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Gold Mountain on the brink
The City of Bremerton is scrambling to figure out how to manage Gold Mountain Golf Course when Scott Alexander, who has run the facility for the past 28 years, retires at the end of the year.
Beyond the immediate need of figuring out a future management solution for the golf course, the city continues to struggle to figure out ways to get golfers to tee it up. The stakes couldn’t be much higher because long-term projections are dire as debt service on the Olympic Course and clubhouse bonds are set to increase significantly during the next couple of years.
Asked when Gold Mountain will fall off a “financial cliff,” City of Bremerton Financial Services Director Becky Hasart said, “About two years.”
“If you’re going to rely just on the revenue coming in from the golf course, about two years,” Hasart said. “But remember, general fund can always subsidize, so that’s really up to council. And that’s not what we want to do, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
A $5 million bond was issued in 1996 for the Olympic Course and $3.1 million bond was issued in 2001 for the clubhouse. The number of golfers hitting the links, meanwhile, continues to slide steadily downward. Revenue projections were not met in 2011 and the prognosis isn’t much better in 2012 while the economy, inclement weather, a saturated golf course market and other factors conspire against what many believe to be one of Bremerton’s crown jewels.
Alexander announced in early May that he would end his spectacularly successful career when his contract expires Dec. 31. Since then, though, the city has been slow to figure out what do next.
City Attorney Roger Lubovich told city councilors in a recent study session that he is reluctant to opening up Gold Mountain operations to national bids because of the time crunch.
“The problem with that is it would take time,” Lubovich said. “I don’t know how long it would take to do that, but we do not have a lot of time left to the end of the year and that’s what’s making us a little bit nervous about processing and getting somebody on board.”
Instead, Lubovich said that he and Becky Hasart, the city’s finance director, have had a couple of preliminary discussions with Columbia Hospitality about possibly taking over Gold Mountain operations. Columbia Hospitality runs the city’s conference center downtown, but golf course management has never been a part of the company’s portfolio.
That lack of experience is something that gave Councilmember Leslie Daugs pause.
“I guess my concern is they have a lot of experience with convention centers and hotels, but my concern is there’s no experience with golf courses and that’s pretty obvious on their website,” she said.
Daugs later said she’d like to ultimately see a wider range of bidders.
During the study session, Councilmember Eric Younger floated the idea of giving Head Golf Pro Daryl Matheny and Golf Course Superintendent Ed Faulk, both of whom have worked for Alexander for years, a chance to put forward a bid of their own to run the place after Alexander leaves.
“I think it’s fair that they be given an opportunity, before this process is completed, to come up with a competing bid,” Younger said. “The place is in incredible condition and they should have an opportunity to make a deal on it.”
Younger also said that the city should get a bid from Columbia Hospitality. That approach, by the end of the meeting, was the nearly consensus view of how the city should move forward.
But Councilmember Greg Wheeler had some reservations about the entire process.
“I am supportive of giving Columbia Hospitality and the two gentlemen, Daryl and Ed, a shot at this, but I think to do that just because we’re in a time crunch, I think that’s a reason, but I don’t think it’s a good enough one,” Wheeler said. “I think this is one of our biggest assets and we need to make sure we get on the right track with our next move. I don’t want to do that just because we’re running out of time and we’re gonna follow the path of least resistance.”
Wheeler said that the city should commission a thorough study to “learn what we’ve got and figure out a way to get it professionally managed.”
“I want to know from a professional what the right way to do this is,” Wheeler added. “I think we’d be money ahead to invest this up front and get that professional recommendation. I would say the sooner we get started on that path the better.”