December 6, 2017

FOLB General Membership Meeting 2016  PowerPoint Presentation


Long Term Planning

February 12, 2014

January 28, 2014

City Manager:

We appreciate your note and kind remarks about FOLB. Our organization is only interested in helping the city achieve maximum efficiency and productivity from Lady Bird.
We are encouraged that City Council elected to continue with the Master Plan, allowing more time for our current professional management to develop a track record. However, we are puzzled by the inconsistency of some members of City Council who seem reluctant to stick to the plans and professional management for which they voted both in the distant and more recent past. Our recollection is that City Council voted unanimously to create the Golf Department, to accept the selection of the Director, to accept the Master Plan, to accept the business plan, and to commit to the renovation project.
Certainly, we agree that City Council should provide oversight for the golf course. In fact, the purpose of our annual report is to provide objective information to assist City Council in its oversight role.
Our perspective from a position both inside and outside the ropes suggests that the reason for City Council’s inconsistency is the lack of a well-considered and articulated mission for the Golf Department. Is the goal to produce an operational profit? Is it to support business and tourism? Is it to provide an affordable recreation to residents? Is it to provide a safe venue for juniors? Perhaps the mission is another or even a combination of these.
Our perspective also suggests that City Council has yet to define a specific set of parameters to use in measuring performance and a specific time line for exercising oversight. If the mission of the golf course is a combination of the questions posed in the previous paragraph, then perhaps performance might be measured not only in terms of operational costs but also with consideration of other factors including the number of out of county visitors, measurable co-operation with local businesses, active participation in the Chamber of Commerce, number of junior lesson provided, achieving a certain percentage of good marks on post experience surveys, and operating to certain industry and professional standards, just to name a few.
As we consider these foundational issues, we are reminded to re-consider our own relationship with the golf course and the city. We are under no illusions that we are either empowered or qualified to operate the golf course. Rather, we take seriously our City Council granted authority to provide objective information and to assist Golf Department management by offering recommendations and providing resources to enhance the city’s investment. From the beginning, our goal has been to support open, transparent, and inclusive discussion and not to achieve any pre-conceived outcome.
Our observations suggest that there are several fixed structural factors which have and will continue to exert downward pressure on golf course management. These structural problems exist for historical reasons and are not due to either current management or the residents and visitors who use the golf course:

