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St. Johns golf course is money down the hole

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Updated: 8/30/2013 12:01 am
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- When business was good, more than 65,000 rounds were played at the St. Johns Golf Club each year, but that number has dropped as a result of the economy. Now, taxpayers are losing money on the county-run course year after year, and County Commissioner Bill McClure wonders if it's time to let go.

"Demand is decreasing and pressure from nearby private courses is increasing. Whenever you lose money, you need to look at options."

With decisions about how to spend the county's general fund budget still in discussion, McClure is asking taxpayers if maintaining the course is still worth the price. So far, he says, the feedback is overwhelming.

"They're almost all telling me that if you can sell it, sell it. If you can manage it to a profit, get it to a third party leasing company right away."

Danny Winn lives near the course and has teed off there a few times each month since he moved to the area in 2004. Conditions, he says, aren't what they used to be.

"They need money to run it properly. They have good periods and they have really bad periods, and that makes it hard for people to want to spend their money here."

McClure tells Action News he's hesitant to support spending more to maintain the course. He says it lost $832,234 over the past five years, and is expected to lose $150,000 this year. While he credits current management in their effort to cut loses to their lowest point, he wonders when a profit is realistically attainable. He thinks the county has more important needs in infrastructure and safety.

"We have over $10 million sunk into the cost of the golf course. Enough is enough, and at some point in time we're going to need to keep subsidizing it or we need to get rid of it and move on."

Winn isn't convinced the county needs to sell, but says an outside management company might be a good option. He believes the St. Johns Golf Club could be a tourist destination once again, if the money to maintain it is ever there.

"They're trying the best that they can, but a third party company may be in order at least as far as the maintenance of the course."

The Director of Parks and Recreation for St. John's County, Will Smith, says the course management team has been working to reduce loss. Over past two years, they've reduced staff levels, closed nine of the original 27 holes, and lowered rates to open the course to more players.

"We've made cuts without sacrificing service, and the staff is doing a great job. I believe we are on the right track. We're getting closer to a breaking point, and will keep pushing forward to get there."

Smith adds that approximately two years ago the county submitted requests for proposals from outside maintenance management companies, but it was determined that keeping the club under control of the county was the most efficient option.

The St. Johns County Commission will hold a budget hearing on Tuesday. McClure is asking taxpayers to share their thoughts with him, on this and other county-run venues, before that meeting.

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