S. Hadley hires consultant to help recruit new Ledges operator

  • Left, Dan Kieffer, of West Springfield, Jim Dwyer, of South Hadley, and Pete Lally of Hatfield, play golf at Ledges Golf Club in South Hadley, September 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2018 9:22:27 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — The town hired a consultant Tuesday to help find a business partner to take over operations of the money-losing Ledges Golf Club.

The Select Board finalized a contract with Colliers International Golf Course Advisory of Philadelphia, under which the town will pay Colliers $16,385 to prepare a request for proposal (RFP), advertise, and assess potential interested parties. In addition, a travel allowance will be capped at $19,000.

“The objective of the RFP is to mitigate the financial burden to the town and at the same time continue to provide those recreation opportunities for continued use,” Colliers vice president Allen DePuy said.

Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said the town is looking for a partner that can stabilize the operating budget and avoid losses in the future.

“They’re only facilitating the process to make sure proposers have the necessary experience,” Sullivan said. “Ultimately, they may choose several proposals to put forward.”

Sullivan said revenues at the town-owned Ledges have not exceeded expenses in any fiscal year since it opened in 2002. When factoring in other costs like capital losses, liability and salary costs, the town found the Ledges deficit to be more than $8.5 million over 15 years.

DePuy is founder of Commonwealth Golf Group, a Pennsylvania consulting company that helps economically distressed golf courses. Previously, he served as vice president of Gotham Golf Partners, where he managed multiple clubs and oversaw the acquisition of over $50 million in golf properties.

“I found out the Ledges was having financial challenges in a news article and reached out to Mike Sullivan,” DePuy said. “In a dialogue he indicated the route was writing a RFP, so when it became available I put in a letter of interest.”

National reach

In the letter sent to the town on Dec. 14, DePuy described Colliers as “the brokerage industry’s only specialty golf group that combines national reach with best-in-class local market expertise.” He mentioned connections with more than 6,000 qualified individuals or firms around the country, to which Colliers will send the RFP through an email campaign.

Colliers will accept proposals from interested golf course operators from Feb. 20 through April 30, and DePuy said the company is on track to meet all deadlines.

In the case that no interested parties want to lease the golf course from the town, the RFP would become an outright contract to operate, Sullivan said at a Jan. 16 Select Board meeting.

As an advisory entity, Colliers is not eligible to submit its own proposal to operate the Ledges. The company does not currently manage any golf courses in Massachusetts, and this is the first time it has acted as an adviser for a municipality, according to Sullivan.

The signed contract will be posted on the town and Ledges websites. Sullivan will serve as the point of contact for Colliers, representing the Select Board, the town, and the Ledges.

According to Mark DuBois, chairman of the South Hadley Golf Commission, the commission has had nothing to do with the Colliers contract. In the past, the commission had been vocal about its intent to keep the course open, according to Sullivan.

“Basically, I don’t have any information about the company coming in to consult,” DuBois said. “That is being handled by Sullivan and the Select Board.”

First step

Jay Nomakeo heads the golf marketing company Western Mass Golf, which coordinates golf leagues, tournaments and sends regular emails to a database of over 40,000 golfers. In October, he offered his services to the Ledges for free at a Select Board meeting, and the Golf Commission accepted his offer.

“I know a lot of people that are going to be bidding on the contract,” Nomakeo said. “The best thing the town can do is say, listen, (who) can come in and guarantee we won’t lose money in the first year? That’s the first step.”

He said the course is well designed and maintained, but limited by the fact the clubhouse can hold only 80 to 90 people when a full-sized tournament involves 144 participants.

The 244-acre Ledges Golf Club, approved by a special Town Meeting in 1997, is a town-owned golf course purchased with state grant money that cost around $5.6 million to build. The town pays around $320,000 annually in bond debt on the course, which should be paid off by 2028, according to Sullivan.

Despite running a $1.6 million cumulative deficit, on Oct. 24, the Select Board unanimously approved a motion to renew the town’s contract with International Golf Maintenance (IGM). The company has maintained the the course since 2005, and will continue through Dec. 1, 2018, after which the new operator will take over.

According to Nomakeo, IGM has expressed interest in applying to operate the course.

  Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed on Feb. 11, 2018, to correct a statement attributed to Michael Sullivan. Sullivan said the South Hadley Golf Commission has been against closing the Ledges course.

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