1. Club House: Though an architecturally stunning building and a testament to the beauty of the Hill Country, the club house was not only expensive to build but also requires ongoing costs for operation and maintenance well above the industry standards for a municipal facility. Specifically, the Golf Shop is much too large for the retail sales expected; the Cardinal Room currently lacks the access, parking, and catering infrastructure needed to compete with other venues, and the grill has only a limited customer base.
2. Golf course design: Though beautiful, the green areas of the golf course require operation and maintenance costs greater than anticipated due mainly to the number and style of bunker and the design of greens and tees.
3. Maintenance budget: The maintenance budget for Lady Bird as recently renovated is well below industry standards for a municipal facility by at least 50% (USGA, National Golf Foundation) due mostly to the number of full time personnel. The course is a unique city asset in that its optimum revenue generation occurs on weekends and holidays when most city employees do not work. The current full time staff is insufficient to operate and maintain the renovated facility 365 days a year (though the golf course is closed on Monday’s for play, it is definitely open for maintenance).
4. Overtime pay: Not only does the shortage of personnel make it difficult to protect the city’s significant investment, the shortage of personnel also increases the need for overtime pay as it is necessary to compensate workers in the understaffed labor pool time and a half for routine work after 40 hours per week and double for work on holidays.
5. Funding shortfall for renovation: In order to accommodate the shortfall of $80,000 from the renovation budget, Golf Department management had to scale back on irrigation and drainage infrastructure. At that time, this withhold was called “value engineering”. Unfortunately, the result is that ongoing maintenance requirements are greater than anticipated due to continuous breakdowns of irrigation lines and sprinkler heads as well as erosion due to run off after even modest rain.
One of the recurring themes we have discussed in our annual reports is that the golf course is unique among city services in that it must compete in the retail world for discretionary dollars. Therefore, the issue of revenues is a dynamic functional problem rather than a fixed structural problem as discussed previously though the two are connected. To attract patrons, the golf course must offer perceived value, i.e. a combination of the aesthetic experience and the cost. As all business owners know, a price can be raised only so long as it remains a good value Increasing fees to non-competitive levels may lead to decreased demand. Similarly, a decision to decrease maintenance, which would occur if total overtime pay is reduced, will adversely affect the aesthetic experience. Together these decisions may actually lead to diminished gross revenues and increased net negative cash flow. To improve revenues, the golf course must attract a greater number of patrons and that is why we have continuously recommended professional marketing and strongly encouraged the involvement of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. This delicate balance seems to be an area where the city must rely on the professional experience, training and acumen of the Director of Golf.
Lastly, we cannot help but feel some concern that some members of City Council look upon the golf course differently than the city’s other recreational venues. The tennis courts, playing fields, swimming pools, and parks all have expenses far in excess of their user fee revenues. It is only the golf course which achieves revenues (greater than $1M annually) approaching the city’s cost of providing the facility and it is only the golf course which also draws out of county visitors (over 9000 during the past fiscal year). Even MarketPlatz, which has significant net negative cash flow, is looked upon by all to be an attractor for visitors and a generator of business income in addition to being a wonderful amenity enjoyed by residents.
We sincerely hope that you will consider a mechanism for discussing these issues with City Council in an effort to clearly identify the challenges unique to this asset. Much time, effort and money can be saved if the focus is kept on the foundational problems rather than the symptoms. We are confident you and the Council will arrive at the best solution when the challenges are clearly and accurately identified.
Sincerely,
Leonard Bentch, President
Jerry Fischer, Vice President


Funding of Past golf course Deficits

March 7, 2013

FRIENDS OF LADY BIRD JOHNSON MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE, INC.

March 4, 2013

Position Paper:  Golf course debt

Re-examination of plans previously made is a worthwhile undertaking.

In the instance of the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Golf Course, City Council has acted aggressively to address historic operational deficiencies and deterioration of infrastructure. In 2010, City Council separated golf course operations from the Parks and Recreation Department, establishing a new Golf Department.  In early 2011, the City Manager appointed a new Director of Golf (DOG) who was authorized to develop a long term plan for Golf Department operations.  The Council decisions which led to the Golf Department’s current organizational structure and operational status were based on all the available facts and received unanimous approval.

The historic operational losses within the Golf Fund while the golf course was managed by the Parks and Recreation Department were well known and in fact prompted Council to make the organizational changes previously noted.  These carry over losses include expenses accrued in several different areas of golf course operation:  capital expenses, operational losses, and debt service.  Over the years, City Council annually approved the funding of these expenses/deficits from sources other than the General Fund.  In retrospect, these decisions to transfer monies from other Enterprise Funds rather than the General Fund, though transparent and legal, may have been inadvisable.  However, it is non-productive to second guess what was done in the past even though there are members of the current Council who were part of these earlier decisions.

It is a reality that the golf course, ball and soccer fields, and swimming pools historically cost more to operate than are earned through direct operational revenue.  The same is true for all municipal services other than the utility funds from which the city accrues operational profit.  Recall that the golf course, while having net negative cash flow, still generated over $1M in annual revenues.  Council may do well to recognize this to be the nature of the city’s business and look upon the golf course’s net negative balance as the same as other non-revenue producing facets of city operations which also enhance quality of life for citizens.

