Advisory group rejects lone bid to manage Ben Geren Golf Course

story by Ryan Saylor

Prospects of an outside company managing the golf course at Ben Geren Golf Course appear dim as two Sebastian County advisory boards have voted not to recommend moving forward with a proposal from Orlando, Fla.-based Cypress Golf Management to take over control of the golf course from the county.

According to County Judge David Hudson, the proposed rate of $6,000 per month to manage the facility and other high fees were just too much for both the Parks Advisory Board and the Golf Stakeholder Committee, both of which met at different times Tuesday (Feb. 25).

"I think it was just basically that the proposal required an additional allocation of $92,400 a year with the county continuing to carry the budget and paying a percentage of any capital improvements. So what does that offer the county moving forward at this point versus continuing to operate the golf course and putting $90,000 more into the course?"

The plan, unsealed in the Quorum Courtroom of the Sebastian County Courthouse on Feb. 19, was the only proposal received after the county put out advertising for bids to lease the golf course from the county. The proposal itself was opposite of what the county desired to see in proposals since it charged the county not only the $6,000 management fee, but also up to $1,700 per month in travel expenditures as well as the other expenditures Hudson mentioned.

Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge, whose district includes Ben Geren and its golf course, did not sugar coat his opinion of the proposal when reached for comment Wednesday (Feb. 26).

"The proposal that was submitted was a management agreement rather than a lease agreement proposal. This is not what the county was looking for. All this would do is add debt to the budget. This would not benefit the county or taxpayers in any way,” he said.

With both advisory boards voting to not recommend entering into the Cypress agreement, Hudson said he would work with both bodies to develop a proposal to take to the Quorum Court at its March 18 discussion meeting that would address how the county can move forward.

As part of the proposal to be developed by the advisory boards and Hudson, he said marketing will be a large part of the plan as will ideas for how to increase play at the course, which sees competition from the Deer Trails Golf Course at Chaffee Crossing, as well as country clubs in Fort Smith.

To be more competitive, Hudson said another part of the plan will be to change the large number of various green fees at Ben Geren.

"That is one of the goals it to simplify our rate structure. We have daylight and twilight rates, a weekend rate, packages. We are trying to simplify those rates in consideration of the regional competition."

The golf course, which lost the county about $180,000 last year, is projected to lose tens of thousands more this year.

For that reason, Aldridge said whatever proposal is presented to the Quorum Court should be detailed with specific proposals instead of broad ideas. He added that the Court would also need to give the golf course time to make a success of whatever proposal is presented and possibly adopted.

"I don't think it would be fair of the Quorum Court to say you have one year to pull this out," he said. "If they come back with a two or three year plan and showed consistent strides of getting there, I think that would be acceptable to most of us. But they have to come with a hard, fast plan and a plan that is achievable. If they say their goal is to increase rounds, that don't get it. They have to (have hard numbers and projections) and this is how we will go do it."

The Cypress plan, with recommendations from both advisory boards against it, and the proposal from Hudson and the advisory boards will be under consideration during the March 18 meeting of the Quorum Court.

Aldridge reminds residents that the meeting is open to the public and there will be an opportunity for public comments during the meeting.