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Groups make pitch to manage Pines course

(Feb. 19, 2015) Three potential management groups made their final pitches to the Ocean Pines Association membership during a four-hour public meeting held at the country club on Saturday, Feb. 14.
Current management Billy Casper Golf, the Lincoln, Neb. company, Landscapes Unlimited, and the Salisbury-based partnership Haley/Marshall each made approximately 45-minute presentations, followed by an additional question-and-answer session with the audience.
OPA Board Treasurer Jack Collins prefaced the meeting by discussing financial numbers over the course during the last six years.
According to Collins, the course lost $200,000 in fiscal year 2009, followed by $204,000 in 2010, $317,000 in 2011, $288,000 in 2012, $536,000 in 2013 and $237,000 in 2014.  
“That’s not an indictment of anybody,” Collins said. “What it says is there’s something that perhaps should be looked at. That’s why a movement was created one way or another that threatened the well being of the golf course.”
The persistent negative numbers, Collins said, triggered a movement by some last summer to convert the course into a public park.
Last week the board affirmed its intention to keep the course open, which Collins underscored.
“We know that you’re never going to be profitable as far as a golf course is concerned,” he said. “But we, as a board, have a fiscal responsibility to you guys.”
The board issued a request for proposals last year, looking for management groups interested in running the course. Collins said 10 parties expressed interest, and five submitted formal proposals.
The board, aided by a select committee, narrowed the list to three names.
“This is designed to benefit the Ocean Pines Association as a whole, the golfers in particular, and anybody who is interested in the well being of the OPA,” Collins said.
Joel Gohlmann, senior vice president of operations, spoke on behalf of Casper, focusing on a positive financial trend during the last three years.
Gohlmann projected an $88,282 loss in fiscal year 2015, showing more than $1.4 million in revenue for the year and representing a $200,000 improvement.
According to Gohlmann, the course also experienced a second-consecutive “year-over-year” growth of more than $200,000.
“We feel those numbers are very realistic,” Gohlmann said, adding the $80,000 loss would be the best showing at the course in more than a decade.
Citing expected growth in package play and resident play during the next fiscal year, Gohlmann forecast a $16,000 loss in 2016, although he admitted that number was “fairly aggressive” and needed “a little help from mother nature.”
Mark Mattingly, vice business development for Landscapes Unlimited, promised to build a stronger relationship with the membership of the OBA.
With 16 public courses in the immediate area, Mattingly said he would focus instead on competing with the two private courses and addressing the drop in membership.
Mattingly said his three priorities in potentially managing the course were making a concerted effort to connect with the residents of Ocean Pines, engaging with the existing membership and introducing new programs that were consistent with the “lifestyle choices” of residents in Ocean Pines.
Bob Haley and Michael Marshall touted their roots in the area, as well as his Marshall’s multi-billion dollar company and extensive experience in the hospitality industry.
“Ocean Pines gave me my start,” Haley, a golf pro since 1972, said. “Ocean Pines has always been great to me. We’re just very, very happy to be here.”
Haley said the club was in good shape financially due to the lack of debt tied to loans, and stressed the importance of “getting the membership back.”
According to Marshall, his company replaced Casper during a similar situation at the Green Hill Country Club in Quantico, helping the course turn a profit after years of poor financials.
Marshall suggested using his base of hotels “across the country” to feed traffic to the golf course, and said he would cover the “nuts and bolts” and food and beverage side of operations, while Haley specifically oversees golf.
Collins said the meeting went well.
“I thought it was a template for other major issues that come before the board and Ocean Pines,” he said. “When other outside vendors are involved in major issues, it might be at our advantage to hold a similar public forum.
“I think it was a healthy exercise,” Collins continued. “I’ve gotten some very, very positive callbacks. They said the meeting went well and everybody had an opportunity to express themselves.”
Board Parliamentarian Tom Terry, who headed a committee with Collins in selecting management candidates, was also upbeat following the meeting.
“I think we gave each of the companies a chance to show how they would approach the golf challenge in Ocean Pines,” he said. “Some of them were very focused on membership growth only, while others were more of a mix of outside play and package play as well as continuing to grow the membership. I think they all had their differences and they all had their strengths.
“All-in-all, the meeting achieved what we wanted it to, which was giving these companies a chance to present to our members and to get questions directly from them,” Terry continued. “There were some very good questions about how they would grow the membership and how they would market it. It was a very engaged, very long meeting.”
Board President Dave Stevens said he was pleased despite the relatively low turnout.  
“There were less people than I thought would be there, but I think the weather had something to do with that,” he said. “I think the presenters did a good job and I think the questions were good. The crowd, or 95 percent of them, were courteous and asking questions rather than giving speeches of opinion.”
Stevens said he would continue to seek public input and opinions throughout the week.
“It’s not so much that opinions are going to sway my decision, but there’s a lot of factors,” he said. “You have to do due diligence, you have to go back and re-read everything, and then you have to say the best thing that you can. That’s all we’re paid to do – all those big bucks – is figure out what we think it best.”
The board will hold a closed session on Friday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 a.m. to make a final decision on management of the course.
“I have no idea how it’s going to turn out,” Stevens said. “We’ll see.”