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Golf: Time to to update city’s game

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POSTED February 23, 2017 11:46 p.m.

Golf has changed a lot in the past 20 years.
In 1997 Greg Norman was the No.1 player. Since then golf club technology has made major strides ranging from aerodynamics and material composition to better grips. The end result is to squeeze out more distance.
There are even balls that instead of being one solid piece of material feature up to five layers molded together to allow greater distance.
Perhaps Manteca’s leaders might want to take a cue.
Contracted head golf pro Alan Thomas — the face of the Manteca Golf Course for 40 years and whose marketing skills helped make the course a success — has passed away.
Now the city is looking to replace him but has narrowed their scope as if it is 1997 and not 2017. The two options being considered are hiring a new golf pro and contracting with a firm to manage the course that would hire someone to run the course for them.
That’s like limiting one’s self to just two golf clubs to play 18 holes.
Councilman Gary Singh may not have the right answer but he certainly has the right attitude when he noted at Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting that there are other options that need serious examination. His suggestion was why not consider the city running the course especially since they are maintaining it.
In a nutshell if a successful course requires good upkeep which is being done now by city parks and golf maintenance staff and the two big financial albatrosses are finally paid off — the financing for the clubhouse and the course expansion —why does the city want someone else to make money off the course? Why not just have the golf course play manager on the municipal payroll?
The flip is also true. Why should the city be involved at all if there is an assumption by the experts that manage and rate golf courses that expertise requirements make it impossible for a municipal employee to fill such shoes?
Treat the golf course like Big League Dreams. Create a lease deal and turn the keys to everything over to a company for 35 years so that maintenance, upkeep, customer service, and marketing are all on their dime. It is something that Thomas himself suggested almost five years ago given it is the BLD model that is working so well.
Of course city staff would never study such an option because there is an uncertainty of what would happen to municipal workers. Singh noted the parks maintenance crew could use additional manpower given the city pushing pushing 70 parks and growing. Those positions could be absorbed by the general fund.
It should be noted the Parks and Recreation hierarchy was less than thrilled — at one point they dismissed it as being unworkable — when the proposal for the Big League Dreams sports complex came up 15 years ago. Today BLD despite its inability to address indoor soccer playing surface issues in a timely manner is arguably one of the city’s biggest success stories.
Staff recommended — and council concurred — to hire a consulting firm that the city previously hired to examine the course, its operations, and the market. Staff told elected leaders the consultant was “thrilled” to be able to work with the city again.
Of course they are. They will be able to dust off the old study they did and bring all the baggage that it entails with them. It means no fresh eyes on the issue and no fresh ideas.
It was astutely noted at one time by Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer that there was a built-in advantage of being a consultant’s first client. That’s because with every subsequent client on the same type of project they will use part or much of the work they already did for previous clients. That might sound like experience which is good but it also carries the downside of preconceived notions that tend to lead to the dangerous unspoken conclusion that Manteca’s situations are a cookie cutter of those that exist elsewhere. They’re not.
Manteca’s course layout contributes to its regional popularity but so does one other thing — the underlying Manteca soil makes for fast drainage which is why in rainy months the Union Road course is more playable than other public courses.
While the current council never said so, previous councils promised that when Thomas was ready to wind down his career and the $1.1 million annual debt payments went away they would have an intense examination of where the golf course should go next.
Thomas’ untimely passion is no justification to simply hire a consultant to do the same old, same old.
There are serious questions that need examining before the parameters of a study for how the course should be operated is even studied. There is the annual $155,000 general fund hit to subsidize senior and youth golf play that doesn’t exist for BLD leagues. That could easily be used to pay for another parks worker or even a street maintenance worker.
There is also the need to discuss how to avoid past general fund subsidies in excess of $1.4 million that have been written off so that the need doesn’t pop up again.
It is important the council have a discussion about the direction they want the golf course to take before assuming they have basically two variations of the same option which is either hiring a golf pro or contracting with a firm to hire one.

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