Golf Links Hired to Run BG’s ‘Hidden Gem’

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Bell Gardens officials hope to turn a small golf course that has bled the city’s budget for years into an “ace” that may actually generate a profit of nearly $60,000 annually.

The city council last week unanimously approved a contract with Golf Links – a golf course management company – to oversee the city-owned 9-hole, 3-par golf course located at Ford Park.

The golf course has for years operated in the red, forcing the city to cover its operating shortfall to the tune of $62,000 to $72,000 a year since 2013.

“We have made every effort to operate the golf course, to at least break even, but we have not been able to do that,” said City Manager Phil Wagner during the Nov. 23 council meeting.

The economic recession hit the golf industry especially hard, explained Recreation Director Chris Daste, adding that the decline in pro-golfer Tiger Wood’s popularity has also hurt the sport.

It costs $253,000 to operate the facility but revenues from fees and events only total $166,000, according to Finance Director Will Kaholokula.

“What happened here happened in courses across the country,” Daste said. “Golf isn’t something people have to do” when money is tight, he added.

Golf Links plans to keep fees affordable after they take over in January, said Daste. They hope to encourage the city’s large soccer-playing community to give golf a try, he said. Bell Gardens youth will be allowed to play for free, he added.

Members of the council and Wagner have in the past told EGP that the golf course needs a strong marketing program to turn it around. However, efforts by the city’s parks and recreation department to market the course through social media did little to make it more than Bell Gardens’ “hidden gem.”

With a projected $91,000 operating deficit, city officials decided it was time to make a change.

“The longer we wait the longer we continue to stay in the red,” said Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno.

The golf course doesn’t have many of the amenities that attract golfers, such as water hazards and sand boxes. It is located towards the back of Ford Park, hidden from passing traffic and largely overshadowed by the park’s popular soccer complex.

“The golf course is the city’s best kept secret, but secrets are not good for business,” Daste told EGP.

Golf Links will oversee maintenance, run the pro shop and on-site concessionaire and says it’s confident it can turn a $60,000 profit for the city within a year.

Fabian Anon takes a swing at the Bell Gardens Golf Course on Monday afternoon. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Fabian Anon takes a swing at the Bell Gardens Golf Course on Monday afternoon. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

The city will save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs alone, said Daste.

Golf Links’ connections and marketing plans — using mass emails and special events to create a buzz about the course — should turn things around, Kaholokula told EGP.

“This is a company that will do anything it can to make the golf course profitable,” the finance director assured.

For years, regulars like Jerry Smith have enjoyed the peace and quite of the golf course.

“It’s a beautiful place to get away from everything and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg,” he said.

The beginner’s course has allowed him to bring his stepson and neighbor along; both are new to the sport.

“All you need is a putter, one or two irons and of course balls,” he explained.

“You don’t even need a golf cart,” added Daniel Cervantes of Downey.

Parks and recreation leader James Rodgers has worked at the golf course for decades. He told EGP the word-of-mouth by course regulars is what brings new customers to the “greens.”

According to Daste, the city looked at neighboring communities with golf courses to identify what was working for them. “It was important that we work with a company that was familiar with the Southeast communities,” he said

The city received glowing recommendations for Golf Links, which helped turn a similar struggling golf course in nearby Pico Rivera around, Daste said.

Aceituno said he saw the transformation of the golf course in Pico Rivera first hand.

“I feel confident they can also do that here on our golf course,” he said.

 
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December 3, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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