After more than 30 years operating a 9-hole golf course through its parks department, Libertyville officials have decided to cut their losses in an arrangement that will bring a new concept to the Par 3 layout along the Des Plaines River.
A 10-year lease with BCS Golf LLC, with an option for another 10 years, is the answer to an ongoing issue that appeared to have no good solution.
The new operator plans to replace the greens and tee boxes with a high-quality artificial surface. It will also introduce a short game academy and putting studio to help those who want to learn and hone the games of experienced players.
"It's not your father's AstroTurf," said Blair Subry, BCS president and CEO. "We'll make the conditions better."
Course fees will remain the same in 2013, although the lease requires the two parties meet each year to agree on rates. Several programs will be developed and the operation will be marketed as a year-round training center and an option for a quick round.
"We'll create a buzz," Subry predicted.
Under the agreement that took effect last week, BCS will pay the village $20,000 per year, with the village receiving a percentage of any gross revenues over $850,000. The additional 10-year option is for $25,000 a year.
Wanting to keep open what is considered a valuable amenity, but faced with an annual deficit that has averaged about $83,500 the past several years, village leaders had few options and considered closing the course. Continuing losses have been an issue as village leaders have been cutting expenses the past few years in a tough economy.
Acquired in 1979, the golf course is in a flood plain that often creates unplayable conditions. Studies showed the land had no value as a wetland bank and even keeping it as open space would cost more than $30,000 per year in maintenance.
And a covenant prohibiting development for residential use also meant the land had little use other than as a golf course.
"It was a really tough spot to be in," said village Trustee Rich Moras, who heads the village board's finance committee.
The number of rounds played plunged from a high of 13,298 in 2003 to 4,214 in 2011. To eliminate the deficit, the cost for residents to play a round would have needed to increase from $10 to about $30.
The leasing idea evolved from a meeting about a year and a half ago between Subry and Connie Kowal, head of the village's recreation department and Sports Complex. Subry was considering a putting facility at the Sports Complex but it didn't work out.
"We just stayed in touch, talked ideas. One thing led to the next and it turned out great," said Kowal, who was praised by the village board when the lease was approved.
"The question has been asked for many years and we finally got an answer we all like," Moras said at the time.
Subry, who has made a career in the golf industry, including as a club and teaching pro, runs Studio 59 The Grove (formerly Hillcrest) County Club, a private club in Long Grove. The operation started with custom fitting for wedges and putters and evolved into a short game learning center.
"Basically, we're providing a high level of service with a qualified professional staff and they (village officials) don't have to worry about it," he said of his plans for the Libertyville golf course. The projected opening date is mid-May.
The artificial turf, which is being used in several golfing ventures throughout the country, will be easier and much less expensive to maintain and provide greater consistency, according to Subry.
"The tour guys come to us for these greens so they can practice. They can have a real green but they don't want it," Subry said.