MONTROSE – If some sort of financial assistance isn’t agreed upon sometime in the near future, the 18-hole Black Canyon Golf Club will close for a brief period this winter and reopen in February as a nine-hole course.
“We are more than willing to consider all options,” Montrose Land Company Boardmember Buck Miller said on Tuesday. “The objective has always been to preserve the golf course for Montrose and we want to preserve it as an 18-hole golf course.”
For the Montrose Land Company, which owns the front nine holes of the course, and the City of Montrose, which owns the back nine, preserving the 18-hole golf course in its entirety is tougher than ever as the region continues to feel the pinch of a slumping economy, declining golf numbers, competition, and rising costs for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.
The Montrose Land Company was first formed in 1961 for the purpose of bringing golf to Montrose and opened and operated the Black Canyon Golf Club as a nine-hole golf course until 1986. It was then, at the request of the Montrose Economic Development Corporation, a set of landowners donated land to the City of Montrose. The city accepted the donation and, along with the issuance of $300,000 in general revenue bonds, the course’s back nine holes were built. The city leased the back nine holes to the Montrose Land Company and it has operated the full 18-hole golf course since that time.
For awhile, the Black Canyon Golf Club was the only 18-hole golf course in the region but in 1999 the Cobble Creek golf course was built and in 2003 the Bridges golf course opened. The new golf competition in the Uncompahgre Valley reduced the revenue the Black Canyon Golf Club was used to getting.
“The revenue pie got cut into thirds,” Miller said, adding that the company notified the city that financial difficulties in running the full 18 holes were being felt.
After several years of negotiations, according to Miller, a financial assistance agreement with the city was reached in September 2008 whereby the city agreed to provide $40,000-$50,0000 in financial assistance each year along with some capital improvement. That financial agreement remained in place until last month when the Montrose Land Company began talks with the city to draft a new financial agreement. But because of the economic crash starting in 2008 and rising infrastructure costs and upgrade needs, the reality for the Montrose Land Company is that $40,000-$50,000 a year was no longer enough.
“We met with the city in July and provided them a rough draft of a proposed new agreement – this was a rough draft and submitted as a starting point – and we asked for up to $100,000 a year but also had an agreement provision that said if the financial fortunes turn around and we don’t need the money, we won’t ask for it,” Miller said. “We also indicated that the pump house on the back nine needs to be replaced.
“They came to us six months ago and said they can’t do it on $40,000-$50,000 a year,” City Manager Bill Bell said on Monday. “They said the need was $100,000 a year and capital work as the pump house on the back nine was getting pretty old.”
After speaking to members of the Montrose City Council, Bell said it was the conclusion that $100,000 a year in financial support is just too much.
“The current city position is we don’t feel comfortable providing $100,000 in tax dollars to support it,” Bell said.
But Miller said the $100,000 figure was not etched in stone. The rough draft of the proposal, he said, was just that: a rough draft.
“It was a starting point,” Miller said. “The $100,000 acknowledges the cost of maintaining the back nine. If the city can provide manpower and assistance to take care of some of those repairs, we can get by with $40,000-$50,000 and we’ll try to get some additional support. All along we have contemplated that this would be a process of discussion and negotiation with the city.”
Miller was also told that assistance in the form of $40,000 for two years and another $28,000 in pump improvements was also unacceptable for the city.
“On that basis, we made the decision to close the golf course on December first for the winter to preserve funds,” Miller said. “When we open up in February, it will operate it as a nine-hole golf course. We will make the appropriate changes to see if we can survive as a nine-hole course.”
City Attorney Stephen Alcorn said the city was willing to, and budgeted for, another $40,000 this year but was unwilling to more than double that figure to $100,000.
“We said the city had budgeted $40,000 this year and they told us that it wouldn’t do anything for them in the long-term,” Alcorn said. “The city wants it to be a successful 18-hole golf course. It’s not the city’s decision to make it a nine-hole course, it was a decision a private entity made. There are 616 members at the golf course. That means there are 18,400 citizens that aren’t members. That has weighed on the city’s decision.”
What will happen to the land donated to the city for the back nine holes? Alcorn said the land was conveyed to the city for the purposes of a golf course and/or open space. If the land is not used for a golf course the original land owners can ask for it back.
“Of course, we have no control over what those landowners would do,” Alcorn said. “They may not be interested in that. I have more questions than I have answers as to what might happen to that land. The city’s number one preference is that Black Canyon keeps it and runs it as an 18-hole course.”
Bell said city officials are hoping to meet with the original landowners to discuss their options and potentially meeting with golf course members and the public as well.
As for Miller, he remains hopeful that some financial agreement to keep the 18-hole golf course open may still come. He was especially encouraged that a chamber of commerce committee was formed earlier in the week to gather more information and explore options to find a solution to the problem.
“We are more than willing to work with the city on the timing of things and trying to get a partner so they are aware of the issues on the back nine,” Miller said. “Right now the golf course is facing difficult times but Montrose is going to grow and as Montrose grows there will be a real need for an 18-hole municipal golf course.”