Soon after his appointment, the DOG initiated a broad based and inclusive strategic planning process.  The Master Plan offered several alternatives for the future of Lady Bird Golf Course and was appended by several business pro-forma setting forth expense and revenue estimates for each scenario.  After thorough discussion and consideration of the alternatives, City Council unanimously accepted the Master Plan and chose to renovate the entire golf course.  The only issue which did not receive unanimous approval was the mechanism for funding the $1.88M renovation.  The Council majority elected to borrow money from other Enterprise Funds and set forth a financial plan which included repayment to the donor funds of the cost of renovation over 20 years.  When approving the Master Plan and pro forma, Council chose not to include responsibility for the carry over debt from the Parks and Recreation Department.

We believe that the DOG should be accountable to the performance metrics described in the Master Plan and pro forma.  Council risks obscuring the data needed to measure performance of the new Golf Department and its current management by imposing deviations from the Master Plan. Quite simply, Council will find it difficult to know whether the right team and game plan are in place if Council continually moves the goal posts.  Adding debt to the Golf Department would cause serious disruption of the business plan and render useless the previously approved pro forma.   Even the most optimistic projections would not anticipate revenues sufficient to retire long term debt accrued by a prior organizational structure and management team.  It is worth remembering than the most common cause of failure among new businesses is under-capitalization and restrictive debt service requirements.

Going forward, the Golf Department faces the challenge of competing in the retail sector.  In our 2012 Annual Report to City Council, we urged city management and City Council to view the golf course as a business and to allow the DOG sufficient autonomy to pursue the business plan.  The Golf Department has performed well since the golf course re-opened after the 9 month renovation.  Particularly impressive is the increase in visitor rounds.  However, four months is too short a period of time to predict medium and long term financial status.

We are pleased that City Council has adopted FOLB recommendations for the golf course:  professional management, financial controls, managerial accountability, industry standards, a sustainable budget, and effective planning.  We made these recommendations after our careful review of operations to help the city obtain the best possible return from the long term investment in Lady Bird golf course.

Similarly, we appreciate that Council feels the need to resolve the issue of indebtedness to Enterprise Funds.  The problem exists because previous Councils chose not only this funding mechanism despite other available alternatives but also chose not to improve golf course operations. The source of the current debt problem is not current Golf Department organization and management.  While there are a limited number of financial solutions to the prior transfer of funds, each with its own benefits and detractions, Council has already moved forward by providing professional management.

The legacy of City Council will be best served if the Golf Department and Lady Bird Golf Course are a success. The long term goals for the golf course are to attract visitors and support tourism. These goals require a competitive product and aggressive marketing.  The full potential of the investment already made will only be realized when all phases of the Master Plan are implemented. Rather than looking back at decisions made in the past, Council would do well to focus on the future.

We urge City Council to re-affirm the decisions thoughtfully achieved during the past two years:  monitor managerial performance and continue to follow the Master Plan.


Public Statement: Lady Bird Re-opens after renovation 2012

October 26, 2012

The members of Friends of Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Golf Course, Inc., (FOLB) were interested to read the front page article in last week’s Standard concerning Lady Bird Golf Course.  As citizens, we laud the Standard’s interest in factual and fair investigative reporting and hope that the newspaper will continue to delve into what goes on “inside the ropes” not only at City Hall but also at the County Court House and  other facets of our increasingly diverse and sophisticated community.  As a group interested in maximizing the value of the golf course to our community, FOLB has always called for transparency and inclusion of all stakeholders for all decisions concerning Lady Bird.  We also have championed professional management, the adoption of best practices, improved financial controls and managerial accountability.

We understand that news is news only if it is fresh.  However, it would be inappropriate if last week’s Standard article detracts from a truly fabulous happening:  Lady Bird will re-open later this month after an extensive near-complete makeover.   The new Lady Bird is a classic Hill Country design with United States Golf Association approved greens and beautiful fairways which will delight residents and visitors alike.

The decisions which lead to accumulated annual losses when the golf course was part of the Parks and Recreation Department occurred long ago.  While Council will have to decide how to best manage the legacy of past golf course finances, it would be unfair to hold current management responsible for policies undertaken in the past.

