Keep golf course management, group says


The Columbia Association's budget advisory committee has recommended that management of the troubled Hobbit's Glen Golf Club should not be contracted to an outside company, reasoning that the course's poor financial performance is a symptom of its damaged greens, not mismanagement.

But the committee suggested that the association look into alternative management for the course if the club's financial status does not improve within a few years after the greens are rebuilt.

The budget committee endorsed the association's $679,000 proposal to rebuild 16 greens and replace the grass on four at Hobbit's Glen. Association managers have blamed the damaged greens on a variety of things, including poor original course construction, the 35-year-old age of the course and turf disease.

The course ended the past fiscal year with a $413,000 loss - $191,000 more than budgeted. The association attributed that poor financial performance to problems with the greens and wet weather.

But some residents, including a group of longtime golfers, have blamed the damaged greens on the course's management.

Budget advisory committee member Andy Stack pointed out, however, that Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills Golf Club, the association's other golf club, have the same management and Fairway Hills "looks fine."

"So there is not any reason why the management shouldn't be given the opportunity to raise the income back up," he said at the association directors' latest work session on the $45.8 million fiscal 2004 budget Thursday night.

One member of the committee - made up of residents who worked independently from Columbia Association's board and staff - disagreed with the recommendation.

Joel Yesley said that he agrees the greens should be rebuilt, but that the course should have new management "as soon as possible." He said it would be advantageous to approach outside contractors now because they could oversee the greens being rebuilt.

Yesley said the management "leaves a lot of room for improvement. I don't think we can blame weather or poor construction techniques for all the problems with the greens."

The committee members noted the seriousness of the Hobbit's Glen cash loss.

"We just lost a lot of money in that course, and it should really have never happened," committee member Roy Appletree said.

Stack said the course should be bringing in "a lot of money," and if the club continues to lose income it would have "serious repercussions" for the association.

The board did not debate the committee's report, but it likely will discuss it during work sessions before it is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget Feb. 19 or 20.

The budget committee also reported that it would not support lien reductions, free outdoor pools or stipends for association directors in light of the budget deficit. The association's long-term debt is projected to be $78.2 million at the start of next fiscal year.

Some board members and residents have been tossing around ideas that include free pools or a reduction in the annual lien - 73 cents per $100 of valuation on 50 percent of the fair market value - because the association is projecting a $4.4 million surplus for the 2004 fiscal year.

But the committee report called that money a "surplus mirage" because although the association is projecting a $4.4 million increase in net assets, it is also estimating a $3.4 million shortfall.

Committee Chairwoman Kathy Larson said she would never recommend that the 23 outdoor pools be free.

"Before you look at free pools ... you ought to remember people don't always value things they receive for nothing," she told the board.

The committee recommended that the proposal to give the 10 board members $5,000 stipends if he or she attends at least 80 percent of the meetings should be eliminated from the budget and examined in the context of improving the overall governance of the association.

Committee member Jeff Gold said the panel believed the stipend would be a "major philosophical change to how we govern." The board has never been paid.

"If you start putting a financial reward in, you may attract a different type of person," he said.

Instead of paying the board, the committee suggested that time demands on directors be reduced. One way to do that would be to adopt a two-year budget cycle, rather than the current annual cycle, the committee reported.

Appletree said a biennial cycle would be practical because most of the association's budget is relatively "in place" from year to year.

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