Close Menu
Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Golf management debate in Ocean Pines going public

(Feb. 5, 2015) Looking to provide a little clarity on the future of the golf course, the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors announced a public meeting on Saturday, Feb. 14, when three companies will present their pitch to manage the course.
Current management Billy Casper Golf, Salisbury collective Haley/Marshall and Lincoln, Neb. group Landscapes Unlimited will all have a chance to make their case to the public at the country club from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
OPA Board Parliamentarian Tom Terry said a committee, sponsored by the board and includes himself, Board President Dave Stevens and Board Treasurer Jack Collins, has been negotiating with the three companies behind the scenes.
“We’ve had the sessions where the vendors have been able to provide proprietary information to us, but we’ve really not had an opportunity for these vendors to talk to the members,” Terry said. “We just thought it was appropriate for the members, both players and non-golf players, to have an opportunity to meet and hear from these folks.”
Terry admitted it was unusual for vendors to speak publicly while Casper continues to operate under contract.
“It’s all part of a request for proposal,” he said. “That’s how we got here, we ended up with three companies filing for proposal. It is unique to be doing this while we’re still under contract, but this effort was part of that contract. It was understood that we would be looking at the current situation and be looking for a possible fallback if things weren’t going well.
“This is not something that Casper wasn’t aware of, but it is unique,” Terry continued.
According to Terry, the genesis of the debate over whether to retain Casper began during the first year of management, when the board commissioned separate studies by the USGA Golf Association and another party to evaluate the condition of the course.
“We’d been trying to manage the course ourselves for a while and we’d had a pretty rough weather August, when some of our greens had been damaged by the heavy rains and very hot weather,” Terry said. “These folks assessed the course and said, ‘Look, after 40 years of not rebuilding your greens, you need to refurbish things.’”
Terry said the board decided to “bite the bullet” and overhaul the course, nine holes at a time.
“As we were doing nine holes at a time, obviously we didn’t have an 18-hole golf course,” Terry said. “They did the best they could, but the biggest issue that’s raised is there were some estimates of how well they might be able to do with a nine-hole course, and they tried their best and it was just way off.”
Casper posted losses of more than $500,000 during the first year of repairs.
“That is directly attributable to the fact that we didn’t have an 18-hole course,” Terry said. “It was under repair, we weren’t getting any package deals and we were basically stumbling along the best we could with nine holes.
“Depending on which side of the argument you’re on, you can blame Casper for that or you can say they did the best they could, but their budgetary estimates were not close,” Terry said. “It wasn’t anywhere near a half million that first year, and that’s what really caused a lot of the fervor. People got concerned about it, and that’s understandable.”
Terry, who served as president of the board during the down years at the course, placed some of the blame on himself.
“We didn’t, meaning me, communicate clear enough that when we went to invest in this course for the long term, there could potentially be some real revenue hits that we would take,” he said. “No one anticipated that big a hit, and that was the biggest issue.”
The pro-Casper crowd, according to Terry, point to the improved financial and aesthetic condition of the course during the last few years.  
“They’re saying, ‘Look what’s happened since we got the 18 holes back.’ We started getting more outside play, package play, and the trends are good,” Terry said. “They see the positive change.
“In the end, the Ocean Pines Association made the decision through their board of directors to invest in an amenity to return it to the top condition where it is today,” Terry continued. “Everybody says the course is in great shape, including everybody who is bidding on the course.”
Kevin Hughes, president of the member’s council at the course, is one the Casper supporters.
“When I first joined there, the golf course was a disaster,” he said. “Before Casper, the greens were like putting on craters on the moon. They were just awful.”
Hughes agreed the course repairs were necessary and said the improvement now is noticeable.
“In the last three years, it’s really one of the nicest courses down here,” he said. “They’re doing a good job, Casper, especially the maintenance crew, and [financially] they’re making a steady improvement.”
Hughes said he does not have any familiarity with the other bidders, but recommended the community keep Casper.  
“We’re going in the right direction,” he said. “To overcome those deficits from the time they started with the course that they were handed to what the course looks like today and how everything is steadily improving, why change?”
The last time the board held a meeting on golf, a capacity crowd filled up the small boardroom and overflowed into the hallway, with a number of residents speaking in defense of Casper.
“Obviously, in the last meeting, there was a group of folks who showed up to show their support for Casper,” Terry said. “Having talked to some of them, they showed up because they felt like there was a group of folks who were looking for change and they thought that things had gotten much better and that the course was in great shape. They have every right to show up and voice their opinion.”
Terry expects more of a mixed audience during the next meeting.
 “I assume we will have a nice-sized crowd of folks this time, some will be there to learn about all three of the vendors, some I’m sure will be defenders of Casper,” Terry said. “By the nature of the event, you’re going to have people show up who are pro-golf course, anti-golf course, pro-Casper, anti-Casper, some looking for new and different solutions.”
Although Casper is clearly on the hot seat in Ocean Pines, Terry stopped short of labeling the meeting as a referendum on their management.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “I would say it is an assessment of what is the best future. The referendum has already happened when folks got up in arms about the half-million dollars in losses.
“It’s all a matter of getting our facts and figures, which is what we’re trying to do looking forward again,” Terry continued. “This meeting on the 14th is an opportunity for the members to come meet, listen to and ask questions of these folks.”
Last week, the board attempted to quell speculation that an extreme measure on the course was on the table, voting to stipulate, “the Ocean Pines golf course will stay open and will continue to serve the members of the OPA and the community. The board is committed to ensuring that the OPA has a top quality golf course.
“The course is open and ready to provide a positive golf experience,” the statement continued. “The Ocean Pines course is in excellent condition and the ongoing management of the course will be focused on maintaining that high level of product and customer service.”
The statement added that the community would honor all commitments made during the evaluation period and that the board is reviewing the condition of the course, player experience and financial status in evaluating potential new management.
“This is all an effort to make sure that, going forward, we have someone to take care of this amenity that we just returned to good condition, and someone who can assure that, if there are losses, that they are held as low as possible,” Terry said. “At the end of the day all the amenities together, after the revenues have been generated, it’s a $2 subsidy per member. You want them to do as well as they can, and that’s what we want for the golf course.”