Over the past 18 months, Council has moved aggressively and pro-actively to establish policies to remedy the operational deficiencies previously accepted as the norm.  Council established the Golf Department as a unique entity in October, 2010 and in January, 2011, appointed Alan Wooley, PGA to be the Director of Golf.  Within the past year, Mr. Wooley appointed Bill Hanna,  an experienced professional golf course superintendent, to be the Chief of Agronomy.  Both have labored to play the cards they were dealt and  have provided the professional, constant, and creative oversight of the $1.8M renovation project needed to assure maximum value for our city’s investment.   Going forward, Mr. Wooley’ charge is to operate the Golf Department to fulfill Council objectives to move away from annual operating losses which lead to past indebtedness and to support tourism which is our community’s single largest economic driver.

The Golf Department is unique within the city structure:  only the golf course must compete in the marketplace for its revenues.  Thus, the golf course is more like a business than any other municipal undertaking.  In our 2012 Report to City Council, we provide recommendations covering nearly all aspects of golf course management to help make Lady Bird a financial success while still providing affordable recreation for old and young alike.  In order for the Golf Department to perform to the business plan which Council accepted, both Council and the City Manager should allow Mr. Wooley the managerial autonomy and flexibility he needs to operate Lady Bird to her maximum potential.

Fore!

Leonard Bentch

President, FOLB


FUNDING FOR PHASE I OF LADY BIRD MASTER PLAN

August 22, 2011

City Council approved funding for Phase I renovations at
Lady Bird Golf Course.  The subsequent four
phases detailed in the Master Plan are independent of Phase I; the city is not obligated
to further investment.

Three years of research, hearings and analysis have led to
the broad based consensus that our golf course is not only  a jewel, but a valuable asset that can
significantly improve and support tourism.
Tourism is the biggest economic force in our county:  sales tax receipts provide more revenue to
our city than property taxes.  More than
50% of those sales tax revenues come from visitors.  Hotel occupancy taxes provide additional
millions of dollars used to support local community organizations.

Investing in Lady Bird Golf Course is an investment in the
future of our community.  The golf course
not only provides a quality of life venue for residents as all city parks are
intended to provide, but it is also a draw for business, hiring, and
tourism.  The golf course currently brings
in $1.3 M annually.  Other than the
electric and water departments, no other city department provides this much
revenue.

Even in an economic down turn, Fredericksburg’s proximity to major cities
continues to bring more and more tourists here each year.  Marketing studies show that tourists want
more outdoor activities, especially for men and residents want more outdoor
activities for children.

Fredericksburg
attracts over a million visitors per year.
Approximately 10% of visitors play golf.
Research shows targeted marketing will bring golfers to a reasonably
priced golf attraction, especially when coupled with the other wonderful attractions
we currently have. Throughout Texas,   CVB
data show that visitors who come primarily to play golf spend more than the
average tourist, nearly $1000 per weekend.

Fredericksburgis the second-most popular
wine destination in the United
States.
The most rapidly growing segment of tourism here is the winery visitor and
this demographic group overlaps  the traveling
golfer ideally.

Currently, our golf course supports about 32,000 rounds of
golf per year and according to the USGA can readily handle more .  Additional visitor rounds are only possible
with improvement in the golf experience by bringing the course back up to
market standards. Funding for Phase I provides only for these maintenance
items:  there are no bells and
whistles.  The business plan presented to
City Council suggests that as few as an additional 1300 visitor rounds per year
will allow the golf course to meet all its expenses including repayment of the
loan to the city.

Two mayoral administrations over three years have
affirmatively responded to increasing information concerning the golf
course.  Over the past several years,
City Council has authorized the Friends Of Lady Bird to submit a report each
year on the state of golf in our community with an eye to finding the golf
course’s potential for enhancing tourism.
Based upon that report and the experts, City Council has established the
Department of Golf and hired a new Director, PGA Professional Alan Wooley.  Working with a broad based Strategic Planning
Committee and the city’s golf course architect, Jeff Blume, Mr. Wooley has
developed a Master Plan covering 20 years in five phases. This Master Plan was
unanimously approved by City Council.

