Bidwell Park Golf Course gets new lease on life

City Council agrees to deal that it hopes will lead to better management

For nearly 20 years the Bidwell Park Golf Course has been managed by a for-profit company that keeps 93 percent of the revenue, doesn’t have to show its financial records, and is not required to do long-term improvements on the course.

Who knew it was such a crappy contract?

Not the City Council, which at its meeting Tuesday (Nov. 3) learned that the nonprofit golfers’ group that leases the course, the Bidwell Golf Club Inc. (BGCI), is looking forward to October 2012, when its 20-year management contract with American Golf Inc. expires. The club wants a better deal next time around, and in anticipation of future negotiations was seeking a new 25-year lease with the city right away, to take effect in 2012.

This unusual three-part arrangement—city leases course to local nonprofit, nonprofit hires for-profit management company—dates back to the 1980s, General Services Director Dennis Beardsley told the council. The city was running the golf course and losing money on it. A group of golfers formed the club, created a board of directors, and approached the city with the willingness to take over.

They kept the course alive, but they now admit the contract with American Golf, which manages more than 110 public and private courses, hasn’t worked out as well as they hoped. Changing circumstances have made that clear, Beardsley said: There are now more courses in Butte County, use of Bidwell is down, and the club can’t afford to make needed capital improvements to keep golfers interested.

The club’s new lease with the city will mandate that its contract with a third-party management group include certain performance standards, including financial transparency, and that the club—and thus the management group—will spend up to $3 million on capital improvements.

That investment will more than make up for the decrease in the club’s annual base rental fee—from $62,196 to $30,000—the new lease allows, Beardsley said. Besides, there’s a provision that the city will also receive a percentage of gross revenues. The new structure will allow BGCI to meet the course’s needs even during economic downturns and provide a better return to the city during good times.

Councilman Andy Holcombe wanted to include a disc-golf feasibility study in the contract, but his proposal got little immediate council backing. And Councilman Larry Wahl wondered why the management contract wasn’t being put out to bid—as did Peter Bridge, an audience member who spoke during the public hearing.

Steve Nord, the president of BGCI, responded to both issues, saying the club was willing to consider disc golf and also that its intention was to put out a request for proposals for managing the course, though no method had yet been determined. Some clubs—he mentioned Table Mountain Golf Course in Oroville as an example—run their courses themselves, he added.

“Is it the intent of the club to contract out its operations and maintenance?” Councilman Scott Gruendl asked.

“We’ll either have to contract it out or figure out how to do it ourselves,” Nord replied.

If it’s contracted out, said Councilman Jim Walker, the city should be able to review the contract. Noting the current contract was “imperfect at best,” he said the golf course was “too important not to have that kind of oversight.”

When City Attorney Lori Barker said that, under terms of the lease with BGCI, the city would have the right to vet the club’s management contract to make sure it complied with the lease, Walker recommended approval of the lease. His motion passed 7-0.