Looking for new operator, port to maintain course in meantime
Grant County Port District 7 has suddenly found itself in the golf business.
At a special meeting Thursday night, commissioners reclaimed a lease formerly held by the Banks Lake Golf and Country Club, and then assured golfers that the course would open and be maintained by the port district until commissioners find a new operator for the course.
About 50 people jammed a banquet room at Pepper Jack’s Bar & Grille to see if they were going to be able to golf on the Banks Lake course this year. There were as many questions unanswered as were answered during the meeting.
Port District Attorney Chris Ries gave golfers the bad news. He stated that the Port District, or anyone who steps forward to run the course, does not have to honor advance membership payments made to the Banks Lake Golf and Country Club, which is owned primarily by the Russ Horn family.
Money advanced by members for their 2012 membership was used by Horn to pay up bills from the 2011 season, leaving some 39 golfers who made the advance payments high and dry.
Ries said the publicly funded port district could not legally honor those membership payments made to the club because that would be a gift of taxpayers’ money. That may not keep a new operator from honoring the old club’s obligations.
Longtime golfers kept asking about electing a new board and then finding a way to take over the course again. Reis explained that the club’s lease is now over, and that “fixtures” on it, such as buildings, now belong to the port district.
Club shareholders, including Horn, still have a stake in the personal property on the course. But that now has a lien against it by the state for non-payment of taxes.
Port District Secretary-Treasurer Kary Byam said he didn’t know exactly how much the state lien was for, but said it would have to be paid. He said one of the next steps by commissioners would be to start advertising for a new operator.
The Horn family and close friends held about 95 percent of interest in the golf course and have struggled the past few years with keeping up various payments. At the end of 2011, the golf course owed some $27,000 to the port.
The management of the course asked golfers to make advance payments of their 2012 memberships so the bills could be paid, and a membership push was attempted. Later, the management decided to step away from the course and not open it.
Horn notified the port of the decision, and that’s what prompted last Thursday’s special meeting.
One golfer asked if they could go ahead and golf. Commissioner Orville Scharbach said, “Go ahead, it’s free.”
Scharbach went on to say that the port would put water on the course April 1, and take care of mowing and bringing the greens back until an operator was found.
Attorney Ries said that failing to maintain the course would only degrade the port’s asset.
One person suggested that maybe the three towns that collect hotel/motel taxes might step up and pledge money to keep the course open.
There were a lot of questions unanswered: What rates would the port charge golfers? What would be the structure of the staff and grounds workers?
“This has happened so fast,” Ries said, “and this is the first meeting the port has had; now it’s ‘what do we do?’ time.”
One person asked if the Port District could sell the course and Ries responded, “Everything is on the table.”