It's fair to say that at some point, Santa Rosa got way off course on the finances of the Bennett Valley Golf Course.
The result was a lot of finger-pointing on who was to blame.
Some claim those who oversee golf course operations were asleep at the switch for allowing the course's reserves to dwindle to nothing, putting the city at risk of having to use general fund dollars to make ends meet. Others blame the grand ambitions of overzealous city officials for how the expanded $9.6 million clubhouse and restaurant would be used without a realistic idea of how the project would be funded.
Most others blamed it on poor timing, given that the project was financed with $5 million in bonds and completed in 2007 on the eve of the Great Recession. The result was a severe drop in golf course rounds — and city revenue — just as Santa Rosa was taking on payments of $400,000 a year on the project.
Making matters worse, amid questions about the course's finances, the state Fair Political Practices Commission fined the city's director of Parks and Recreation Marc Richardson for having a conflict of interest in receiving thousands of dollars of free gifts and free golf from course operator Bob Borowicz. Richardson had negotiated a 10-year management contract with Borowicz in 2009.
The result was a mess. But through it all, the city appears to have found its way back, heading in the right direction.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved a course-correction plan that includes:
; A modest increase in green fees of $1 to $3 for individual rounds and 7 percent for annual passes.
; A $4,158-a-month reduction in payments to Borowicz to cover costs associated with operating the entire golf course.
; Having Borowicz pick up more of the costs of supplies and pay for a marketing consultant while allowing him the flexibility to offer discounts to help boost the number of rounds when needed.
All of these steps are intended to help increase revenue at the golf course while driving down costs.
All in all, the city is wise not to put the burden of bridging the budget shortfall solely on the backs of golfers through higher green fees and other charges. Nor should it. As former course operator John Flachman pointed out Tuesday, the expanded clubhouse and restaurant was as much, if not more, a vision of City Council members and other city officials than it was for those who play on the course. And it has lived up to that vision as a community gathering place.
Legends restaurant at the golf course remains a popular location for meetings of local service clubs and other groups and has served as a key venue for numerous city functions, including parties for departing and retiring city officials. As such, it serves everyone's best interests to see the entire operation return to self-sufficiency without jeopardizing its overall revenue streams by pushing green fees too high and putting it at a competitive disadvantage.
As it is, the solution approved by the City Council on Tuesday strikes the right balance while getting the city and the course out of the worst kind of trap.