Santa Rosa hopes new operator can help turn Bennett Valley Golf Course around

Company officials have already begun meeting with various Santa Rosa groups to launch youth programs and expand access to older residents, Harker said.

One program the company is considering would blend golf instruction with job training. The company would transport young people to the course to teach them how to golf and train them in various course jobs that they can perform after school.

Touchstone plans to host other types of events, such as runs and luncheons, to bring people to the site, too, he said.

City working on long-term plan for course

Beyond day-to-day operations, the city will now begin looking at how to revitalize the course and pay for improvements.

Touchstone has committed $50,000 toward landscaping at the entrance to the golf course.

Other minor improvements are planned in the first year, including work on the sand traps, tree thinning and in the restaurant.

But long term, millions in improvements are needed across the facility. One of the highest priorities is replacing the 50-year-old irrigation system and installing a drainage system to prevent water from pooling on the links, which is estimated to cost $4.4 million.

A consultant earlier this year recommended completing a sitewide masterplan and creating a list of priority projects. Touchstone has said some of the work can be done in-house.

Now the city must figure out how to pay for improvements.

The consultant recommended funding work through a general fund investment, bond or using golf course revenues, a move that could require the city to increase playing fees.

As a city enterprise, the golf course is supposed to be self-sustaining, meaning course revenues should pay for operations and capital projects.

Yearly rounds played at the course do generate revenue but the course’s profitability is hampered by a $458,500 annual payment needed to pay off about $4 million in debt stemming from a 2005 renovation of the clubhouse. The city expects to withdraw the debt by 2030.

The debt load has forced the city to use reserve funds and general fund dollars to operate the course and pay down liabilities, leaving less money for improvements.

City officials hope the new management contract is more profitable for Santa Rosa.

The city will receive all course revenue and is responsible for all operating expenses under the new management contract. Under the previous contract, not enough revenue was being captured to cover costs, Parks Deputy Director Jen Santos said.

Course revenue should also see a bump with the restaurant reopening after two years, Santos said.

Santos said the city projects a first-year loss because of costs to transfer operations, minor improvements and debt payments, but the course is expected to operate in the green in future years and surplus funds can be put toward capital improvements.

City staff will return to the council later this year with an update on course revenue and expenditures, a list of recommended capital projects and funding options.

Golfers have ‘high hopes’

Capuano, who has been playing at Bennett Valley since he was a kid in the early 1990s, described the course as his second home.

He became involved with the golf club about 16 years ago. Club members make up many of the rounds played at Bennett Valley, he said. Their annual membership fluctuates from about 250 to 350 members.

Capuano worries that without improvements, talk of redeveloping the course won’t go away.

The pro shop and restaurant remodel made the course a great venue but at a cost. If the course wasn’t burdened by debt, that money could go toward deferred maintenance and the course would be profitable, he said.

“(The contract) is certainly a good step in the right direction but I have a feeling that subject will never be closed,” he said. “But I do have high hopes for this contract.”

Dan Galvin is more optimistic.

Galvin, whose father headed a committee in the 1960s who led to the course’s creation and was one of the original employees at the pro shop as a high school student, said Touchstone will bring stability to the course.

It was upsetting that the city considered redeveloping Bennett Valley he was glad of course listened to but the thousands of residents who fought to save the he said.

He hopes the discussion is put to rest for good.

“I hope the course is preserved for good and any thoughts of selling off or redeveloping part or all of it will go away,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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