The information presented to City Council in support of the
Master Plan for Lady Bird is corroborated by experts and professionals, most of
whom were brought here without taxpayer expense.  These experts include the USGA, PGA, National Golf Foundation, agronomists, golf
course superintendents, several golf course architects and contractors, and the
UTSA Graduate School of Business.

The business plan and funding alternatives have been studied
and endorsed by the presidents of our local banks and  other  local citizens experienced in finance, budgeting,
and marketing.  In addition, the plans
have been discussed in public presentations to the Chamber of Commerce and the
Rotary Clubs.  The City Manager and the
City CFO have endorsed the plan’s conservative assumptions and support the
plan.  According to the city’s financial
consultant, using surplus cash reserves from enterprise funds is consistent
with good fiscal policy, does not adversely affect the bond rating, and does
not strip the funds of necessary cash reserves.
Repaying the city rather than a commercial lender/bond holder saves the
golf course approximately $500,000 in interest.
The city’s general fund remains untouched with current reserves
approximately twice those customarily retained.

Lady Bird Golf Course
has been in the public eye for over three years now.  Multiple Op –Ed articles, Town Hall meetings,
public meetings concerning junior golf and Live Oak Creek as well as many presentations
to city staff and City Council have allowed for unprecedented public
input.  This effort is a model for
intensive and inclusive city planning and is the kind of effort all of us would
wish City Council to use for other issues facing the city.

 


PUBLIC STATEMENT: JULY 5, 2011 CITY COUNCIL

July 25, 2011

PUBLIC STATEMENT: 

CITY COUNCIL
PRESENTATION

JULY 5, 2011

 

This is an exciting time
for Council and our community.  Councils
past and present have labored to achieve the goal of maximum value for Lady
Bird Golf Course.  Our Director of Golf
has laid before you what is probably the best considered long term plan and
financial pro forma placed before Council in many years.  All of you have both attended recent public
Town Hall meetings and also taken the opportunity to learn about Alan’s
proposal in depth.  The long term plan as
presented is the result of studied, inclusive  and transparent methodology.

 

1.  FOLB:  I am the President of FOLB and wish to convey to
Council the appreciation of our 121 active members for your confidence in our
organization to act as ombudsman for golf related activities in our community.  FOLB’s interest in Lady Bird is
multi-dimensional.  We have actively
engaged junior golf, tourism, local businesses, and educational institutions.  Additionally, we are involved in ground
water, environmental and stewardship issues which have a broad impact.  Our interests and engagement include the
entire community.

 

FOLB has persistently
pursued our Council charge and mission with transparency, and inclusiveness.  We have always supported a systematic
methodology for planning and the best use of available resources, both
financial and labor.  FOLB has put
forward  official positions for public
discussion with  myriad open meetings,
newspaper articles, town hall meetings, suggestion box and our web site.

 

The Master Plan presented
tonight  was produced by the Director of
Golf.  This is not an FOLB Master Plan;
indeed we were not charged to develop a Master Plan and to do so would
have overstepped our charter.  FOLB definitely
endorses Alan’s deliberate and inclusive methods and we feel that the Master Plan
reflects the efforts of FOLB over the past three years to make Lady Bird the
best she can be.  Our mission remains
clear:  we support affordable golf for
residents and visitors, an active inclusive junior golf program, and synergy
with the tourist industry to provide more attractions for visitors.

 

2.  Lady Bird has
multiple stake-holders
:
Lady Bird has multiple stakeholders, all of whom Alan has considered and
included in his methodology of achieving a Master Plan.  These stakeholders include residents who wish
affordable recreation, the business community which desires quality of life
venues to attract new businesses, workers, and future home buyers,  youngsters who wish to become acquainted with
a life time sport, UIL competitors, both girls and boys in middle and high, who
wish a competitive venue for their home course, out-of- towners who are looking
for value in their recreation when visiting Fredericksburg, environmentalists
who are increasingly interested in proper stewardship, and bird watchers who
are coming to our community to experience the fabulous Texas flyways in the
spring and fall.  An additional
stakeholder is the City of Fredericksburg which needs to shunt  millions of gallons of effluent water away
from Barron’s Creek as efficiently as possible.

