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Dunedin takes lead to turn around golf courses

The city of Dunedin apparently will not lack for companies interested in managing its two city-owned golf courses. Even before the City Commission approved a Request for Proposals from such companies Thursday, the city had heard from three companies and at least one had shown up uninvited at the golf courses to look them over. That professional golf course management firms see Dunedin's courses as potentially profitable may indicate there is a way out of the money-losing operations there now.

There has been a lot of drama associated with the city's effort to seek much-needed professional management for the courses, but Thursday, the City Commission's vote to advertise the RFP was unanimous and there was not a hesitant moment by any commissioner. That kind of unity on this long-running controversy is important and should be noted by the leaders of the Dunedin Country Club.

The country club leases and operates the city's historic Donald Ross golf course that is adjacent to the smaller, city-owned and city-operated St. Andrews Links golf course. The two courses together lost hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2006 and 2008, and the country club repeatedly asked the city for a rent reduction as it struggled to get the club course in the black. The city had not collected rent in months.

However, as city officials began talking about putting out an RFP for professional managers, the country club handed over a $100,000 check it said was the back rent owed to the city. The club also said it did not care to be a party to the RFP process.

With the club caught up on rent so it is not in default on its 18-year lease, and with the club's relationship with the city seemingly prickly at best, hopes may be dashed that the club and the city could be partners in bringing in professional management for a two-course golf campus that would be a real attractor.

But Thursday, City Manager Rob DiSpirito and city commissioners still were bending over backward to try to keep the club in the loop.

A committee will be formed to evaluate the responses to the RFP, and DiSpirito said he believes a country club representative should join city staff and a consultant on that committee. "We're not afraid to have their input," he said.

DiSpirito said that in writing the required scope of services for the RFP, which is lengthy and detailed, the city attempted to represent the legitimate interests of both the city and the country club. He listed the interests that he believes the city and club have in common, including maintaining an outstanding golfing experience at an affordable price, maintaining the quality of the course, pursuing the potential for investment capital from outside parties, raising additional operating revenue and adding services.

Mayor Dave Eggers implored the club to "open up" and listen to those who respond to the RFP because "this is about financial survival." Responses are due by Aug. 25.

It is difficult to imagine why the country club, which has a declining membership roll, would want to be bound to a money-losing operation if that burden can be shifted to a private management company and benefit the entire community.

But given the rocky relationship between the two sides, the city was smart to ask those who respond to the RFP to also supply a proposal for managing just St. Andrews Links.

Dunedin takes lead to turn around golf courses 07/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 5:13pm]
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