Gurnee officials have received an upbeat report from a management company operating Bittersweet Golf Club, which has been on the comeback trail since village taxpayers took responsibility for it in 2011.
Several changes to the course have been made so it's not as difficult on players, according to Dirk Skelly, vice president of operations for GolfVisions Management Inc. GolfVisions was hired late last year by Gurnee to run the 18-hole Bittersweet.
Among the alterations, Skelly said, are a second cut of rough next to fairways in an effort to prevent players from hitting out of tall grass if they are slightly off the mark, and edged bunkers are now clear of weeds. He said there also is a lower cut of grass next to greens that should help golfers.
"I think it's much more playable than 10 years ago," Skelly said during a recent presentation to the Gurnee village board.
More than $525,000 in public money went toward village government taking over Bittersweet two years after it fell into foreclosure in 2009. Bittersweet is on a 240-acre site near Almond Road and Grand Avenue, west of Gurnee Mills.
Village trustees last November awarded a five-year contract to GolfVisions. Gurnee will pay $33,000 to GolfVisions in each of the first two years, then $36,000 annually for the last three years. Mundelein-based GolfVisions has a chance to receive an incentive fee of 10 percent of gross revenue if it exceeds $900,000 in the first two years combined. That'll bump up to 15 percent if the gross revenue eclipses $1 million annually for the last three years combined of the contract. Gurnee will pay the incentive fee only if there's a profit, according to GolfVisions' deal with the village.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she was impressed by GolfVisions' recent "Families in the Fairways" initiative that targeted residents on Gurnee's west side who live near Bittersweet. The gathering allowed visitors to hang out at the course for food, children's face painting and other fun.
"I can't thank you enough for your help on that," Kovarik told Skelly.
Skelly said he wants to make the course profitable and intends to lure customers there for more than golf, noting the return of a Friday fish fry in the clubhouse. He said GolfVisions intends to craft a five-year capital plan for Bittersweet.
Gurnee formally took possession of the long-struggling links April 15, 2011. The village board voted to buy out the remaining 21 years on a lease held by First Merit Bank. Bittersweet opened as a public-private venture in June 1996. It was supposed to share leftover profits with Gurnee, but officials said that never occurred. Starbird Links Golf Management of Chicago, led by real-estate turnaround expert Samuel M. Ekstein, had operated Bittersweet in 2011 and 2012. GolfVisions topped Starbird in the bidding to run Bittersweet.