2014 could be last for city-owned Normandy golf course

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published February 26, 2014

 Pictured from 2007 is the Normandy Oaks Golf Club clubhouse. The city may close the municipal nine-hole course after the 2014 golfing season.

Pictured from 2007 is the Normandy Oaks Golf Club clubhouse. The city may close the municipal nine-hole course after the 2014 golfing season.

File photo by Deb Jacques

ROYAL OAK — On Feb. 17, the City Commission approved a plan that could extend the life of Normandy Oaks Golf Club — a municipal course that officials say  is underutilized — for at least one more season.

While the course creates revenue for the city via the lease agreement it has with the company running it, officials say it is creating financial losses for Royal Oak Golf LLC, which maintains both city courses — Normandy Oaks and Royal Oak Golf Club.

Royal Oak Golf LLC believes if it was running only one course, it would be better off.

The manager of the courses, Joe Spatafore, said even though the two nine-hole courses are next to one another, the railroad tracks running through them prevent the courses from becoming one 18-hole course.

“If the golf courses were connected, this wouldn’t be a problem,” he said in a phone interview the day after the commission meeting.

Spatafore said he has to maintain more employees and pay more bills because they are separate.

“I have double everything,” he said.

Last year, the company claims it lost $96,000 mainly due to declining turnout.

According to figures submitted by the company to the city, last year Normandy Oaks had 9,839 rounds of golf played, while Royal Oak had 20,099 rounds played.

In 2007, the company says Normandy Oaks had 14,070 rounds played and Royal Oak had 27,273 rounds played.

The plan approved with a 5-2 commission vote would keep the nine-hole course open this year if the city and Royal Oak Golf can agree to a contract that would shift some costs for running Normandy Oaks onto the city.

The renegotiated contract would have to come back to the City Commission for approval. If no agreement could be made, the commission would then have to make the decision to close the course immediately or keep it open under the current contract — a decision that City Manager Don Johnson fears could risk putting Royal Oak Golf LLC out of business.

Closing the park this year would cost the city up to $15,000 in maintenance costs, said Greg Rassel, the city’s director of public services.

Rassel also said the decision to close the course would be final because of the extreme costs to make the landscape again suitable for golf.

“So if we are just going to maintain it as a green space, there’s no going back to a golf course,” Rassel said.

While renegotiating the contract, the city will form an ad hoc committee tasked with coming up for another use for Normandy Oaks.

City Manager Don Johnson said the city could repurpose the land into another park or recreational facility, but it would cost the city money.

Johnson said selling the land to a developer would require voter approval.

“We haven’t talked to a developer — not recently,” Johnson said.

He said the city went to voters to approve the sale of the land about a decade ago, but it was shot down.

The approved plan also calls for city staff to work with Royal Oak Golf to better market the city’s courses and monitor its numbers throughout the summer.

While commissioners largely acknowledged that the days of the city having two golf courses are numbered, the supporters of the plan said closing Normandy Oaks without having a plan in place for what the space will become is irresponsible.

“I think it’s tough to make a decision without knowing in the long-term what we’re going to do with it,” said Mayor Jim Ellison.

He added keeping the course open for one more season would allow time for the development of a plan.

“I’d like to see us go back and negotiate a contract that isn’t necessarily going to be a win-win, but hopefully it won’t be a lose-lose for everybody,” he said.

Commissioners Sharlan Douglas and Mike Fournier voted against the plan, saying the city shouldn’t be subsidizing a recreational activity that is overall on a decline.

Fournier, who sits on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said if the city decides to take on a portion of running Normandy Oaks this year by either reducing the rent or subsidizing the water bill, the money to do so will have to come from the city’s general fund.

“That $96,000 doesn’t come out of the sky,” he said.