A deal to keep the Arnold Golf Club open, with the city retaining ownership but no longer covering operational expenses, could be placed on a tee next month.
Arnold City Administrator Bryan Richison said City Council members recommended that Arnold pursue a five-year deal with Walters Golf Management, turning over operation of the 5,580-yard, par-70 course at One Golfview Drive to the company.
Richison said five of eight council members recommended entering into a contract with Walters, which had been hired to manage the course last year.
Richison said the course, which the city purchased in 2007 when it was called Pomme Creek Golf Course, will stay open during contract negotiations. He said he hopes to be able to present a contract to the council for a vote in December.
“We have talked with Walters about them taking over officially on Jan. 1,” Richison said. “We would slowly taper off our involvement until the spring, when the season gets going.”
Richison said a gradual transition is necessary.
“There is not a switch where we can go from, it is the city’s staff and no involvement from Walters, and boom, Jan. 1, we step away and they completely take over,” he said.
Richison said contract details have not been finalized, but Walters will ask the city to subsidize the golf course for the first three years of the five-year deal. Richison said the city would charge Walters a $1 rental fee each of the five years, with Arnold continuing to own the course.
“Right now, what Walters has asked for is a subsidy that would decline over the first three years of the contract,” Richison said. “The last two years of the contract, there would be no subsidy.
“The city would still be paying a significant amount, but it would be less than the amount of money we have been losing running it ourselves. As it declines, obviously, it will be better and better compared to what we have spent funding it ourselves.”
The city bought the golf course, which opened in 1992, for $3.15 million in 2007 from Arnold accountant and developer Dan Jones. The city then spent nearly $900,000 to improve the clubhouse at the time of the sale, Richison said.
Along with its initial nearly $4 million investment, the city has paid $3,013,598 to operate the golf course over the last 12 years, Richison said.
Arnold was projected to spend $450,000 to operate the course this year, but the council decided to begin defunding the course before passing this year’s city budget.
On Aug. 15, council members voted 6-1 to cut the golf course budget to $105,822 with the understanding that the city would either find someone else to operate the course or it would be closed down and turned into a different amenity for Arnold.
Along with Walters, Danny Tuggle submitted a proposal to the city to operate the course. Tuggle and his family formerly owned and operated the House Springs Golf Course.
During a Nov. 7 closed session, Mayor Ron Counts asked each council member to weigh in on whether the city should negotiate a contract with either Walters or Tuggle to take over operating costs, or should close the course, Richison said.
Councilmen Brian McArthur (Ward 2), Mark Hood (Ward 3), Vern Sullivan (Ward 3), Butch Cooley (Ward 4) and Gary Plunk (Ward 4) recommended the city pursue a contract with Walters. Councilmen EJ Fleischmann (Ward 1), Jason Fulbright (Ward 1) and Tim Seidenstricker (Ward 2) recommended closing the course, Richison said.
“The council’s discussion came down to Walters has a lot more experience running golf courses,” Richison said. “Walters manages a large number of golf courses in the St. Louis area and has some outside the St. Louis area. They have a lot of experience.
“I think they (council members) have also been and continue to be impressed with what Walters can do as a company. They appreciated having Mr. Tuggle’s interest and having a second opinion to take a look at, but I think in the end, they felt Walters brought more to the table than Mr. Tuggle did.”
Tuggle said Monday he had no hard feelings toward the city.
“My whole thing was to keep the golf course open,” he said. “I felt with my connections to the county I had a good chance of bringing it back.
“When they said they were going to close, I was just giving them an option. I didn’t want to see them close it.”
Although the deal that is under discussion would still require significant expense for the city, it is less than if the city tried to keep the course open on its own, Richison said.
“The biggest expense has always been personnel cost,” he said. “You save money right off the bat when you no longer have to pay for employees. I think it is an attractive enough offer, that it is worth pursuing.”
Richison said the city could still have to help finance any major capital improvement project needed at the course. He said the five-year contract with Walters will likely call for the city to help with any needed repairs that cost more than $10,000, or Walters would have the ability to end the deal.
“It makes sense, if we can stick it out for a couple of years, there is hope that the city is only spending money on large capital expenses,” Richison said of the potential deal.