BROOKSVILLE — Dick Hansen hadn't played a round of golf at the Quarry Golf Course in nearly two years. But on Tuesday, after a quick round with his wife, Marylou, he had become a believer once again.
"It's always been a good course, now it's a great course," Hansen said as he loaded his clubs into his car. "They've done some good things to make it fun playing here. I'm looking forward to coming back."
Those are encouraging words to Bob Carson, who three months ago took a gamble by assuming control of the city-owned facility. Despite many attempts to make it a success, the nine-hole course had been a perennial money-loser for Brooksville, and a constant thorn in the side to budget-conscious city officials.
Carson thought he could change that. A former golf pro who once played on the PGA senior tour, he has dealt with ailing golf courses before. In 2007, he bought the bankrupt Whispering Oaks Golf & Country Club, the oldest golf course in Hernando County, and turned it back into a profitable operation.
Carson is intent on doing the same with the Quarry. After securing a five-year lease with the city in October he immediately began implementing a plan that included investing about $35,000 to $40,000 into drainage improvements and restoring neglected areas of the course.
The greens are drier, bare spots have been covered with sod and dips in the cart paths have been leveled out.
Although he says it's too early to make a complete assessment of his success so far, Carson believes he's on the right track.
Play is up about 25 percent over last year at this time. So much so, that he's had to add eight new carts to accommodate demand. In addition, Carson said his regulars are returning to the Quarry more frequently.
"Overall, I'm pretty pleased," Carson said this week. "What we're doing is different from what people were used to. The more the word gets out, I think the better it's going to be. By summer, the course will be looking great."
Carson's success with the Quarry will mean a lot for the city, which until the deal, was having to pay out nearly $150,000 to keep the golf course open.
Though the city will continue to have about $70,000 in annual obligations to the Quarry, it will receive in return a much improved property, said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha.
"It's a win-win for the city," Norman-Vacha said. "The work that's going on out there not only adds to the beauty of the property, it also adds to its value as well."
The Quarry became something of a political football two years ago during the city's budget hearings. Some critics of the facility urged City Council members to close the facility rather than continue losing roughly $150,000 a year to keep it open.
When a study last year by a golf business company showed an even greater investment would be needed to make the course financially sound, council members agreed to start looking for a suitable tenant. Carson was the only bidder.
Under the terms of the lease deal, Carson will pay no rent through September, but will begin paying $500 starting in October. A 10 percent annual increase will kick in starting in three years.
To make a profit, Carson said he had to make a few changes. Rates for play during peak morning times increased modestly to $12 including a cart, but are lower in the afternoon. And he's pursuing other revenue opportunities, including the sale of soft drinks, hot dogs and beer.
"Everything we do will be to enhance the golf course and the golfing experience," Carson said. "I know what it takes to make golfers happy. It's something you can't fake. If you do, you'll never get them to come back."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]