Last spring, a consultant told Santa Rosa officials that the city-owned Bennett Valley Golf Course was hemorrhaging money.
The popular course, which once had $1.1 million in reserves, will be nearly out of money at the end of this year unless changes are made, the consultant's report said.
Those changes may come Tuesday as the city council considers recommendations that officials hope will put the financially ailing operation back on the fairway.
The only noticeable adjustment for the thousands of golfers who use the course is a proposed moderate raise in green fees — $1 to $3 for individual rounds and a 7 percent increase for annual passes.
The change would boost revenues while keeping rates lower than the average for Sonoma County public courses, city officials say.
Less noticeable changes include amendments to the agreement between the city and course operator Bob Borowicz, who was praised in the consultant report for the upkeep and maintenance of the 44-year old course, but criticized for poor accounting practices.
Borowicz, who said the accounting issues have been addressed, has agreed to a $4,000 reduction in the monthly payment from the city to $70,000 for the rest of the fiscal year. He is also on the hook for supplies costing up to $45,000 this year. And he will be required to hire a marketing consultant to help increase play on the course that had 70,000 rounds last year.
"This will get us heading in the right direction," said Borowicz, who has worked at the course since 1978 and became the resident pro in 1982. "There are no guarantees, obviously."
The measures are the first step toward returning the operation to financial stability, said assistant city manager Jennifer Phillips. With these changes, the course is expected to break even this year, she said. City officials also will negotiate a new multi-year operating agreement and craft a plan to increase the reserves over five to seven years.
"It's a multi-faceted approach," Phillips said. "The operator is taking on more financial responsibility. We need to replenish the reserve."
The financial problems began in 2007 when the city built a $9.6 million clubhouse and restaurant just as the nation's economy collapsed. The project was financed with $5 million in bond sales, and payments have run the city $400,000 per year, Phillips said.
Phillips served as interim recreation and parks director after former director Marc Richardson retired in December.
Richardson and former parks development manager Rich Hovden were fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission in May for failing to report thousands of dollars in gifts from Borowicz, primarily in the form of free rounds of golf. Richardson was also accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws by accepting gifts from Borowicz while negotiating a new contract with the course operator.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he is looking forward to planning for the long-term health of the golf course, and he expressed confidence in Borowicz as an operator.
"I think this gets us to a viable spot for the balance of the year, but it is not a long-term solution," he said. "There's no reason to think that Mr. Borowicz doesn't run a good operation. I think the business end needs some help."
Bennett Valley golfers on Friday weighed in on the proposed increase in green fees, with many not minding the slight increase. Adults currently pay $38 for 18 holes on the weekend, below the $47 average.