Category Archives: Golf

It’s Time to Take a Stand

For the past six weeks, members of the resident-driven Golf Course Finance Advisory Committee have met to discuss whether there exists a viable alternative to continuing to operate the golf course as-is. The committee is comprised of residents of the community, some who voted for the course, some who voted against the course, some who golf, some who do not golf, but all of whom are dedicated to carefully researching the issues and acting in the best interest of Cedar Hills.

This re-convening of the committee came about because Councilman Rob Crawley decided to perform an analysis of the golf course and present to residents an “Option B”–an alternative to keeping the golf course. This is not the first time that a different option has been explored. Several years ago, staff and city officials spent many hours meeting with legal and financial experts, researching ways to reduce the golf course debt. The result of this research and consultation was the reconfiguration of the golf course that allowed the creation of the paper lots known as St. Andrews Estates. While the intentions of this process were good, the reconfiguration was costly, the hoped-for sale of the lots did not materialize, and St. Andrews Estates remains undeveloped.

Nevertheless, the committee was reconvened, and has spent many hours analyzing the financial, legal, and economic factors related to a possible Option B. Because the committee is close to completing their research and plans to present a comprehensive report to residents, I won’t dive into all of the details here. I will say however that the vast majority of the committee members agree that the “Option B” presented to them is based on so many unknowns and questionable assumptions that they cannot support it as a viable option.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the golf course. I stated then that I have not seen any alternate proposals that made sense either legally or financially for the city. Sitting through weeks of these committee meetings has reaffirmed this view. The Option B presented is full of assumptions and maybes presented as fact. I do not believe it is wise for the city to face the legal and financial risks of abandoning the golf course, based on one person’s hopes and assumptions.

Within the next few weeks, this committee will release its findings and recommendations to the city. My hope is that every resident will read through it and ask every elected official and every Council candidate where they stand. All of the current elected officials have attended most, if not all, of these meetings. Most of the Council candidates have attended many of the meetings. We’ve heard the options, the debate, the challenges, the pros and cons. All elected officials and candidates now have enough information to take a stand, one way or the other. So ask them what they feel is the best option.

I’ve heard Rob Crawley and two of the Council candidates state that they don’t know what the best option is, and they want it to go to a vote of the residents. Our legal counsel has stated that the City Council can’t put this on a ballot, so these same three people have suggested the city needs to conduct a survey to assess the position of the residents on the issue of the golf course. However, this is not a new issue, and the position of Cedar Hills residents on this issue has been made very clear in repeated elections; candidates who advocate continuing to operate the golf course in a financially responsible manner have done well, while those who advocate abandoning the golf course have fared poorly. Likewise, citizens who have given public comments in city meetings, or provided comments on social media and other forums have largely supported the continued, financially responsible operation of the golf course. These comments should be given weight, just as candidates have given weight to citizen comments regarding high-density housing in the city.

The role of a City Council member is to make wise decisions on issues impacting the city and its residents based on the best information available—conversations with citizens, discussions with subject matter experts, careful analysis, etc.  The issue of what to do with the golf course is one on which there is no shortage of information, and one on which every candidate should have a clear position. At every Council meeting elected officials are expected to make decisions that impact the city. Candidates should be able and willing to take a clear position on an issue without taking a poll. And if they maintain that a poll is absolutely necessary in order to gauge the position of the citizens on the issue of the golf course, the most effective way to accomplish that is to make it a campaign issue by taking a position on it. The highest turnout we’ve had for a city-wide survey is only approximately 300 residents, whereas in just this last primary election, we had over 1500 ballots submitted. I challenge each candidate to make a statement telling residents what they feel is the best option for the city with regards to the golf course, just as most have done with regards to high-density housing this election cycle. Show residents your leadership and ability to make decisions and let them vote for those who support their views on what they feel is best for the city.

Golf Course

The golf course is a hot topic in our city. I’ll start by saying that I did not live in Cedar Hills when the golf course started, nor when it was voted on by residents, so my understanding of the history comes from various conversations I’ve had with previous elected officials and residents who lived here during that time. I’m sure many of you already know the history of how the golf course came to be so I won’t include that here.

My goal as a member of the City Council isn’t to look backwards and discuss what could have been done differently, but to look forward and figure out the best course of action for the present and future. Our reality is that we have a bond to pay on the golf course, and that debt will be ours for the next 20 years. I’ve heard some state that we should shut down the course and turn it into something else. Here are some of my concerns with this.

  1. As mentioned above, we do have a bond to pay for the golf course. Being concerned or feeling frustrated about the amount we pay for that bond each year is valid; however, turning the golf course into something else doesn’t remove that debt.
  2. If we were to shut down the golf course and convert it into a park, we would have to bond again to reconfigure it into park space. I had someone tell me that we could just change the sign from city golf course to city park and not make any changes. While that is an option, my feeling is that most residents wouldn’t consider the golf course, as is, a viable park. Our other park spaces have playground equipment for children, pavilion space for family gatherings, trees for shade, and flat space for youth sports. The golf course offers none of these amenities. While it is true that kids could just play on the grass, my guess is that most families in Cedar Hills would want amenities like the other parks. We do not have the money available to convert the course into parks like the others, so we would have to obtain more debt to convert it. Additionally, parks require maintenance, so we would continue to budget for maintenance while eliminating all revenue coming through the golf course in the form of green fees, tournaments, and pro shop sales.
  3. There is a high potential for a lawsuit if the city were to shut down the golf course. The homes in the Cedars were built as part of a development agreement granting open space in exchange for density. Shutting down the golf course would violate those development agreements. Additionally, approximately half of the golf course is located in Highland and is part of their open space plans. They expect us to honor the agreement entered into when they allowed us to build a golf course in their city.

I am not opposed to exploring alternatives to the golf course, but I haven’t yet seen a proposal that makes sense for the city from a financial and legal perspective. I believe that the best course of action is to reduce the debt as much as possible and to work to increase revenues.

We have done a few things over the past four years to accomplish this goal. In 2012 we refinanced the golf course bond at a new lower rate of 2.47%, which equates to a total savings of approximately $500,000 over the life of the loan. Staff has worked hard to increase the number of golf tournaments from 28 in 2012 to 42 in 2014. We have already had 37 tournaments through the end of May this year. Season pass revenue has increased from $35,436 in 2012 to $78,114 in 2014. While these things haven’t eliminated the golf course subsidy, they have helped reduce it. However, I don’t see a time when the golf course won’t receive a subsidy for operations and the bond payment.

I’m not a golfer and I wish we weren’t in the golf course business. That being said, I recognize that we have a financial obligation to pay the bond and a legal obligation to fulfill our part of any development agreements entered into with the golf course. If any alternatives are presented that make financial and legal sense, I would be happy to research and discuss them at length with the Council and with residents. In the meantime, I would love to hear ideas on how to increase resident use of the golf course, whether that be additional golf camps, additional free passes, or through other ideas you may have.