 

3.  Master Plan:  The
Master Plan represents detailed  strategic
and tactical, and operational thinking.
The Master Plan  includes a cogent
business plan and financial pro forma which have  been reviewed with financial experts, the
membership of the Chamber of Commerce as well as our  CFO and City Manager and represents input from
all.   This Master Plan represents considered
and excellent work by city Staff  and is
not an elaboration of  a consultant’s
opinion.  I have no doubt that you appreciate
not only Alan’s professional expertise in developing the Master Plan in a very
short period of time, but also the credibility and practicality of the
proposal.

 

 

4.  Elephant in
the room:  I will borrow a metaphor from our Mayor:  “The Elephant in the Room”
metaphor.   I believe that the Elephant in the Room is the
public discussion and bond election concerning the swimming pool.  As much as Council wishes to put the pool
issue and its bond election behind, there seems to be a tendency to mentally combine
public expenditures for the pools with public expenditures for the golf
course. 
I believe there is overwhelming public support for a municipal
swimming venue and program in Fredericksburg.  However,  the plan put forward did not meet the public’s
needs and no amount of marketing would have “sold” the product
submitted to the public.  Similar to a viable and sustainable swimming program,
there is general support for an improved golf venue which would serve as
an attractor for visitors.  In fact, I would submit that there has been
marketing of the idea for improvements at Lady Bird for three years, finances
included.

 

Some differences to
consider:

 

1.  The Golf Course Fund is a Municipal
Enterprise Fund, designated as such many years ago.  As a Municipal Enterprise Fund, the Golf Fund
has certain specific characteristics and requirements defined  by statue.
Conversely, the Parks and Recreation Department receives its funding
through the General Fund for which there are other specific requirements.

 

2.  Council
chose to separate the Golf Department and the Golf Fund from the Parks
and Recreation Department.  Subsequently,
Council has  appointed a Director of Golf who is a PGA
professional with considerable expertise and experience.

 

3.  It is true that the golf course needs
additional capital to build on investments made over the past 50 years.
The amount needed is small relative to the value of investments already in
place.  Conversely, the swimming pools required a total  rebuild and therefore a new Master Plan.

 

4.  Lady
Bird and general golf course issues have been vetted publically over three
years.   The needs and concerns for both
the short and long term of all the stakeholders have been discussed and
integrated into the Master Plan. The cost of improvements has been discussed at
every public venue.  Indeed, the current
Master Plan represents considerable compromise and reconciliation in response
to citizen input.  Conversely, there was
no systematic method for citizen and community involvement in the planning
process for the swimming pools.

5.  Lady Bird now has a well defined long term
Master Plan and detailed business pro forma as requested of the Director of
Golf  by Council. The current investment
request before the council represents the first of  5 phases for the future development of Lady
Bird.  With regard to the pools, Council
did not publish a long term strategic operational plan or a plan for
integrating the pools with other recreational resources.

 

6.  Lady Bird Golf Course offers programming.  City staff provide lessons, junior golf
opportunities, catering, competition support, charity sponsorship, and partnerships
with local business to name a few.  In
contrast, as presented, the pool proposal did  offered no programming and in fact expected
all programming to come from volunteers and non professional seasonal hires.

 

7.  The Golf Course has put forth definite plans
to work with many other community resources to support business and
tourism,  juniors, and the
environment.  A Wine-Golf event focused on bringing visitors for two
nights is  already scheduled.  The
Pool proposal had no specific plans for such community engagement.

