While the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Board of Trustees have remarked often in meetings that they want to see Deer Trails Golf Course in Chaffee Crossing stay a golf course, no plans have been made ensure it will.
The FCRA board voted to extend a lease to Deer Trails Country Club for Deer Trails Golf Course for five years with an option to renew for another five during its board meeting Oct. 19. However, the lease agreement also states that if the property, which remains listed for sale, is sold, the lease with Deer Trails ends.
The lease was one of three options presented to the board Oct. 19. The board voted five to two with Trustee Paul McCollom and Trustee Janie Glover voting against the motion. The other two options included FCRA donating the land on which the golf course sits to the City of Fort Smith, which presented the board with a donation proposal that would guarantee the golf course remain a golf course for 90 years and a five-year lease that could not be broken with the sale of the property but would leave the option for continuing the lease after the five years to the owners of the property.
Randy Shock, a member of the Deer Trail Country Club board, said while the board may not be happy with the final decision, they at least have been able to get a negotiated lease extension, which they have been working on for over a year.
“We supported the (Fort Smith’s) efforts to acquire the property as that guaranteed it would remain a golf course and gave us a much longer term to operate. And being part of the city’s Park System can have operational benefits. The option chosen by the FCRA was our last choice. All that said, we’ve been trying to get something squared away since June 2022 so at least we now know where we stand going forward,” Shock said.
The property that the FCRA board demands should remain a golf course is listed as for sale by the FCRA. This has been a sticking point with the Deer Trails Country Club Board of Directors in negotiations for a new lease is that the property is listed for sale and proposed contracts have said the lease can be canceled if the property is sold. FCRA CEO Daniel Mann said in September the property is still listed for sale.
Deer Trails has been operating as a golf course for over 75 years. The golf course has been run with a profit for the 10 years the Deer Trails Country Club has operated it, Shock has told the board. FCRA first leased the golf course to the non-profit Deer Trails Country Club in 2014 for $1 a year for five years. Prior to that FCRA operated the golf course for two years. At the time, the FCRA said it was a necessity to lease the facility and get it off FCRA’s books. The lease agreement removed the monetary liability from FCRA while keeping the amenity on-site and available to residents.
The 119-acre golf course, located on Custer Avenue with a boundary at Roberts Boulevard, is shown as a community attraction property for sale on the property for sale section of the FCRA website.
Shock said the FCRA is the only one who can decide to take the property off the market and the Deer Trails has no current plans to try and convince them to do that.
“They are well aware of our position. I could only speculate as to why they don’t agree to do so,” Shock said.
But Deer Trails is looking to the future one way or another. Shock said there are several things the club’s board has discussed doing to make improvements of the course to go along with the many things they have done over to it over the past 10 years.
“We have a nine-hole course with 11 greens and multiple sets of tee boxes, which means the front and back nines play differently with only a couple of exceptions. We would like to continue expanding until it is a true 18 hole course. We want to build a new equipment building to free up space in our work shop and cart barn. We need to expand our cart paths,” Shock said.
He added the board would like to add a swimming pool, tennis and pickleball courts, and a fitness center.
“All the standard stuff you would like to offer with a country club,” Shock said.
But whether that can be done with the future of the land still in the wind is unknown.
“It’s hard to justify spending the time and money to do the things we’d like to when there is no certainty about the future of the property,” he said.
Fort Smith City Director George Catsavis said he isn’t ready to back down from the fight. He said the city spent many hours and thousands of dollars in legal fees to get the golf course donated back to the city and the fact the FCRA continues to market the golf course for sale is unacceptable.
“The city will continue to pursue all avenues to get this property donated to us so the golf course will remain for many years to come,” Catsavis said.