Northwood Golf Club pro Dan Buckley will become an official city employee starting in 2013 under terms negotiated between Buckley and the city over recent months. The agreement must still be approved by the City Council on Monday, Dec. 10. This week, the city's Finance, Wage and Salary Committee gave it the OK.
Buckley has been employed at Northwood as an independent contractor since the course opened in 1989. He receives a base salary of about $23,000 plus portions of course revenues. Along with those revenues, there are some aspects of course operations (i.e. the driving range, employee wages) that Buckley incurs all the expense on.
Bringing Buckley on as a city employee means the city will be responsible for every aspect of course operations. But it also means the city will take in all the revenue. Currently, Buckley receives 89 percent of beverage cart sales, 30 percent of cart rental sales, and 100 percent of driving range and pro shop proceeds.
City Administrator Blaine Oborn said the hope is the change will help the course become more self-sufficient. In recent years, the golf course has regularly had to borrow from the city's general fund - and taxpayer dollars - to cover its operating deficit.
"I think we're looking for more control and the ability to monitor staffing and costs," Oborn said. "We can't afford to do the status quo. This way there's more control and I think things will be more transparent. All the revenue and expenses will be out there."
Oborn said the city may be taking on more expenses under the new arrangement, but with control of 100 percent of the revenue, the hope is the city can lessen the course's deficit. The course owes the city's general fund a total of about $900,000 at the moment. It hasn't been uncommon for the course's deficit in a single calendar year to reach six figures. That has been helped with the retiring of the course's initial construction loan at the end of 2011. Still, it has been hard for the course to make a profit, much less break even. In September, city officials decided to start exploring what was described as an "alternate relationship" with Buckley that could help the golf course's bottom line.
At that time, Buckley said he wasn't disappointed about his contract not being renewed. He noted that the terms haven't always been good for him either as the golf course business has suffered in recent years. Meanwhile, his base salary of $23,000 hasn't increased in 14 years.
"It was really good and Dan was great to work with," Oborn said of the negotiations with Buckley. "We both understand it's a tough situation."
Oborn said more and more municipally-owned golf courses are making the move away from private contracts with golf pros as they search for ways to cut costs in the current economic climate. The pro at the Eagle River Golf Course is an official employee of the city, and Oborn said Eagle River was used as a guide during the negotiations with Buckley.
"It's been a trend," Oborn said.
In 2011, Milwaukee County ended its agreement with the state PGA, which gave the golf course pros a percentage of cart rentals and concession sales, but retained the pros as salaried employees.
And in October, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Madison was not renewing the contracts with the pros of the city's four golf courses. According to the report, the change is going to give the city a projected surplus of $345,000 that is going to be used for long overdue facility improvements without increasing greens fees. The pros are being given the opportunity to apply for jobs as seasonal managers that are being developed under the new arrangement.
Kyle Rogers may be reached at kyle@ rivernewsonline.com.
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