 

8.  The Golf Course, fortunately,  has a revenue stream.  FOLB has always supported a sustainable budget.  The assumptions for increased revenues
inherent in the Master Plan are felt by experts to be quite conservative, but
still reach budget neutrality within five years.  Obviously,
because of the different nature and target audience, the revenue from our
pools will provide only a portion of the cost of operations.  Even so, the pool project did not propose any
new revenue pieces such as family and corporate memberships, rental for private
parties, outside support of  swimming
competition, detailed assumptions on revenues from concessions etc.

 

8.  The Department of Golf course has
professional management. As part of the long term planning process undertaken
by Council which solicited assistance from the PGA Placement service, Alan was
hired. He has already demonstrated his ability to maximize value of the current
budget and labor force.   As proposed the
pools project did not include a specific aquatic management.

 

9.  Lady Bird has an official champion authorized
by Council: FOLB. The pool does not yet have a champion to engender community
involvement.  Perhaps Council might
consider promoting such an organization.

 

 

 

 

5.  Funding:   The reason I
bring these issues to your attention tonight is to allow us to deal with the
real conundrum:  how to fund improvements
at Lady Bird.  I, for one, am not an
expert in municipal finance and have no basis for making a recommendation.  Similarly, I do not believe that Council has
yet had sufficient input from staff and the public to form an opinion on what
to do.  Unlike the Master Plan for Lady
Bird, there has not yet been an in depth look at the funding possibilities
available to us.

 

There are several options including such as the
establishment of an Economic Investment Fund
as Kerrville did to provide renovation of Shreiner Golf Course.  Other possibilities might include internal
borrowing from other city departments, use of cash on hand to fund some or all
of the phase I improvements, leveraging the amount provided in the avigation
easement settlement, private financing through local or regional banks, revenue
bonds dependent on the income stream from the golf course and another city
owned revenue stream, matching grants from individuals or public resources,
etc.  In fact, a creative combination of
these funding systems could be used.

 

We would suggest that Council consider as many
funding scenarios as possible and that each should receive complete
vetting..  These possible funding
alternatives should be presented in a completely transparent and understandable
manner to the public.    Perhaps Council might consider holding at
least one public hearing or Town Hall meeting to take input and suggestions
from the citizen.

 

Thank you for allowing
me to speak with you and thank you for taking the time to consider in dept the
proposal before you.

 

 

 


OP Ed article, November 20 2010 Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post

January 22, 2011

To the editor:

Thank you for the Standard’s ongoing coverage of Lady Bird Johnson Golf Course.  The most recent article describes City Council’s current focus on the financial “losses” within the golf course and the park system generally.  I believe that focusing on accounting alone does not help us understand how Lady Bird works and what impact Lady Bird has on our town.

Parks are an important part of municipal life.  In fact, in troubled economic times, public parks become even more important both to those who use them and also to those who may not.  In Fredericksburg, our parks offer recreation, a reason to live here and a reason to visit here. The Chamber of Commerce and the Convention/Visitors Bureau understand the importance of Lady Bird’s support both for the recruitment of businesses and the growth of our tourism industry.

The “tree issue” has occupied much of the public discourse concerning Lady Bird Johnson Golf Course over the past year.  The city and county have successfully concluded a fair and mutually acceptable agreement.  The County obtained an avigation easement which will allow Gillespie County Airport to meet the technological demands of the future.  The city gained just value for its property, and with the proceeds will be able to make the investments at Lady Bird required for future growth.

While we would wish the city to operate its services as efficiently as a successful business, we value city services differently than simply in dollars.  The city is not a business where success can be measured in profits and losses. In fact, all city services, by definition, lose money.  We do not necessarily look upon these services as being “subsidized” by our tax dollars.  As an example, just because we may no longer have children in school does not mean that we view our taxes as a subsidy to those families whose children are in school.  Schools are important.  So are parks.  As a civilized society, we make choices about what is important to us.

