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Committee Chair Offers Insights

Committee Chair Offers Insights

To the editor,

I am thankful that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance will be considering the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge property. The Special Meeting of the two boards on September 29th was a good start – naturally, it focused more on the history of the property and its finances. Hopefully, decisions will be made based upon the expectations for the property and its use by residents. In that regard, I am offering some comments.

Golf operations for the current calendar year should generate about a $45,000 loss for the golf course operator, Billy Casper Golf, before the $195,000 subsidy paid by the town. BCG has recently acquired a new golf cart fleet which will lower its prospective costs of having a golf cart fleet. That fact, in combination with improving APR (revenues per round) and growth in outings and membership lead me to believe that operations should be better than break-even before any subsidy in 2016. In that year, the final payment on the 2012 equipment purchase loan will be made, so a line item expense of $118,614 will disappear. Future equipment replacements will be required but net earnings of at least $60,000 appear very attainable in 2017 and beyond, again before any subsidy. (P.S. If you want to make $30,000 more, end the discount for golf for Woodbridge residents.)

Revenues from the pool and tennis operations have declined from $175,000 in 2013 to about $90,000 in 2015. This is an occurrence that I cannot explain (BCG and the Country Club of Woodbridge Commission are no longer involved in these activities so I no longer have a first-hand view) but I note that the total revenues in town from this activity are somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000, so clearly there is demand for this product, and there is only one other facility in town offering both pool and tennis.

I am told that the other operating costs at the property (i.e. clubhouse) are about $85,000 annually.

To me it seems that if the pool and tennis operations got back on track, they could cover the clubhouse operating costs and overall, then, the activities could break-even (or better). It is an inescapable truth that some further analysis of the future of the clubhouse building needs to be done and that could impact future operations.

Regarding the capital needs of the golf course, there was reference in the September 29th meeting to a sum totaling $400,500 over 6 years. The information is taken from a course improvement plan which is submitted as part of the town’s annual capital budget process. Historically, funds needed for golf course improvements are paid for out of the revenues of the course – ex. about 6,000 feet of golf cart paths and an extensive drainage project on the 5th hole in 2014 alone – and not from town capital funds. Some funding from the town would enable improvements which would yield good returns but no one has their hand out.

Also on ‘capital needs’, the irrigation system always comes up. An irrigation system consists of a water source, a pump and miles of plastic pipe and electrical wire with junctions and, ultimately, irrigation heads which deliver the water. With New England winters and the rocky terrain, pieces of the system get damaged annually in the freeze-thaw cycle and so every golf course has a budget for irrigation system maintenance. At some point, the golf course operator decides to install a new system in order to lessen their annual maintenance costs. We are nowhere near making that recommendation.

I also hope that recognition is given to value that the golf course provides by having a venue for charities to raise monies. In 2015 alone, we hosted golf outings for 25 different charities including the United Way, Boys and Girls Club, Wounded Warrior Project, Ovarian Cancer, Robert Clemente Academy, A.C.E.S., Toys for Tots, etc. etc. We also provide free golf for the Amity golf team – many other high schools have to pay for access to a golf course.

In the process of looking at the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge property, I assume that consideration will also be given to the use of the facilities by town residents – we evaluate other services on this basis – don’t we (I hope)? Billy Casper Golf collects data on individual golfers. This data includes town of residence. The information is not obtained for all golfers – some refuse to offer it, others are part of a large outing that is recorded without residence information. In 2013, about 70% of the golfers offered residence information. As a result, we know that the number of Woodbridge residents who played golf at the course was at least 584. If that 584 were 70% of the total Woodbridge residents who played at least a round of golf on the golf course, then that total would be 834. So, apparently, at least 6.5% of the town’s residents use the golf course, and it could be as much as 9%.

The use of other facilities is not on the same tracking system, but in 2013 an estimated 450 residents used the pool and an estimated 80 used the tennis courts. Obviously, some of these individuals used more than one facility so there may be double counting. In a broad sense it appears that somewhere between 900 and 1300 of the town residents used the Country Club of Woodbridge facilities. And, not insignificantly, they PAID for the use.

So, we have a service used by 10-15% of the residents that the residents pay for as they use it and its prospective operations are close to break-even. Can we make this statement for other services offered by the town?

Please note that I have excluded the cost of the funds that were borrowed to acquire this facility (just as they could be included or excluded in assessing the cost of library or recreational services). However, regardless of this cost, residents also receive the added benefit of the open space of this property.

Deke Hotchkiss

Chair, Country Club of Woodbridge Commission

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