OCEAN PINES — Getting the golf course in shape is no longer merely a priority of OPA General Manager Bob Thompson. This week the board of directors officially gave Thompson license to prepare a detailed plan for fixing up the course and pitching it to them.
Thompson caused a bit of a stir last month when he proposed the directors consider lifetime memberships to the golf course as a way of getting the immediate funding the course needs without tapping into either the OPA reserves or the pockets of the general membership.
At the October board of directors meeting Thompson proposed offering 40 lifetime memberships at $25,000 apiece to fund the $1.7 million course rehabilitation project. At the current membership fees, he said, the lifetime membership would pay for itself in just under 8 years.
The rehab would include an aggressive tree-removal program, re-instituting funding for the golf course drainage program and rebuilding the greens at all 18 holes. The drainage program was suspended this year as the new management company, Billy Casper Golf (BCG), came on board. They have since been reviewed and assented to the program.
At the time, the notion didn’t seem to have a lot of support, especially since the work it was predicated on required convincing a significant number of people to spend a lot of money.
“I realized that asking for $1.7 million wasn’t realistic. I was just providing the eventual cost for the work,” Thompson said. “It’s just too much to bite off and chew right now.”
This week, Thompson suggested a similar program scaled back by half that would still be funded by a lifetime membership program.
Thompson said doing only the front nine would cost about $435,000. He said that after speaking with members of the golfing community he was confident he could secure the 18 lifetime memberships that would be needed to fund it.
Should the board accept this plan, Thompson told him the contractors could have all the work done before April and the course ready for play by May 21.
Thompson said should he put together a plan that the directors accept, current members would be allowed to play on other courses as part of a courtesy deal that could be arranged by BCG. He said he had discussed the possibility with Damien Crosby, the golf professional, and was given to understand that it is a common practice and usually a deal easily made.
The motion that followed, proposed by Pete Gomsak, did not endorse the plan directly nor did it commit the board to passing whatever final plan Thompson proposed. As he put it, the only thing the motion did was give Thompson’s investigations the backing of the board.
Gomsak worried, and the majority agreed, that without the board’s endorsement it might appear as if Thompson was running around trying to put together a plan the board had evinced no interest in.
Most critically, the motion mentions the lifetime membership option as something the board is willing to consider. By adding that specific piece, it is expected that Thompson will have greater credibility when making his case to members.
Board Member Bill Wentworth was concerned that not enough revenue and market reach numbers were available to consider the plan fully. Of specific concern was the notion that after a lifetime membership paid for itself — at current rates the lifetime membership pays for itself after 8 years — the free play would end up being a drain on revenues.
Since a portion of the course is funded by membership revenue, he and several other directors worried about losing that money in the long term.
Gomsak said that, as membership has declined, the course has had to rely on more outside play, rounds purchased by non-members, which he said was trending up.
According to Gomsak, golf revenues have increased generally over the last five years. Moreover, in the past, outside play accounted for about 12 percent. In recent years it has more than doubled, he said, accounting now for 29 percent of play.
Board member Ray Unger was against the proposal. He said given the number of repairs that will be needed at the other amenities, such as the Yacht Club, the Beach Club and the Country Club spending money on golf was a mistake.
Board Member Dave Stevens, in a related motion, asked for a meeting with BCG. Stevens wanted to get direct answers about rounds, plans and the upcoming budget from the management company responsible for golf operations rather than through Thompson.
The board agreed to set up a meeting. Tom Terry, board president, said such a meeting had been in the works for some time. A date was not set at the meeting but will be forthcoming.