CLEARWATER — The city-owned golf course at Clearwater Country Club is looking a little ragged these days.
"If you go by the course, you can see there's been a certain amount of deferred maintenance," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "You look at the sand traps and other things — they're not in the best shape they've ever been."
The problem is that the company that operates the course on the city's behalf, Clearwater Country Club Management Inc., is in debt to its creditors and can't afford to keep up the maintenance. The company also has defaulted on its $200,000-a-year lease with the city, recently missing a $50,000 quarterly payment.
So Clearwater officials have decided to bring in new management at the public golf course beginning next week. They also plan to make improvements to the nearly 100-acre course off Drew Street northeast of downtown.
"I'm not just talking about the tee boxes and greens. I'm talking about the fairways, too," said city parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar. "We're going into the busiest time of the year, so we really need to get the course in top condition."
The City Council voted Wednesday night to hire a company named Clearwater Golf Club to run the course for seven months, beginning next Friday. This is described as a short-term solution, an interim period before the city decides who will operate the golf course over the long term.
Clearwater Golf Club officials have worked with the city before. They were hired to run the publicly owned Clearwater Executive Golf Course next to the Clearwater Air Park. They also own and operate Brooker Creek Golf Club.
The company plans to hire most of the Clearwater Country Club's existing staff.
Under its agreement with the city, the company will collect all revenues and pay all expenses at the golf course, and it will split any profits with the city 50/50.
Clearwater will pay the company a $10,000-a-month management fee, which Dunbar described as "the going rate."
Two years ago, the city bought the clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop and parking lot of the Clearwater Country Club for about $2 million.
In an unusual arrangement, the city had already owned the public golf course, but it didn't control the clubhouse needed to operate the course.
Clearwater Country Club Management, which owned the clubhouse at the time, was having trouble paying its mortgage, leading to fears that a bank would foreclose on the clubhouse and sell it to another buyer. So the City Council reluctantly bought the clubhouse to make sure it wouldn't lose control of the golf course.
Back then, Hibbard and Councilman Paul Gibson expressed doubts about the country club's ability to get the golf course in the black. They weren't surprised this week when it came time to bring in new management.
"This is disappointing, obviously, but I have to say not unexpected," Hibbard said. "I'm sad the previous management could not pull it off, but I think there's a brighter future down the road."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.