APRC to continue ownership of golf course property, plans to seek proposal for private management of 70-acre site
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
A request for proposals for managing the operations at Oak Knoll Golf Course is expected to go out for bid in November.
The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission recently approved the action in hopes of finding a sustainable solution to course-correct financial woes, with the goal of keeping the space useful to the community. APRC leaders are pointing to the drought and climate change as “more than likely” factors propelling the commission toward the shift. With a loss in revenue after this summer trending around 50% of normal, the course faces losses all around.
The course would likely remain a golf course, officials said, but the commission is open to hearing proposals for additional uses for the property from the community.
“The goal is to keep the golf course as a golf course,” said Michael Black, director of APRC. “We’re looking at options where we can make that happen and we’re looking beyond basically just doing the same thing we’ve always done, trying to continue the continuity of recreation offerings and open space. But we’re trying to look at potential public-private partnerships … having it be private, but we’re not ruling out the potential for Parks and Recreation to run it in the future.
“It hasn’t been decided that somebody else is going to run it just yet,” he added. “We have to prepare a (request for proposal) and see what comes back. We have to weigh all of our options.”
Landt said there’s no certainty that the Parks Commission has the money to run all of its recreational programs.
“In the future, there may be really tough choices that have to be made,” Landt said.
“My preference would be that we continue to offer the recreational opportunities that we provide … but we can’t guarantee this without funding,” he added. “All we can basically see is that our funding continues to decrease.”
Climate change, drought catalysts for changing course
Climate change, extreme heat and the drought have increased the need for water on course, at the same time less water is available from Talent Irrigation District (TID).
“Now, the TID reservoirs are empty and so, with empty reservoirs for two years in a row, we haven’t had anywhere close to a full (irrigation) season,” Landt said.
How did the course get to where it is today?
“Climate change has really led us to where we are,” Black said. “If we didn’t have this drought, if the reservoirs were full, if TID was running normally, we’d be operating this golf course just as we have been for decades and it would’ve been just exactly the same.”
The commission watered the course for eight weeks this summer, but with extreme heat and drought, it was still not enough to keep the lush greens from turning brown.
Black said he doesn’t believe a different management style would have made a difference, and that climate change and drought have taken a toll.
The land where the golf course currently sits is expected to remain under the ownership of the city.
“I can’t predict what will happen in the next five years, but right now, we have no plans to sell the golf course,” Landt said.
Landt said the course has been leased out in the past.
“The maintenance has always been Ashland Parks,” Black said.
Black said APRC still needs to explore whether Ashland Parks would continue to provide maintenance under a public-private partnership, if that is the route the commission takes.
“This fall and into the winter, we’ll be looking into the RFP,” Black said. “The RFP — we’ll know kind of what we’re looking for when we put out the request.
“We’re going to want them to say, ‘well, this is how I think it could run,’” he added. “We don’t want to stifle anyone’s creativity because, I think, right now, I don’t believe there’s any direction going into this like we have to be the ones maintaining the course or we have to be the ones running this.
“I think what we’re open to is looking and seeing what other groups might be willing to offer and we just really don’t know right now what’s out there. We know that there are people thinking things but we just don’t know what it is yet.”
Landt said this year there wasn’t any money budgeted for watering the course.
“The commissioners directed staff not to water with potable water but to water with TID,” Landt said. “We had a wet spring and it looked like it might all work but we had a period of dry between when the rain stopped and when the TID came on and that was enough to basically brown out the greens.”
The greens are currently being watered with city water and are closed to play for at least the next 90 days, officials said.
Landt said estimated costs for labor, materials and water to “renovate” the greens after they turned brown are $15,000 to $20,000, which is significantly less expensive than the usual watering budget for the year. Since the commission didn’t have a budget for water this year, Landt sees it as a cost savings to not have a specified watering budget.
“We decided, we think we need to save these greens if we can, and at that point, we decided let’s water just the greens,” Landt said. “Which is problematic because the irrigation system isn’t just set up to water the greens, but we hand-watered, did what we could.”
The greens on the course are cordoned off for re-seeding of grass, but the course remains playable with temporary cups.
“Hopefully by next year, we’ll be using the regular (holes),” Landt said.
The decision to water the greens this fall has drawn naysayers, according to Landt, but he believes people also would be upset if they didn’t water.
Landt drove an Ashland.news reporter around the course on an electric golf cart, pointing out the areas currently being watered, which are visibly returning to a lush, green color.
“The greens are what really count,” Landt said, stopping at one of the holes to show off the improvement so far.
“We’re giving it 90 days total for all of them,” Black said, of when he estimates the greens to be open. “But, we’ll open them as soon as we can.”
Some have asked what the impact would be to shutter the golf course. Black said to shut down the golf course would save $100,000 in the short-term, but that “there’s still 70 acres to be maintained.”
“We’d still have to maintain it, but not as a golf course,” Black said. “We can’t just walk away from a golf course and let it turn into a 70-acre fire hazard. We have to maintain it to a certain level. It’s our responsibility as property owners.”
Finding an alternative water source will be key to the longevity of the golf course as many know it.
“If we can’t find another water source, we’re in trouble,” Landt said. “I think that’s the bottomline, because TID has become unreliable. So our goal is to keep it open.”
Building more ponds or utilizing wells are potential options for alternate sources, he said.
“If we weren’t able to find another water source and if the drought continues, then the hand writing’s kind of on the wall,” Landt said. “But I think at this point, our goal is to keep it open.”
Black and the commissioners are looking forward to hearing ideas on how to move forward with the course.
“If someone has an idea … we want to hear about it,” Landt said. “And if it seems like it’s beneficial to the community, I think we’ll seriously look at it.”
Would the commission be open to other ideas besides just a golf course?
“In conjunction with keeping it open, absolutely,” Landt said. “My guess would be for someone who came with a proposal to us might have other creative ideas.”
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.