management firms, a point Turnbull noted. Valley View, the county-owned nursing home, was nearly run into the ground by an ineffective outside manager. The county airport has also had problems with its outside manager. Turnbull said he’s seen many high-end golf courses degraded when put under a licensing agreement, the Chronicle reported.
“This property is worth well over $1 million, and that does not even include a lot of expensive equipment,” he said.
Legislator Myrna Kemnitz (D-Monroe) objected to requests for proposals, and said she was concerned that the legislature doesn’t make good use of the valuable experience of its members. “It seems the significant expertise of certain legislators gets ignored,” she said.
But Brescia warned that the county still has fiscal problems to attend to. “We are not out of the woods,” he said. “We really need to look at some more of these non-essential services.”
The county could save the salary of the current manager, who makes $140,000 a year, and is retiring soon. But the licensee would get $90,000 from the county to manage the courses, while using the county’s substantial array of equipment—which the county would still have to maintain. The five employees who work at the courses would be placed in other positions in the parks system, the Chronicle reported.
Brescia and several other Republicans relented somewhat after hearing Turnbull and Cheney out. Communication among county officials, they agreed, could have been better. Turnbull said that, with spring weather on the horizon, now’s the perfect time to make plans for golf, the Chronicle reported.