Eagle Valley Golf working on renovations

A backhoe's roar drowned out the putt of golf carts Friday at a bunker on the west Eagle Valley Golf Course.

Michael McGehee, general manager of the non-profit corporation that has run Eagle Valley Golf for two and a half years, said the work is part of several renovations the golf course staff will complete before the traditional start of the peak golf season April 1.

During years of deferred maintenance under city operations, grass had gradually invaded the bunkers - sand traps - at the courses. In some cases the original edge of a trap is a dozen feet inside the grass line.

"We're rehabilitating all the bunkers, pulling out the grass and replacing the sand. We've also bought two new mowers to ensure a consistent 2-inch height in the roughs. We're going to raise the 18th-hole fairways on both courses so they are dry, then reseed them," McGehee said.

"All this is being accomplished by our own staff," he said.

Other improvements to be completed by April 1 include repairing and resurfacing of all the cart paths and a facelift in the clubhouse, with new carpets and countertops, he said.

The improvements are being completed on operating funds substantially lower than the course had when it was run by the city before Aug. 1, 1997. Both then and now, the course's funding derives from user fees. While use had peaked at almost 110,000 rounds under city management, 1999's total of 66,000 rounds was an improvement on the first full year for the non-profit corporation, McGehee said.

"We have not raised our prices from what the city charged. Our goal is to provide affordable golf," McGehee said.

That means golfers ages 80 and older can still play the Eagle Valley courses for free.

"We get at least a twosome or foursome of the 80-year-olds every day," McGehee said.

January is supposed to be a slow month, but the mild and dry winter draws a number of golfers daily.

The staff will grow to about 60 from April through September. But now a staff of 11 - including McGehee, golf pro Greg Carter and administrative assistant Jean Bondiett - are handling all the operations.

"We all do everything here. You should see me out there pushing the golf carts into line," said Bondiett, a former waitress who earned a degree in human ecology and now handles the operation's human resources and other paperwork, as well as helping to market Eagle Valley Golf.

McGehee, who helped with the building and management of three commercial courses in the Palm Springs, Calif., area, seems enthusiastic about getting the long-needed renovations completed at Eagle Valley.

McGehee said he and the board of the Carson City Municipal Golf Corp. knew before they took over that bringing the courses up to snuff would be a long-term challenge. For one thing, a major chunk of the revenue would go to debt service, ranging from $410,000 to $643,000 a year because of overlapping loans.

Some of the smaller debts have been paid off and a $2.3 million 1997 loan that financed the West Course's construction has been refinanced to a 20-year debt with a 15-year repayment schedule. Debt requirements are now about $200,000 a year, but the course will pay $240,000 a year to finish the loan in 15 years.

The second major change for the course during the transition out of city operations was in its payroll.

"Under the old system, something that was a thorn in our side was that the course had a number of good, long-term city employees," said former city supervisor Greg Smith, a proponent of the change to course operation by a nonprofit corporation. "They did nothing wrong, but some were making in the neighborhood of $40,000 a year for grounds maintenance, simply because they had been there for so long.

"As a city-run course, it was always a question of how can we compete with other courses that are hiring people for much less?" Smith said. "One of the thing's I'm proud of is that none of the city workers from the course lost jobs in the transition. They transferred to other departments, like recreation, and retained their pay levels and benefits."

Smith said his impression is that the nonprofit corporation has done a good job so far, especially considering what it had to start with.

"I don't know that the city left them in the greatest shape to start with. Several major maintenance projects were delayed by the city in its last two years.

"The biggest was the East Course's sprinkler system. We (the city board of supervisors) knew it, but we didn't have the funds so we passed it along to them," Smith said.

McGehee said the course has met all the goals set by its directors during it operation so far, without raising rates. The next challenge will be tackling the irrigation problems.

"We spend a tremendous amount of time keeping the existing system running. But replacing the system is one thing we cannot do with our own staff," McGehee said. "That's a major project. You get a golf irrigation designer to design it. It would be installed by a company that specializes in golf course irrigation systems."

One estimate to replace the entire irrigation system is $1.6 million.

"We're going to need the city's assistance to do this," McGehee said.

Despite the now-private operation of Eagle Valley Golf, the courses still belong to the city and its residents, McGehee said. And the land itself is federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, leased to the city for recreational use and renewable every five years. McGehee said that means the nonprofit operation has even more incentive to satisfy its users, Carson's residents.

"We're just getting started here. You have to look years ahead when you're running a golf course," McGehee said.


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