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Losses mount at Bennett Valley Golf Course

  • Oliver Durra practices his putting before starting his shift working at the Bennett Valley Golf Course in Santa Rosa on Monday, June 3, 2013. Despite the popularity of the public golf course, city officials are estimating the course will lose money again this year and may be out of money by the next summer. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

The Bennett Valley Golf Course in Santa Rosa is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and will be nearly out of money by next summer unless the city can help it swing back to profitability soon.

City officials say that without substantive changes, the course will lose $262,000 next budget year, the sixth straight year of losses and the fourth year in a row with losses exceeding $200,000.

At that rate, the once highly profitable course will be broke, with just $18,000 in reserves by next July, down from more than a $1.1 million five years ago.

Taxpayers will be on the hook if losses continue, a fact that is lending a sense of urgency to the city's effort to understand the challenges facing the course and craft solutions.

"We're on the edge, and we've got to take corrective action, and it needs to happen immediately," said Mayor Scott Bartley.

The heightened scrutiny of the course's finances comes at a sensitive time for the operator, Bob Borowicz, who, it was revealed last month, for years gave thousands of dollars worth of free golf and other gifts to two former city officials, one of whom was responsible for negotiating Borowicz's contract.

The 18-hole course, opened in 1970, is the most popular in the region, with just over 70,000 rounds played last year. It is known for its competitive rates, excellent maintenance and modern facilities.

An outside performance review praised the course in general, but recommended several financial, operational and capital improvements to make the course profitable again. The report, conducted by Sirius Golf Advisors, concludes that course is in need of a "major overhaul" that could cost up to $5 million.

One item in particular, replacing the course's aging irrigation system, could cost more than $1.2 million, money the city has not set aside.

The need for such major capital improvements comes as the course struggles to repay the debt on the $10 million clubhouse and pro shop completed in 2007.

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