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Dunedin Country Club pays city, remains intact

The Dunedin Country Club agrees to several changes, including placing a heavier emphasis on marketing to nonmembers.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

The Dunedin Country Club agrees to several changes, including placing a heavier emphasis on marketing to nonmembers.

DUNEDIN — After more than two years of bitter arguments, fragile negotiations and tough decisions, city commissioners are now welcoming the new leaders of the Dunedin Country Club: the Dunedin Country Club.

Keeping the club relatively intact, as commissioners indicated they will on Tuesday, is not the change some residents might have expected.

Saying earlier that the club's plummeting membership and requests for a cheaper lease on the city's land foretold a bad future for the course, the city began a search in July for management firms interested in operating the club and the nearby St. Andrews Links.

But that was before Friday, when club representatives delivered an $88,790 check to the city paying in full their debt for this year's lease. With the possibility of a default seeming less likely, and with the club's 22-year lease still under way, commissioners at a packed city workshop Tuesday said they had no ability to change the club's management.

That may be bad news for Billy Casper Golf, touted by its representatives as the largest city golf course management firm in the country. The firm offered to the city a lengthy proposal projecting increases in course membership and city revenue.

Billy Casper's senior vice president, Joe Goodrich, expressed surprise at hearing that the city would pursue a new agreement with existing management.

He also found fault with one of the city's main guides to club negotiations, a report by National Golf Foundation consultant Richard Singer.

His report suggested a nonprofit organization, like the club, would be most efficient, although the city should make sure it includes a professional manager. Even so, his report said, the city should not expect much revenue.

"I think that's a fallacy," Goodrich said. "You should expect a good return. … The city is maybe selling itself short."

Commissioners said the company still could pursue management of St. Andrews, a struggling public course. But Goodrich indicated that wouldn't be as sweet a deal as overseeing both courses, as St. Andrews will likely need a lot of work.

A new agreement between the city and the club outlines a number of changes to fix what were believed to be costly flaws.

The club, the agreement says, will place a heavier emphasis on welcoming and marketing to nonmembers, take responsibility for St. Andrews if needed, and pay for a number of improvements over the next five years. Most provisions are in sync with Singer's recommendations.

The club's annual obligation of paying 5 percent of its revenues to the city for its land has been bumped up a percentage point — starting five years out, and only if the club earns a certain amount.

And instead of the club's board of directors maintaining full leadership powers, general manager Debbie Logerquist will take over day-to-day operations.

Former Assistant City Manager Harry Gross approved of Logerquist's appointment, saying she had sales experience that was "far more important" than what he called a "lack of any golf facility experience in her resume."

Telling City Hall they believed the agreement would be in the public's best interest, commissioners said they hoped the years of push-and-pull would end.

"It takes what was and makes what's to be so much better," said Mayor Dave Eggers,

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin Country Club pays city, remains intact 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 9:06pm]

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