As yet another company lays out a plan to nurse the city's ailing golf courses back to health, City Council wants the surrounding neighborhoods to be part of the cure.
Billy Casper Golf L.L.C., one of the country's largest operators of municipal golf courses, took over operation of four of the city's six golf courses Jan. 1 but is still awaiting City Council's approval of a 10-year contract that would make Billy Casper responsible for capital improvements.
The courses are F.D.R. in South Philadelphia, John F. Byrne in the Northeast, and Cobbs Creek and Karakung in West Philadelphia.
Council is expected to approve the contract in the next few weeks, after the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs gave it a favorable recommendation yesterday.
Billy Casper will be the fourth company to take control of the courses since 1985. Each previous one has eventually failed, and the needed fixes at the courses - including tees, greens and cart paths, and an updated irrigation system - have gone unaddressed.
Billy Casper is required to make $350,000 in improvements the first year and at least $45,000 to $50,000 a year after that. That's not going to be enough - the Fairmount Park Commission, which owns the courses, and Billy Casper are depending on improved business to fund real changes.
Two struggling courses, Juniata in North Philadelphia and Walnut Lane in Roxborough, will be run by community nonprofit groups. The Fairmount Park Commission kept the two golf courses out of the contract in the hope of making the package more attractive to concessionaires.
Fairmount Park will save $500,000 annually under the Billy Casper arrangement and is guaranteed $3.5 million in fees and improvements over 10 years, Fairmount Park executive director Mark Focht said. Billy Casper would also run the City Line Sports Center at 7900 City Ave., which includes a driving range, miniature golf and batting cages.
"We are confident that this new concession agreement with Billy Casper Golf Management promises a bright future for the city's golf facilities," Focht said.
City Council members briefed last week insisted, however, that Billy Casper formulate plans to incorporate high schools near the courses, and even come up with reduced prices for family members of students there.
Amendments yesterday required Billy Casper to come up with such plans by June 1. Failure to comply with that and minority hiring demands could cause the company to default on the contract.
"They're not islands in and of themselves," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Committee. "It was important that those businesses in our neighborhoods reflect the neighborhoods where they sit on all levels."
That won't be a problem, said Joe Goodrich, senior vice present of Billy Casper Golf.
"A lot of it is just good communication," Goodrich said, adding that Billy Casper has programs to allow children to play free on weekend afternoons with a paying adult. Goodrich said Billy Casper had reported growth from 5 percent to 30 percent in courses it has taken over, including in Cook County, Ill., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Westchester County, N.Y. Much of its effort is focused on youth, Goodrich said.
The company takes over from Liberty Golf, which ran the entire system for 21/2 years after Meadowbrook Golf of Florida asked out of its contract in 2005.