Consultants study golf course

Winter Texans fancy holes 19-27

HARLINGEN — Much as he’s done for nearly two decades, Dan Schloetzer blamed poorly-kept greens for dampening his golf game yesterday.

On what he called a good course, he putts the ball across smooth turf.

But at Tony Butler, golfers complain of patches of balding, bumpy greens that can muddle a player’s game.

“This is my 17th year in the Valley and the greens have always looked like this,” Schloetzer said as he played the Tony Butler Golf Course. “They’re in very bad condition. On a good golf course, every green rolls the same. Here, every green rolls bad.”

Schloetzer, a Winter Texan from Topeka, Kan., was counting on consultants from the National Golf Association coming to the same conclusion as they evaluated the golf course’s operations as part of a $22,500 study for the city of Harlingen.

“It’s all about the greens,” Schloetzer, a retired Goodyear employee living at Paradise Park, said as he played around friends. “The fairways are so-so. But the greens are what keep me from enjoying my game. As the slogan goes, you drive for show and putt for dough.”

Down the slope, Carla Smith also quipped about the condition of the greens.

“The greens can be improved,” Smith, a retired teacher from Minong, Wis., said. “They’re harder to putt than courses at home.”

At the clubhouse, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez denied the Valley Morning Star’s request to speak with consultants Edward Getherall and Jeffrey Brauer as they evaluated the course’s condition.

Sanchez said Getherall and Brauer did not have time to speak to the media because the city was paying them to evaluate the course before they leave town today.

At the consulting firm’s offices in Jupiter, Fla., a receptionist asked the Star to send an emailed request for an interview.

“They’re out on the course making evaluations,” Sanchez said. “They’re here to do a full, comprehensive analysis and at the end what we can do to improve the golf course’s market position. They’re going to be looking at other courses comparable to ours and create a comparison table on how we compare to other courses.”

The consultants met with Sanchez and members of his staff for about 90 minutes yesterday morning.

“They sat down with staff looking at financials, general data, number of rounds, membership,” Sanchez said. “We talked about expectations.”

‘Don’t sell 19-27’

Last month, city commissioners told a crowd of golfers, including many Winter Texans, the city would hire a consulting firm to help improve operations and boost revenue at the 27-hole golf facility.

At the meeting, some golfers expressed concern the city planned to sell off holes 19 to 27 — Winter Texans’ favorite “short-course.”

In part, the real estate sale near the Interstate 69 frontage road was expected to help cut maintenance costs.

But yesterday, Winter Texans from Paradise Park played the course and packed the club house.

Like many of their friends and fellow golfers, Smith and Schloetzer strongly opposed the sale of the nine holes.

“We like the nine holes and we sure don’t want to lose them,” Smith said. “This is such a nice walking course for Winter Texans. It’s a comfortable place for us to be. So many Winter Texans come to Harlingen for the golf. If we lose this, they may lose revenue in other areas.”

Schloetzer threatened to leave the area if the city sells the nine holes.

“I’m here to enjoy the camaraderie with the people I play with,” Schloetzer said. “If the nine holes sell, I’ll probably move out of Cameron County.”

The consultant’s study might help determine part of the golf course’s future.

The study

As part of the contract, the firm will evaluate the golf course’s operations, including finances, staffing, maintenance and clubhouse.

The firm will also review the golf course’s physical conditions, including greens, fairways, irrigation and marketing “to identify areas that are deficient and/or in need of improvement.”

The consultants will also conduct a market study reviewing public golf courses in the area.

The firm will also consider “alternative” operations, such as contracting management, maintenance and food and beverage service.

Based on its review of operations, the firm will present five-year revenue projections based on rounds played, green fees, member dues, cart rentals, merchandise sales, food and beverage sales, special events and tournaments.

Sanchez said the consultants are expected to release their findings in about 90 days.

The findings, he said, will be reviewed during a City Commission meeting.

Sanchez said the report will be made public.

“We’ll be working with them throughout this period,” Sanchez said.

Declining revenues

For about five years, the golf course has been in the hole, pushing the city to dip into its $43 million general fund to offset shortfalls.

With annual expenditures of about $1.2 million, falling revenues have left annual deficits ranging from $48,324 to $302,587.

For months, city officials have mulled options aimed at ramping up the golf course’s revenue stream.

In part, some officials have cited a drop in the number of Winter Texans for falling revenue.

Meanwhile, some golfers have blamed course conditions, including poorly-maintained greens.