So, how do we value a golf course, or anything else for that matter, if we cannot do as businesses do:  measure how much money we make?  Instead of a money metric, we must consider the benefits of having the golf course, the detriment to our community should we not have it, and then decide what we are willing and able to pay for it.  We must consider the “why” and the “what“, before considering the “how“.  Why should we have a golf course?  What do we wish the golf course to do for residents, visitors and business?  Only after we can articulate the why and the what, can we then decide how we do it.

Several years ago, it became apparent to many of us that Lady Bird Johnson Golf Course had not achieved maximum value from the investments made by our community.  We formed Friends of Lady Bird (FOLB) to look “inside the ropes”. Through consultation with experts such as the United States Golf Association and others, we learned that ours is an exceptional golf course layout with great potential.  Working with the Chamber of Commerce and the CVB, we learned the importance of our golf course to the greater community in terms of business recruitment and the support of tourism.  Exploring the need for a sustainable junior golf program, FOLB has sponsored two public meetings with First Tee, the nationally recognized program for school age children.  Committed to improving enjoyment and access to Lady Bird Park as a whole, we have sponsored a public seminar on Live Oak Creek and are working with members of the Native Plant Society of Texas and the Fredericksburg Friends of Nature to further enhance Lady Bird’s natural beauty.  We have reached outside of the community, forging a close a relationship with the University Of Texas Graduate School Of Business whose students help us with surveys and marketing, actively pursuing partnerships with municipal golf associations in other communities within the Hill Country, and becoming more involved with the GCSSA, the professional organization concerned with golf course maintenance.  In myriad meetings working with city and golf course staff, we have tried to impart what we have learned, offering our help both as a resource and as an active participant.

Recently, we have been researching Lady Bird’s history.  The designs for both the original “old nine” in built in1967 and the more recent “new nine” completed in 1991 were performed by well known and highly respected golf course architects.  Unfortunately, because there has been no long term plan for the best use of these investments, these original designs and the golf course have been allowed to deteriorate.  Though there was once a sense of excellence, this sense of excellence seems to have been lost.  Our observations suggest there is currently minimal commitment to golf industry standards, equipment has become antiquated and inefficient, and investments in buildings and infrastructure appear to have been added with little connection to the past or plan for the future.

The pressing needs of other facets of city government have limited the resources available for a careful analysis of the golf course.  We have watched as our grand old Lady Bird no longer rises to her former promise.  We have lost our way, forgetting why we built her, what she is meant to be, and ultimately how to operate her properly.  By example, the short term decision to minimize service at Lady Bird Grill to save the equivalent of 2.5% of the annual budget follows a recently completed survey performed for FOLB by UTSA which demonstrates that the grill is the most important facet of the golf experience for the majority of visitors.  Surely the city should use such information as this when making any policy decision.

Recognizing the need to supplement city staff oversight of Lady Bird, City Council authorized FOLB to prepare a report on golf operations annually.  After a year of study and close involvement with golf course staff, we will present our first report this week.  In addition to a detailed analysis of current golf course operations, our report includes specific recommendations to improve Lady Bird.  Our first recommendation is to develop a vision and long term plan.  Once this plan is conceived and agreed upon by all the stakeholders, we can then produce accountability and performance standards which should allow professional management to operate Lady Bird within a sustainable budget for years to come.

Let’s bring together a group of talented, energetic, and creative citizens including those who play golf and others who also value the importance of Lady Bird to visitors, business and tourism. This Vision Committee, with expert help from such resources as the United States Golf Association, the Texas Parks Department, and the National Golf Foundation will define and articulate just what Lady Bird should be.  FOLB has also suggested that the city obtain a professional “outside” audit of the financial management, operations, and personnel at Lady Bird so that we may get a good handle on exactly where we are and what is going on.   With a vision of what we wish Lady Bird to be and this operational information, we will be able to develop a plan to make Lady Bird a continuing source of pride and sustenance for our city.

It is time to take a fresh look.

Leonard Bentch, President

FOLB