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Winter Quarters showing some improvement

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Dec. 7, 2017) The good news is the nine-hole Winter Quarters Municipal Golf Course in Pocomoke is losing less money than it has during recent years. The bad news is the course is still projecting another six-figure loss.

However, a decision on the future of the course was tabled until the next Pocomoke City Council meeting, which will be in January.

The council, during budget deliberations in May, discussed a six-month trial run for the course that would include a greater focus on advertising. At the time, then City Manager Ernie Crofoot said golf accounted for most of Pocomoke’s $182,000 deficit last fiscal year.

City Manager Bobby Cowger said Monday play at the course from July 1 to Nov. 30 last year was about 1,785 rounds and generated about $15,000 in revenue. During the same period this year, the course drew in 2,238 rounds and made roughly $27,000.

“The play has picked up significantly and I think a lot of the advertising and some of the stuff that’s been changed definitely contributed to that,” he said. “The play and the revenue has [rebounded] from last year.”

Cowger said revenues to date at Winter Quarters were about $38,000, including more than $9,000 in membership dues for 17 members. He said 10 of those members lived in Pocomoke City.

Expenses, however, were about $84,000, meaning the course has lost about $46,000 during the fiscal year.

“We’ll have to add December into it,” Cowger said. “Looking at the weather and the conditions and everything, we’re looking at probably somewhere in the $52,000 to $53,000 [range] at a loss for the first six months.”

Cowger said Winter Quarters lost about $149,000 during fiscal 2015, $155,000 during fiscal 2016 and $143,000 during fiscal 2017.

“Looking at the play, if the weather holds up, the worst it would be this year would probably be $100,000 [loss]. That puts it at anywhere from 30 to 50 percent better than it’s been for the last three years – but it’s still on track for losing roughly around $100,000,” Cowger said.

City Council members were not sure what should be done.

Councilwoman Diane Downing speculated that the departure of former Golf Superintendent Doug Guns and rumors of course closure hurt play and contributed to losses in revenue.

“If Doug hadn’t been told that we were going to close the golf course in the first place, then it wouldn’t have went down as far as it went down … you’ve got to give it time [to recover],” she said.

Downing said she is not interested in taking an amenity like the golf course away from one group, “just to give something to somebody else.”

“Yes, the young people need something too, but why take it from the seniors and the retirees and the golfers that love the golf?” she said. “Because of extenuating circumstances, that’s why I feel like the golf course went down further than it would have.”

Councilman George Tasker said he was impressed by the turnaround and favored tabling the matter, for now.

Councilwoman Esther Troast said she has mostly kept silent on the issue, but if she had to vote today, she would vote to close the course.

“Being a long-time resident of Pocomoke, my heart says I don’t want to get rid of it,” she said. “My husband is a golfer, I have attempted to play golf and I understand the amenity that it’s offering to the public and the draw that it might have to bring people to Pocomoke. But, my business side … tells me the city can’t keep sinking $149,000, $150,000 back into the golf course when we have streets that are dilapidated and need repairing. We have water issues that we had to borrow $250,000 to take care of.

“I’m on the fence. My heart says don’t close it – my better judgment says to close it,” she added.

Troast advocated delaying any decision for at least one more month. In part, she said, that would give resident Jim Covington more time to pursue a National Historic Registry designation for the course.

The course includes the Winter Quarters Log Cabin, built in 1940 under the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a way to speed up economic recovery after the Great Depression.

Covington said a UMES professor and another historian were helping to write the application for the designation, and site work on the cabin was done about three weeks ago. He said the paperwork should be finished in January and would be submitted to the council.

“They both feel very favorably that we’ll be accepted on the National Registry,” Covington said.

He cautioned that the designation would not guarantee money, but rather would allow the city to apply for grants to maintain both the course and the cabin. Grant money could not be used for labor, he added.

Covington favored keeping the course active.

“I realize that Winter Quarter’s Golf Course at this point in time is not a money-making venture,” he said. “But can we really afford to lose … this amenity? Is the Discovery Center Profitable? Is the Mar-Va Theater?

“What do we have to bring in tourists – to bring in locals, or those who might be interested in moving to Pocomoke City?” Covington continued. “We, without question, have the finest school system in the state of Maryland, bar none. That is definitely a draw, but what else do we have for families? We can’t afford to lose any other those three things.”

Covington said he is convinced the historic designation and improved marketing would help the course draw more people to Pocomoke “which … we sorely need.” The alterative of turning it into a park, he said, would be costly and could increase crime.

Councilman Dale Trotter moved to table the matter until the next meeting. The vote to do so was unanimous.