Friday, March 14, 2008

Golf course plan being crafted with care


Keith Perry, of Hailey, owns and operates a restaurant in Ketchum. He is a former member of the Blaine County Recreation District board of directors.

By KEITH PERRY

The Feb. 27 editorial "Golf Mustn't Be a Burden" accurately states problems that the golf industry is now facing. There are concerns in many areas, particularly in markets where golf/home developments are constructed in already over-saturated markets.

This, however, is not the case in our market. A 1998 study commissioned by the Blaine County Recreation District and carefully done by an independent expert showed that in a well-supplied market, demand for public golf would exceed 100,000 rounds per year. However, because of high prices and a lack of supply, fewer than 60,000 rounds were played in our valley at that time. Since that time our population has increased, Warm Springs Ranch has closed, and Elkhorn has become private.

In the works is a new feasibility study, to be done by an outside consultant, that will give an updated look at supply and demand. The study will contain a complete business plan, including expected expenses and revenue streams. The recreation district will carefully analyze the document, scrutinizing its economic assumptions, and make it available to the public before any agreement is signed with the developer.

One option being discussed is to have Hennessy and Co. hire a professional management company and operate the course for a period of time until it reaches stabilization, at which time the recreation district would take over.

As a former board member who has worked on this project for the last 10 years, I can assure the public that the current district board is well qualified and is approaching this project with a great deal of care and due diligence.

The district has worked on this project for so long because it believes it will give benefits far beyond just affordable golf:

- The construction of world-class Nordic trails as part of the golf course design.

- The clubhouse will serve as a community and Nordic center in the winter.

- Sledding and a kids' play area around the clubhouse make this a great, accessible winter family destination.

- Potential plans for limited snowmaking and lighted, low-level night skiing in some areas will allow us to ski after work in the winter.

- The clubhouse will serve as a starting point for hiking and biking in the summer on a world-class trail system being developed with help from Bigwood Backcountry Trails.

- Profits from the golf course could help fund other recreation across the valley.

- The high school golf and cross-country team will have ready access to facilities.

- Another Lake Creek-type facility is being planned by the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation to further enable more kids to learn to Nordic ski,

My take is that the recreation district is approaching this opportunity for the community with much due diligence and study and both the district and the developer are working to mitigate potential future financial risks in their discussions. So, while it is true that the district must evaluate any plan "critically with eyes wide open," it is also true that the district has an obligation to investigate a plan that has so much potential.




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