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Is there still gold in Gold Mountain?
Many mornings, Bremerton City Councilman Cecil McConnell grabs his golf bag, a pack of cigarettes and heads to the Gold Mountain Golf Complex for his daily “nine.”
“I’ve played at a lot of courses and they’re just not the same,” he said. “This one is challenging, but it’s not a breaker. And the beauty, especially on a nice clear day — you got the mountains and occasionally you see deer walking around, eagles flying around.”
Gold Mountain, owned by the city of Bremerton, rests on hundreds of acres of city owned watershed property, consisting of two 18-hole courses. The Cascade course opened in 1971 and the Olympic in 1996. Together, the courses are widely considered Kitsap County’s premier golf destination, as well as one of the state’s best.
But vacant fairways and empty greens are becoming more and more common at Gold Mountain, and it’s reflected in the numbers. For most of its history, the course has made money for the city. But lately the city has been sinking money into paying for the course that won’t be paid off until 2028.
Despite a good year in 2008, the course, its clubhouse and restaurant cost the city almost $140,000 in 2007, and in 2009 preliminary figures show Bremerton will take a $32,000 loss.
The number of rounds played at Gold Mountain has declined annually over the past 10 years, Gold Mountain Director of Golf Scott Alexander said, pointing to a boom in the construction of new courses as well as the economy, which has been stuck in the rough.
As courses popped up around western Washington, Alexander said, the number of golfers remained about the same. The result: Excess supply, stagnant demand.
There are 327 golf courses in Washington state, according to golflink.com, with Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma having the most. Gold Mountain and the county’s other nine courses must compete with Seattle- and Tacoma-area facilities. Some with more success than others, such as the financially-troubled White Horse Development and Golf Club south of Kingston, which can’t find a buyer and is currently owned by American Marine Bank.
“We’re better off than about 90 percent of the courses,” Alexander said. “But I’m still not completely happy.”
According to figures from the city, the course was a money maker every year from 1997 to 2006. The city netted $1,769,030 over that span, the most lucrative years being 1999 and 2000 when it netted $344,317 and 306,562, respectively.
But the numbers dipped in 2007, when the city lost $139,169. In 2006 the course yielded just $13,031. It rebounded in 2008 to net $141,471, but the city has projected another loss in 2009. Those figures will be finalized after Jan. 20, according to city Finance Officer Cathy Johnson.
The modern course started with a $5 million bond issued in 1996 to build the Olympic Course. A $3.1 million bond was issued in 2001 for the construction of a new clubhouse. Principal payments on the 1996 bond ranged from $195,000 to $280,000 between 1997 and 2001.
In 2003 the combined principal payments on the bonds ballooned to $300,000, reaching $370,000 in 2008 — the city also is paying thousands of dollars in interest — and the bonds won’t be paid off until 2028, according to Johnson.
They also were recently refinanced.
“Once it’s paid off, then it will make a big difference on our budget here because we’ll be putting money into the park system instead of using the taxes,” McConnell said. “And maybe we can divert those taxes into our streets or something else that, right now, is going into parks.”
Currently the city is considering extending the operating agreement with Alexander for a year, with one change about how revenue from the course’s restaurant is shared with the city. City Attorney Roger Lubovich said the agreement to cover 2010 is expected to be finalized later this month.
One option would be to lease the course to Alexander, but McConnell, who sits on the council board that oversees the golf course, opposes that idea.
“It is a municipal course and it should stay that way,” said McConnell, who was mayor pro tem last summer when talks of leasing the course to Alexander were temporarily squashed. “He would pay the city so much per year and it would be his course, and that’s what I’m opposed to.
“I can understand him wanting to lease it because that gives him free reign. But the city would have absolutely zero control. I’m not sure we need a private enterprise in our watershed.”
Alexander, meanwhile, called his relationship with the city “great,” saying he is most interested in coming up with an agreement that makes all parties happy.
“One thing that is important for us is to know how long we’re going to be here,” said Alexander, who has worked at the course since the mid-1980s. “It’s not my course, it’s the city’s course.”