OCEAN PINES — OPA General Manager Bob Thompson had a pretty significant “To Do” list when he came on board and near the very top of the list was to find a fix for the golf course, along with the deteriorating Country Club and Yacht Club.
As a longtime resident of Ocean Pines, Thompson understood the difficulties of taking on all of these projects at once, especially when it came to funding them without hiking up assessments to the point where a complete member push back was inevitable.
While building repair is something the membership could very well support, there has been a sense for a long time in Ocean Pines that the golf course has become a kind of financial black hole. For years various administrations have been proposing one multi-million dollar fix after another with the promise that eventually the gold course will return to its former glory.
It was with this understanding of what might be called Golf Course Funding Weariness, that Thompson proffered a novel proposal to replace the course’s greens without having to tap the members for any more money.
He would sell $25,000 lifetime memberships to fund the full amount — estimated at about $900,000.
The novelty of the idea was that it would finally address the long-held but never demonstrated belief that golfers weren’t willing to go the extra mile in preserving the course, while making the decision a no-risk proposition for the rest of the OPA membership.
This week the board of directors passed a scaled back version of Thompson’s plan that would offer a smaller number of lifetime memberships, for less money, with the aim of letting the expected increased revenues and a portion of the annual assessment fees take care of the rest.
According to the proposal, a total of 33 lifetime memberships will be available and apportioned by price and age to willing members of the golf community. (see graphic)
The approved plan would allow the lifetime memberships to finance about half of the could course greens replacement project, netting around $450,000 for the OPA.
From a purely economic level, the lifetime memberships are a very good deal; a little too good, in fact, from the view of some of the directors.
In addition to having nearly unlimited access to rounds of golf, the lifetime membership will include, among other perks, cart rentals, access to the Billy Casper Golf-sponsored player improvement program, and a permanent locker in the clubhouse.
As part of putting the proposal together some board members and Thompson approached members of the golfing community to see if there was any interest in the program. During the discussion it appeared as if they expected to be able to sell many if not most of the memberships. If all were purchased the total amount would be nearly $600,000 or two-thirds of the estimated cost of the work.
Under the current plan, sales efforts will continue through the rest of the year with all money collected to go into a reserve account and used to pay for the second half of the 18 hole project.
Because the OPA board can be a fickle body, a provision will be added to the lifetime membership contract that refunds the money should the board of directors elect not to proceed with the second half of the green replacement.
Several directors feared that by offering so many lifetime memberships as such an attractive price, it would further cull the already dwindling membership numbers and cut significantly into the revenue that the OPA come to expect from golf memberships annually.
But board member Pete Gomsak pointed out that for most of the people he spoke with, the opportunity to help sponsor what they saw as much needed work was more important that the potential savings they might gain.
The golfers, he said, wanted to show their commitment not only to the course now but to the course in the future.
Director Dave Stevens was against the notion that there should be a private source of funding at the expense of potential future income. He said he thought the entire amount ought to be picked up by the OPA membership as a whole and paid for through loans and/or assessment increases.
Director Ray Unger disagreed. “Some people are concerned that the board isn’t really committed to getting the course into premium condition,” he said.
Unger was in support of getting the course repaired and back on a paying basis.
The board of directors approved the measure and directed Thompson to get a lawyer to draw up the contracts. Their expectation is that the contract won’t be more than a page or two long and will provide ample protection to the membership.