OCEAN PINES — In his latest pitch to the community for the complete replacement of the Country Club, OPA General Manager Bob Thompson leaned more heavily than before on the holistic approach — what he called the “Campus Concept” — for the entire area than he had in previous explanations of the plan. By the time Thompson reached that point of the explanation, three hours into a meeting that ran nearly five hours, he’d lost much of the audience. Many of those who stayed, however, were surprised to hear how significant a part the necessary closure of the Golf Course’s 10th hole played in the plan.
Although his plan was ostensibly for the rehabilitation or replacement of the Country Club, Thompson said he had a wealth of other problems he was working to solve that both coincided with and had a direct affect upon the Golf Course as a whole; problems that would have to be addressed whether or not anything at all was done to the Country Club.
Chief among them, as it turned out, was the fact that the Clubhouse Drive bridge will have to be closed and replaced and an alternate route would have to be found for the duration of that necessary repair. The only alternate route Thompson could find ran directly through the 10th fairway.
There is not, as it stands, a fixed timeline for the bridge replacement — it is a project that will have to be done in conjunction with Worcester County — but once it is green-lit, it will effectively cut the community in half, making the sections near the golf course virtual islands. Setting convenience aside, there are concerns that include ensuring fire, police and EMS service to the area that must be addressed.
It was when Thompson was addressing this concern that he hit upon not only a funding plan for the new Country Club, but one that took into account the ongoing Golf Course renovation project and looked toward Ocean Pines’ Golf Course returning to premiere status as a result of the project in its entirety.
Making a temporary route permanent
When the road is rerouted through the area of the golf course currently occupied by the 10th hole something will have to be done with that part of the course in order to keep it open. Thompson suggested that instead of redoing hole 10 twice to accommodate the bridge replacement, the road and changes to the Golf Course be made permanent. He added that a change in the hole layout would not affect the Golf Course’s status as a Robert Trent Jones course.
One this proposal started to gel, Thompson realized the necessary construction could have an affect on how the OPA approached the necessary Country Club rehabilitation as well as the way they funded it.
As part of the plan for potential funding of the Country Club replacement, Thompson suggested that the newly constructed road would give the OPA the opportunity to subdivide and sell as many as 10 water lots along what is currently the Hole 10 fairway. He told the attendees that, after paying all of the associated costs for lot development, the OPA could net around $2 million for the project. Once sold, the lots would also increase the number of assessment dollars the OPA receives annually.
Thompson took the opportunity to address the rumor that there was some intentionality associated with the multiple solutions to rehabilitating the Golf Course and that this was just another of them. From his view, the Golf Course can only be done one piece at a time for practical reasons as well as for financial reasons.
Thompson renewed his assertion that Billy Casper Golf (BCG) had already done plenty of good for the course’s image and would continue to do so as the product improved. But improving the Golf Course, he said, has to be done in such a way that the revenue-generating play isn’t disturbed.
Thompson’s vision isn’t for an amenity that costs the members less to subsidize, but rather one that holds its own without OPA membership subsidy and actually drives annual assessments down. The unfortunate part of the plan is that it requires a considerable investment. Thompson said that he understood members’ reticence to commit too much more funding to improving the Golf and Country Clubs. It was with the defraying of the costs in mind that Thompson said he began investigating alternate funding sources, including selling lifetime memberships to the Golf Club and lots along the re-imagined tenth hole.
Centerpiece for growth
If the Golf Course is to be self-sustaining — and Thompson said that it is not a shameful goal to which to aspire — it will have to be better positioned to generate revenues. The two keys to that, he said, are making the course more playable and being able to attract more tournament play. The greens replacement program, set to be completed in Spring 2013 is one part of that equation and having a Country Club to support both day-to-day and tournament play is another.
The amount of necessary rehabilitation needed on the Country Club building is sufficient, Thompson said, to justify a complete replacement. The building is not only well below standard in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) aspects of current code, it is woefully lacking in it’s ADA compliance.
Wheelchairs have little to no access to many parts of the building and those with cursory ADA accommodations are more cosmetically than practically installed.
“There are all kinds of reasons this is just wrong,” Thompson in regard to the lack of ADA compliance. “When do you stop putting bandaids on this and when do you finally fix it?”
One of the more contentious parts of the architectural rendering of the potential new Country Club was the presence of golf cart storage underneath the building. It has been called, he said, just a very expensive garage.
As it stands, another important replacement that is soon due is the golf cart storage shed, which Thompson said is literally coming apart in people’s hands. In response to audience questions he admitted he understood that the years-old decision to purchase new carts was contentious but given that they’d already been purchased the only thing he could do was work to preserve them in the exceptionally long term.
Thompson pointed out that not only the cart storage but much of the building’s proposed layout was not a reinvention of the wheel but actually borrowed liberally from the Lighthouse Sound Country Club. The other local course, known for being a high-end club, has had success with a very similar design, which Thompson said is endorsed both by the club’s regulars as well as anyone who visits it.
The plan and the objections
Although Thompson’s proposal for dealing with the Country Club replacement has been discussed for the last three months at several public meetings, a number of people objected to have being unaware of the plan or its details.
The plan for the Country Club rehabilitation would completely demolish the current structure and change the footprint in such a way as to realign the new building with the redesigned Golf Course. The new building would have an outdoor deck area stretching around the length of the building and looking out onto the redesigned 18th hole, which would have a water hazard.
The inside of the building would be laid out in such a way as to be able to accommodate one large party or three small ones. The main room would be separable into three with the use of built-in sliding wall systems and there would be a regular bar area as well as an additional bar that could be set for private functions.
The lower level would be wheelchair accessible and have, in addition to improved locker rooms and bathroom area’s a card-playing room.
Upon entering the Country Club from the front — and the front would be realigned so it is the first thing people see as they drive up — the pro-shop and check-in wold be to the right and the main dining room would be straight ahead.
Thompson also deflected assertions that he was acting solely at the board of directors’ request and without full commitment to the multiple rehabilitation projects he has proposed over the last several months.
“If I owned this company what decision would I make?” he asked rhetorically. “I would fix it, I don’t believe in patch and paint.”
A few residents who own several Ocean Pines parcels raised objections to having their view disturbed by the potential sale of land. Although their houses are water view homes, being on the canal, they worried that the subtraction of a golf course view would inhibit their enjoyment of the property.
It was an objection Thompson said he appreciated, but he said he was trying to discover a way to have the solution that best benefitted the entire membership, and believed his suggestion for selling lots cold to it with the least financial risk for the 8,500 or so member-owners.
In response to several pleas and objections from members who owned property near the Golf Course and didn’t want their views obstructed, Thompson said he would be open to other suggestions for earning revenue, including revisiting the notion of selling the commercial property along Route 589.
His primary concern, he said, was to discover a way to get the needed work done with the least affect on membership assessments.
“I’m not trying to make anyone mad,” he said. “I’m just coming up with potential solutions.”
The estimated cost of the new building, including the proposed road re-routing and other infrastructure changes is an estimated $3.4 million. Thompson’s proposal is to earn $2 million in property sales, borrow about $1 million and take the rest from the replacement reserve account that has been set aside for rehabilitation and replacement.
While this project has no timeline, Thompson said that starting the discussion now was important because before the board of directors has him continue his investigations they should have as much member input as possible.