OCEAN PINES — When Dan Stachurski ran for the board of directors last year the primary question was whether he could overcome many Ocean Pines’ resident’s anger over his participation in the installation of the cover for the Sports Core pool. In a way he put those concerns to rest when he voted in the minority against spending $900,000 on redoing all 18 greens at the Ocean Pines Golf Club over the next two years.
In casting his no vote — which was insufficient to stop the approval — Stachurski warned the other directors about good intensions aimed at driving revenues and how easily they could completely evaporate.
At the time he helped pass the covered pool expenditure, he was swayed by the argument that it would help drive revenues, that it would pay for itself quickly and that it would be a wise out-of-budget expense. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine Stachurski voting any other way. As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy.
“I just can’t say, ‘There’s no way we can’t do this’,” he said.
Other directors were able to however and with the help of OPA Board of Directors President Tom Terry, who called in from his sick bed to participate in the vote, the board passed a measure allowing General Manager Bob Thompson to spend an amount not to exceed $900,000 on the renovation of all 18 greens over the course of the next two years.
Repairing the greens is the first step in a much longer process that will have to include continuing with the drainage project for the rest of the course and dealing with the needed tree removal around the course.
Additionally, some work may need to be done as Ocean Pines prepares to have one of its troubled bridges replaced which will likely require some golf course disturbance.
The vote to make the replacement commitment came after months of debate that followed an abysmal year at the OPA Golf Club. Last summer’s drought made the course and especially the greens unplayable during the height of the season.
When the board brought Billy Casper Golf (BSG) on board to run golf operations, part of the company’s appeal was its far reaching connections with package play.
Their far-reaching connections within the industry as well as their success in running similar clubs made BSC a good fit with the administration’s plan to revitalize the flagging golf course revenues.
Because they had a professional management team coming on board, Thompson suspended the golf drainage program for the fiscal 2011-2012 budget, reasoning that better insight to the courses long term requirements would be best with the input of BCG.
And for awhile it seemed as if it was a great choice.
But as the summer wore on and the course condition continued to deteriorate, BSG approached the OPA administration and warned them that the best course of action was to cancel outside play for the remainder of the season so as not to drive away potential return customers.
The administration agreed to the plan and began work on another directive to make enough repairs to keep the golf course viable for the 2012 season.
There were two options for repairing the greens — complete replacement to improve the drainage and an aggressive aeration program to ease the immediate need for replacement. Replacement, though, would have to be an eventual expense undertaken.
“The next best alternative is viewed as a distant second,” Director Pete Gomsak said in arguing for replacement now rather than the aeration program. “To me the risk is, in this current year, if we have a repeat in this golf season… [package players who are turned away again] will not be likely to return anytime soon.”
But director Dave Stevens, an avid golfer, said that he believed BSG could affect a turnaround without the new greens, adding that while he thought green replacement would benefit Ocean Pines, he couldn’t support the greens replacement.
“It pains me not to be able to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and do this’,” Stevens said. “But I can’t.” Stevens said he also believed the total meltdown of the green conditions was a “once-in-40-years occurrence.”
Another of his criticisms was that the plan for replacing the Country Club, which could possible affect the golf course, had not yet reached the stage where it could be approved.
Director Terri Mohr disagreed, saying that Stevens’ point was backwards.
“If we don’t need new greens, we don’t need a Country Club,” she said. Mohr further clarified that she wasn’t talking about whether or not to replace the aging building but that with no commitment to repair the golf course and make it playable, there was no need for a building at all, let alone a staff to run it.
Mohr, who is serving her first year as a director, said that the problem endemic to the Ocean Pines Association generally was that all repairs are considered too expensive and all replacements are argued out of relevance.
From her view, it was irresponsible of the board of directors to continue to make insufficient repairs for fear of the cost and allow the golf course as well as the other amenities to continue to slide into disrepair.
It was a notion with which Stachurski agreed to a point. It took the opportunity to make it clear that his objection was that the expense — $450,000 per year for the next two years — was not budgeted and therefore the decision should be postponed until a new budget or, more preferable, put to referendum.
Director Ray Unger, who would end up voting in the minority, said that there was money in the budget for a large project, just not the golf course. He pointed out that the directors had earmarked $600,000 for repairs at the Yacht Club that would go unused this fiscal year as the fate of the club remains undecided.
This provided some traction with the directors, but Stachurski’s objections went beyond legitimizing the funding question.
He reiterated his point that it was a lot of money to spend without a referendum, adding this was especially true given that it was a not-to-exceed amount. Because the project has not been bid widely — although Thompson assured the board that, with their approval it would be — there was no contract in place for the board to review.
Stachurski said that without a contract to review and given all the potential problems with the expense he couldn’t support the motion, although he wasn’t against the idea, generally, of working to fix the golf course.
In the end the board approved a motion 4-3 directing the general manager to bid out complete green replacement for all 18 holes for an amount not to exceed $900,000.
According to Thompson the way the work will be completed is with nine holes completely gutted, restructured and replaced with a better drainage system before May of this year and the other nine holes before May 2013.
The original plan was to have all of the holes done this year — nine in the early spring and nine in the late fall — but because the season was so extended by favorable fall weather the decision was made to try and keep the course online as late as possible into 2012.
By slating the work for the nearly unplayable months of February to April 2013, the OPA hopes to be able to drive revenue a little better should next fall be as mild as this one was.