The Arnold Golf Club has run out of mulligans.
The Arnold City Council split 4-4 on Dec. 19 on whether to lease operation of the golf course to a private company. Five affirmative votes were needed to put the contract into effect.
On the table was a five-year agreement with Walters Golf Management of St. Louis, with a plan for the city to subsidize operations of the golf course for the first three years of the contract.
“At this point, the contract failed,” Arnold City Administrator Bryan Richison said Dec. 20. “There are no alternatives. The city is not going to keep running it. I’m moving forward with that plan. (The course is) currently closed because of the weather, and I don’t see us reopening the course.”
The city of Arnold acquired the golf course in 2007, then named the Pomme Creek Golf Course. The site is flood-prone, however, and costly to continually repair. As a result, the council cut operation of the golf course from the city’s 2019 fiscal year budget, which began Sept. 1.
But until bad weather hit a few weeks ago, the city had kept the course open while searching for alternatives to closure.
Councilmen Mark Hood (Ward 3), Vern Sullivan (Ward 3), Butch Cooley (Ward 4) and Gary Plunk (Ward 4) voted to approve the contract.
“I’m disappointed, but I understand why the people voted against it,” Plunk said. “My personal feeling is what else are you going to do with the golf course? You turn it into a park, so now we have three parks that flood.
“The second thing is, you can’t turn it into a park without adding restrooms, water lines, sewers and roads. We go from not putting much money into running a golf course to putting a lot of money into parks.”
Councilmen EJ Fleischmann (Ward 1), Jason Fulbright (Ward 1), Brian McArthur (Ward 2) and Tim Seidenstricker (Ward 2) voted against the lease agreement.
“I have no problems with having a golf course, and I would love to have one if the financial side wasn’t such a negative thing,” Seidenstricker said. “It came down to the cost, the potential for the cost to go up and a contract that I believe benefited Walters more than the city. The city’s interest is what I’m concerned about the most.”
The agreement called for the city to begin leasing the golf course to Walters on Jan. 1 for the next five years. Walters would have paid Arnold $1 per year to lease the land.
Arnold also was scheduled to pay Walters $300,000 to operate the golf course over the first three years of the agreement. The city would pay monthly installments each year with Walters collecting $125,000 this year, $100,000 in 2021 and $75,000 in 2022.
Arnold would not have subsidized the golf course in 2023 or 2024.
“For the people who use the golf course, it is a slap in the face,” Sullivan said of closing the course. “There are quite a few people, a lot of seniors, who really enjoy it. I wish we could have taken in a couple of the council members’ objections and gone back to Walters (for renegotiation).”
Fulbright and McArthur said they were troubled by clauses in the contract that would have allowed Walters to end the arrangement.
Fulbright said he wasn’t comfortable with a clause stipulating that, in the event of capital improvements costing more than $10,000, Walters could consult with the city about the project and cost, and if the city did not cover the cost of the work, Walters would be allowed to terminate the agreement with 90-days’ notice.
Fulbright and McArthur also objected to a clause allowing Walters to break the lease if the course were damaged by a fire, a tornado, a flood or other “acts of God.” If any of those things occurred and the course had to be closed for more than 30 days, Walters could terminate the agreement with 90-days’ notice.
Fulbright said the property could serve more people with a different use.
“As a golf course, it is going to serve people who golf. If we possibly look at putting in maybe soccer fields, football fields, baseball fields, walking tracks, bike tracks. Just making it a park that will maybe serve the whole community would be a better use for it.”
He also said keeping the tract as a golf course would be “just kicking the can down the road.”
“It is going to flood again. We have to figure out how to utilize that park and take into consideration the flooding. I didn’t think the lease was a good deal for the city, but it is also looking at the park itself and saying, ‘Is that the best way to utilize the property?’”
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 $4 million investment, the city has paid $3,013,598 to operate the golf course over the last 12 years, Richison said. Arnold had been projected to spend $450,000 to operate the course this year, before the council dropped course operations from the 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 and turned into a different amenity for Arnold.
Mayor Ron Counts favors shutting down the course.
“I believe that the property currently used as a golf course, and the resources dedicated to the operation of the golf course, can be better utilized to benefit a larger segment of our residents,” Counts said Dec. 19.
He voted against the contract, although his vote was not necessary. A majority of all eight council members is required to expend city funds, and the contract did not receive a majority.
“I pledge and ensure the closure of the golf course will result in the redistribution of funds to ensure health and recreation for a larger segment of our residents, especially the younger people,” Counts said.
Plunk said he did not agree with the council members who objected specifically to the clauses allowing Walters to break the lease.
“We could renegotiate. I didn’t understand their thoughts on it, so I guess they just didn’t want a golf course.”
Danny Tuggle had also submitted a proposal to the city to operate the course. Tuggle and his family formerly owned the House Springs Golf Course.
However, that proposal was not pursued after a Nov. 7 closed session when Counts asked council members to weigh in on three options: negotiate with Walters, negotiate with Tuggle or close the course. Negotiating with Walters had the most votes.
Richison said the city will proceed with options to use the tract in other ways, but said there is technically a chance the golf course could be revived if a different proposal is presented and accepted by the City Council.
“I don’t think Mr. Tuggle’s proposal is an option, and I don’t know who else is out there,” Richison said. “Theoretically, another group could enter with a proposal and the council could consider it.
“At this point, the process has gone back to July and has had a lot of twists and turns. I’m not believing we are done yet.”