Mark Pierzchala, a Rockville City Councilman who is up for re-election this fall, was extensively interviewed in Governing about public golf courses in “Course Correction.” The case study is Rockville’s RedGate Golf Course, which was recently managed by Billy Casper Golf until it decided to end its lease. Here’s an excerpt that provides some background and Mark’s vision for RedGate:
Back in Maryland, Rockville’s first reckoning with its municipal golf course came in 2010. The Great Recession had wreaked havoc on the city’s budget and amid all the cuts to consider, RedGate’s half-million-dollar annual losses floated right up to the top. “Many golfers were very angry about the idea of not subsidizing the course,” says Councilman Mark Pierzchala. After weighing various options, the city opted to contract with Billy Casper Golf to run the course beginning in 2011. The hope was that by folding RedGate into a national company’s portfolio, Billy Casper would make the necessary investments to get the course to turn a profit. “We knew there was a possibility they couldn’t make it work,” says Pierzchala. “But in the end, we figured it was our best shot.”
Eight years later, the prevailing market forces are now too strong to salvage RedGate. It’s surrounded by competition. Four different country club courses are just miles away, and a county-run golf course and driving range is about 10 minutes northeast. Unable to turn much of a profit, Billy Casper Golf cut down on maintaining the course, which led to a host of irrigation problems in the hilly terrain. A National Golf Foundation report issued after Billy Casper dropped the course found that it would cost at least $2.5 million to repair the drainage, irrigation, cart paths and other landscaping necessities required to restore the course to its heyday. In total, the city was looking at an investment of up to $3.7 million to get the course back in good condition. And that investment came with no guarantee that the course would then break even.
In June, the city council officially decided to consider other options for the course and took the first step in hiring a consultant to conduct a master planning process. Unlike in 2010, there was very little—if any—pushback. Instead, most council members view it as an opportunity. For Pierzchala, it’s a chance to finally get the $15 million windfall the city needs to restore a historic dairy barn and farmstead on the north end of town for use as an event venue. The city’s town center also needs new investment, he says. The councilman is hoping Rockville sells a portion of the land to a developer for mixed-use housing and retail. Others would rather invest in keeping the entire area as open parkland. The debate is sure to dominate the city’s elections this fall. “To me,” says Pierzchala, “it’s about what are you giving up to rescue this place.”