Northwood GC Considers Options as Deficit Builds

The city-owned property in Rhinelander, Wis., has an accumulating deficit of more than $1 million, and the Rhinelander Golf Course Advisory Committee has voted in favor of hiring a management company to operate the facility, while terminating the golf professional and the restaurant operator.

Facing an accumulating deficit of more than $1 million at the city-owned Northwood Golf Course, the Rhinelander (Wis.) Golf Course Advisory Committee voted on December 5 in favor of hiring a management company and/or a manager with total golf course operation experience to run the course, the Rhinelander-based Star Journal reported.

The recommendation the committee backed 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 Star Journal reported.

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, the Star Journal reported.

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“There is no reason to think the city can operate the course and make it financially viable,” said interim city administrator Keith Kost. “It’s time to do something different. The city doesn’t have the ability to run the golf course.”

The recommendation Kost 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, the Star Journal reported.

Committee member Alex 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, the Star Journal reported.

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, the Star Journal reported.

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, the Star Journal reported.

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, the Star Journal reported.

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 Star Journal reported.

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 Star Journal reported.

The recommendation is being forwarded for final action by the full City Council. 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 December 17, the Star Journal reported.