Ex-operator says city needs to take active role in managing golf course

The Ballinger Lake Golf Course in December.
The Ballinger Lake Golf Course in December.

Story and photo by Doug Petrowski

As the Mountlake Terrace City Council considers whether they will seek a new managing operator for the Ballinger Lake Golf Course, former manager Carol Hardy isn’t too optimistic that the city can find anyone who could operate the course profitably.

“As I said before, as did most of our customers, if we can’t make it work, no one else can,” Hardy said late last week. She and her husband had managed the golf course for the city since 2006, before turning in the keys and walking away on Nov. 4, 2012.

The city council is scheduled to vote on a proposal to find a new managing partner for the nine-hole golf course and accompanying clubhouse at its Monday, Jan. 7 meeting. No time frame for acquiring a property manager is included in the formal plan, although City Manager John Caulfield has discussed a six- to eight-week search period beginning two month after the council gives its approval to move ahead with the plan.

If no operator for the golf course and clubhouse is found, the city has outlined options of either managing the course and clubhouse themselves through the Recreation and Parks Department, or transitioning the property into a passive park. Several council members have already gone on record as favoring turning the 102-acre property into parkland.

While the council is expected to give its OK for a golf course manager search to begin, Hardy believes city expectations and practices will stifle any outside interest in the opportunity. “I don’t believe the city is being realistic with their expectations from any operator in this economic climate when it comes to that golf course, and the sooner they realize that the better off everyone will be,” Hardy said.

Hardy outlined two specific reasons why the city will find it difficult to find anyone willing to take on management of the Ballinger Lake Golf Course: assigning legal responsibility in case the new manager backs out of the contract, and spelling out how grounds maintenance will be handled.

“They seem adamant about having a new operator sign a personal guarantee; good luck with that,” Hardy said. “Nobody in their right mind would or should do that.”

The Hardys operated the course as an LLC; the city is threatening legal action to seek damages from the Hardys for walking away from their contract, but as a “limited liability company” the city could only claim compensation from the business, not the Hardys personally. The contract called for Hardy Golf LLC to operate Ballinger Lake Golf Course from 2011-2015.

Hardy has also complained about what she feels was neglect on the city’s part to provide assistance with the upkeep of the course. “The city needs to start taking an active and continuous role in the improvements and success of the golf course, and they have failed to do so,” Hardy said. “Hopefully that will change.”

Although she says that Hardy Golf “left with a property in much better condition than (the city) left for us” when they took over operations in 2006, Hardy believes the course needs much work. “Any new operator is going to have to address multiple capital improvement projects – drainage, damage caused by flooding and, obviously, foliage removal,” Hardy explained. “This is why we converted the sand bunkers into grass; there was no drainage and the cost of bunker sand that is just going to wash away due to flooding and poor drainage is an extreme amount of money to waste.”

“If the city is not going to participate, then the next operator needs to have a lot of cash to make capital improvements, which is not the best business decision when it’s not their property, as it belongs to the city. You can’t take those capital improvements with you,” Hardy said.

City Manager Caulfield outlined last month how the city plans on maintaining the grounds during this interim period when there is no contractor on-site, including mowing, weed control, trimming and/or removing overgrown vegetation, and clean-up of the clubhouse and maintenance shop. A city report states that assessments of the course were done on Nov. 7, three days after the Hardy’s vacated the operation, while “limited parks maintenance” began on Nov. 9. The golf course itself is closed to all visitors, while the clubhouse is now being made available for city meetings and private party rentals.

If the city is able to find someone willing to take on management of the course, Hardy had this counsel: “I would advise a new operator to get everything in writing, even the smallest of conversations.”

And what are Carol Hardy’s final thoughts on her and her husband’s history with the golf course, and the course’s future? “We know that we did a great job in a bad situation, and we were honest, hard-working and loyal to our customers and the city. We will just sit back and see what transpires and wish everyone, including ourselves, well.”

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