An operational audit of Devil's Thumb Golf Club turned out to be a disappointing exercise for golf course manager Rob Sanders and city council members. But while several council members believe the $17,200 expenditure was a complete waste of money, Sanders said it hasn't been a total loss.
"I do not believe the city received its money's worth," he said at a recent budget workshop. The report generated by THK falls short of expectations, but he said it does provide some recommendations and a lot of facts and figures on the golf industry.
The golf course review was intended to generate concrete ideas for increasing golf course revenue and reducing the annual transfers from the city's municipal light and power fund — transfers that have ranged from $350,000 to $500,000 every year.
The review started in February and was completed at the end of May. The report has been revised eight different times, and councilmember Bill Raley said he has yet to see the final version.
From the get-go, Sanders found it hard to swallow THK's assertion that Devil's Thumb revenue would jump by a third if THK's recommendations were followed. The consultant confidently stated play would increase while at the same time recommending an increase in greens fees; that membership would grow despite an increase in membership fees; and that the golf course could be maintained with minimal staff.
"It is just extremely unrealistic," Sanders said. He is recommending an increase in greens fees and cart fees to take place gradually over the next three years. Season passes will go up gradually over the next four years. He plans to break down large capital improvement projects into small ones without increasing current budget expenditures, and will continue to work with DOC crews to keep labor costs down.
A number of recommendations made by THK to improve play and increase the number of rounds have already been implemented. Staff uniforms and an increase in the marketing budget from $10,000 to $20,000 are included in the proposed 2013 budget. Replacing the sand bunkers and improving the cart paths won't increase revenue, so Sanders is putting off those recommendations for several years. The signage has been improved, the volunteer program has been restructured and the database has been expanded.
"Many of the recomendations called for in the report were done or in progress before THK was hired and because of these we have seen our revenues increase by 11.5 percent from 2011," Sanders said. "If we implement the rest of the recommendations, we do feel we will continue to see an increase in revenues but staff feels the increase of 31.5 percent is extremely unrealistic."
Over the past five years, the number of full-time golf course employees has been reduced from five to two and operating expenses have been cut by 23 percent. Sanders proudly stated that customer service and maintenance are second to none. Devil's Thumb has received 13 awards of excellence and is listed among the best courses to play in Colorado.
Councilmembers were pleased with staff's efforts to reduce operating expenses but remain concerned about the transfers from ML&P to help Devil's Thumb break even. Councilmember Bill Raley said he would feel more comfortable if transfers were kept to around $100,000 annually, in addition to debt service which runs about $145,000 a year.
"We can't go on taking $500,000 a year to support the golf course," Raley said.
"There really is some good news in the recent trends," city manager Justin Clifton said. But in just a few weeks on the job, he's heard widely varying public opinion about the future of the golf course.
"We're invested in this resource and it makes sense to make it work," he said. "But in such a way that people are comfortable with."
Looking through internal files he's found evidence that staff members have looked at the golf course from a lot of different angles. Still, there may be questions that haven't been asked and he asked council to help him come up with those questions as they continue to evaluate golf course operations.blog comments powered by Disqus