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Advisory group rejects lone bid to manage Ben Geren Golf Course

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Prospects of an outside company managing the golf course at Ben Geren Golf Course appear dim as two Sebastian County advisory boards have voted not to recommend moving forward with a proposal from Orlando, Fla.-based Cypress Golf Management to take over control of the golf course from the county.

According to County Judge David Hudson, the proposed rate of $6,000 per month to manage the facility and other high fees were just too much for both the Parks Advisory Board and the Golf Stakeholder Committee, both of which met at different times Tuesday (Feb. 25).

"I think it was just basically that the proposal required an additional allocation of $92,400 a year with the county continuing to carry the budget and paying a percentage of any capital improvements. So what does that offer the county moving forward at this point versus continuing to operate the golf course and putting $90,000 more into the course?"

The plan, unsealed in the Quorum Courtroom of the Sebastian County Courthouse on Feb. 19, was the only proposal received after the county put out advertising for bids to lease the golf course from the county. The proposal itself was opposite of what the county desired to see in proposals since it charged the county not only the $6,000 management fee, but also up to $1,700 per month in travel expenditures as well as the other expenditures Hudson mentioned.

Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge, whose district includes Ben Geren and its golf course, did not sugar coat his opinion of the proposal when reached for comment Wednesday (Feb. 26).

"The proposal that was submitted was a management agreement rather than a lease agreement proposal. This is not what the county was looking for. All this would do is add debt to the budget. This would not benefit the county or taxpayers in any way,” he said.

With both advisory boards voting to not recommend entering into the Cypress agreement, Hudson said he would work with both bodies to develop a proposal to take to the Quorum Court at its March 18 discussion meeting that would address how the county can move forward.

As part of the proposal to be developed by the advisory boards and Hudson, he said marketing will be a large part of the plan as will ideas for how to increase play at the course, which sees competition from the Deer Trails Golf Course at Chaffee Crossing, as well as country clubs in Fort Smith.

To be more competitive, Hudson said another part of the plan will be to change the large number of various green fees at Ben Geren.

"That is one of the goals it to simplify our rate structure. We have daylight and twilight rates, a weekend rate, packages. We are trying to simplify those rates in consideration of the regional competition."

The golf course, which lost the county about $180,000 last year, is projected to lose tens of thousands more this year.

For that reason, Aldridge said whatever proposal is presented to the Quorum Court should be detailed with specific proposals instead of broad ideas. He added that the Court would also need to give the golf course time to make a success of whatever proposal is presented and possibly adopted.

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"I don't think it would be fair of the Quorum Court to say you have one year to pull this out," he said. "If they come back with a two or three year plan and showed consistent strides of getting there, I think that would be acceptable to most of us. But they have to come with a hard, fast plan and a plan that is achievable. If they say their goal is to increase rounds, that don't get it. They have to (have hard numbers and projections) and this is how we will go do it."

The Cypress plan, with recommendations from both advisory boards against it, and the proposal from Hudson and the advisory boards will be under consideration during the March 18 meeting of the Quorum Court.

Aldridge reminds residents that the meeting is open to the public and there will be an opportunity for public comments during the meeting.

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Comments

Different Thinking

Ben Geren golf course adds quality-of-life to the citizens of Fort Smith. Any thoughts of not continuing with the course would be a mistake. However, I suggest a different approach. Why not let Steve Nichols have complete management control, with goals and incentives built-in for him? Don't just pay him and it just be a job. Allow him to use his passion to manage as many moneymaking sidelines as possible for profit centers. Yes, Golf is down across the country in this economy, but the main complaint I've heard from golfers who are not using Ben Geren is that the county let the course go down so much in it's care. Take care of the course and they will come! Yes I believe that we should manage our parks as efficiently as possible, but I also know that parks aren't necessarily supposed to always make a profit. It's about quality of life. I love our Ben Geren golf course, and I believe in this case that you have to spend money to make money.

Different Thinking Ben Geren

I concur. I have played this course since it opened in the Seventies. It's not in the shape it once was but the personnel is better . With FH charging $30,000 for membership , Hardshrabble at $4700 and Chaffee 9 hole struggling where else can the blue collar person Afford to play. Please treat this Park like All the others. Adjust rates according to time & quantity of play with Family Day packages & Charity Fund Raiser Opportunities . What a Great Compliment to All the other activities in the Park ie Water Park, etc.

Bone Head Thinking

The Ben Geren Golf Course is an image of Fort Smith and County Management and needs to be a jewel of pride for the community. With that said, the taxpayers have been soaked for somewhere in excess of 60 million dollars to build and fund the Convention Center that loses about 1 million dollars every year and now your boys in control of the purse strings are saying that the city and county can't afford a quality public golf course while spending 11 or 12 million on a new water park that is way over priced.