Letter to the editor from Gary Shea, Brigantine:
There seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over the issue with what to do with the Links at Brigantine golf course. As the owner of a Golf Travel & Events company , I have attempted to bring what I perceived as problems with the golf course to the attention of the proper authorities for almost 2 years, long before Hurricane Sandy hit us. Unlike many who have expressed opinions, I have worked successfully within the industry for the last 10 years and have arduously researched the situation and discussed it with many of my fellow professionals and golf operators within the industry as a whole and within our local golf market itself.
There are a few simple truths to this issue with the primary one being that the golf course is almost 90 years old. It is in desperate need of the type of basic renovation or modernization that the city would do with any of its other assets whether it was a building, sewerage systems, machinery, etc. A common industry anecdote is that a golf operator is asked, “What are the 3 basic elements of a good golf course?” with the response being, “drainage, drainage and drainage.” The Brigantine golf course simply no longer drains properly. This is no one’s fault other than it was built at a time when it was the highest point on the island and at a time when people walked to play golf not predominantly ride in golf carts that carry in excess of 1,000 pounds of weight on four 6” to 8” wide wheels as they have since the late 80s.
The golf course business is a very specialized and risky business with a low profit margin and small markup as compared to industries dealing with other products or services. This is not typically the type of business that would be put in the hands of municipal officials for oversight because they are simply not qualified to provide that oversight. The fact that we find ourselves at somewhat of a crisis point with very expensive consequences is a testament to this. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that the taxpayers of Brigantine know and understand the real issues so they can be sure that our public officials deal with the issue in the proper manner.
With that in mind, please allow me to clarify or correct comments made within the last 2 months in numerous sources such as newspapers, web sites and public meetings:
1.) People have stated that improvements would increase the price of golf for residents to anywhere from $110 to $150 per round. This is untrue and these are simply ridiculous numbers that are being repeated irresponsibly. The truth of the issue is that allowing the golf course to continue to deteriorate at its present rate would be more inclined to increase the price of golf for Brigantine residents than an investment in the golf course. Brigantine residents receive a discount that is subsidized by golfers whom are not from Brigantine who pay a higher price to play a round of golf. It is within this group of people where the biggest fall off in play has occurred. Sooner more than later, residents will have to pay more in order to keep the course open; either in golfing fees and real estate taxes.
2.) “We don’t need a ‘State of the Art’ golf course.” This is true. The falsity of the statement lies in the fact that the necessary work as I explained previously has nothing to do with creating a ‘State of the Art’ golf course. It will simply result in much improved drainage and improved areas of play that will keep the Brigantine golf course competitive within the market.
3.) The golf course would have to be closed for 2 years for renovations. This is again is a confusing statement. It would take 2 years to complete the renovations only if the renovations were done 9 holes at a time leaving the other 9 holes open for play. Most golf course architects who have designed local golf courses, including the gentleman who produced the 2005 study commissioned by Brigantine, agree that if construction began after Labor Day of any year, they would expect the course to reopen the following summer to limited play, and re-open for full play in the fall. Basically 1 year. There are numerous examples of this schedule both locally and throughout the industry.
4.) The term ‘Developer’ is being used in a very deceptive manner. If the city chose to go the route of offering a long term lease to a group that would finance the renovation/modernization, that group would be ‘Golf Course Operators,’ meaning companies that specialize in the construction, operation, management and maintenance of golf courses.
5.) “The city could perform some of the golf course work internally or the City Engineer and the Golf Course Superintendent can solve this problem.” Unfortunately, this is simply not true. We are very lucky to have a very competent and concerned City Engineer in Ed Stinson. We are equally lucky to have an extraordinary Superintendent in Tom Dale. But neither of these talented gentlemen is best qualified to solve this problem. Golf course/landscape architecture is a very specialized field and requires the services of a qualified architect specializing in this field.
6.) “There are intermediate or alternate solutions to the problem.” There are not. There are no band-aids that can be applied and the worst thing the city could do is try to ‘wait it out’ until the full debt on the golf course is paid. According to the city’s figures, over $800,000 has been taken out of the golf course utility surplus fund since the end of 2008 to make up for losses at the golf course. Over $350,000 has used so far this year alone. Within the next year, the remaining money in the fund will be gone and our politicians will be asking the taxpayers to subsidize the losses.
7.) “The problem will fix itself when the economy gets better.” It will not. The course condition will continue to deteriorate as part of the normal agronomical cycle. Meadows become swamps and swamps become meadows unless acted upon by any outside force. The golf course as it is now because of its inability to drain water from the playing area is in the early process of becoming a swamp.
8.) Rounds of golf are up at the golf course. This is true only because the management has had to go the extreme of offering rounds of golf on Tuesday at $25 per round in order to generate play. This results in more wear and tear, which requires more maintenance, all for less money. Do not be fooled by those who suggest that increased rounds indicate that only minor problems exist. It is the decreased revenue that really matters.
As I stated previously, golf course ownership is a very risky business. People don’t buy golf courses to get rich. Owners of golf courses are generally wealthy individuals or companies to start with who can afford to absorb any losses that a poorly performing golf course will generate. Often they own multiple golf courses in order to limit the risk from one poorly performing golf course. More often in the past 10 – 20 years, golf course ownership is subsidized by home or hotel room sales.
Ultimately it is up to our elected officials to make the best decision on how to proceed. To do this, they and the residents of Brigantine need to have as much accurate information as possible. Residents of Brigantine must ask themselves whether or not they are willing to assume the risk and absorb the losses for a poorly performing golf course.
Gary Shea, Brigantine