It’s not often that an asset of the town of Woodbridge gets press in a national publication but there was an article about the Country Club of Woodbridge on December 10th in Golf Digest. It was written by David Owen, a golfer, who also writes for The New Yorker and has been described by a peer as one of the “50 funniest American writers” – a list that includes Mark Twain.
We have just completed our fourth season with the golf course. Businesses that are vulnerable to the weather lessen the financial risk by developing a foundation of season passes, members and/or outings. Obviously, we were initially a start-up and had no members or outings. Also, the golf course was left in pretty sad condition by the prior operator which made selling outings and memberships difficult.
We are now approaching $1 million in annual golf revenues. Membership revenues in 2015 were almost 30% of total golf revenues. Outing revenues have grown from $24,000 in 2012 to $231,000 in 2015. The $1 million revenue level is $250,000 above the level in 2012. Expenses at a golf course are fairly fixed regardless of income, so most of this added revenue falls to the bottom line. Also, in 2016, we will make the last $118,000 payment on a loan used to acquire maintenance equipment. Some of the equipment will need to be replaced but some has 10-20 year useful lives. A new smaller loan may be required. The combination of higher revenues and lesser expense puts us over $300,000 better than in 2012.
This has been achieved despite fighting daily the view that we are going to be closed or converted to residential development. By example, outings are frequently booked a year in advance – or for multiple years – and often we don’t even get consideration by outing directors because of the perceived risk that the facility will be closed. Similar problems occur in selling memberships.
The pool has been decimated by the talk about a change in use. There were about 60 members in 2011 and it grew to 122 families in 2013 but since all the talk about a change, the membership fell back to 61 in 2015. We lost about $100,000 of annual revenues because of this, which includes families that had both pool and golf memberships. The families didn’t stop going to a pool – they just went elsewhere. Beecher enrollment is currently almost 100 students higher than 5 years ago, kindergarten enrollment in the last 3 years is at the 3 highest levels in the last 11 years, house sales in town in 2015 were 45% higher than 2014 and were at their highest level since 2003 – these are all demographic indications that the pool will be in increased demand in the future and could be a tremendous success. Billy Casper Golf marketed the property in 2012 and 2013 and the membership doubled. They have offered to market the pool for free which would also enable them to cross-sell more golf rounds and memberships, but families are going to be reluctant to commit to the pool if we keep talking about changing the use.
I know that you are considering various options for the property. I believe that a vast majority of the residents do not want to see a change in the use but are concerned about the cost of the present use. The historic operating costs of the property have been identified. This includes years in which the property was operated by a third-party, years in which it was in start-up mode and years in which the operations were severely impacted by the perception that the use was going to be changed. Obviously, your task is to look forward, but you would have to eliminate a lot of static in the historic operating costs to arrive at a reasoned assessment. Here’s a simple question – could the golf course and pool generate enough funds to achieve your financial objectives? It would be a shame to close the pool and the golf course and lose the social, recreational and environmental values of these assets without answering that question.
Chair, Country Club of Woodbridge Commission
(Note: This was a letter I read before the Board of Selectmen at its meeting of January 13, 2016.)