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Bradford Creek discussion changes course

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Bradford Creek Golf Course on Feb. 1, 2017. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Greenville City Council is considering hiring a third-party marketing firm to promote the Bradford Creek Public Golf Course, suggesting a step back from handing the course over to private management.

The council voted during its June 5 meeting for the Recreation and Parks Department to proceed in negotiations with Billy Casper Golf company, which was among three private groups that made bids to manage the course. Request for proposals for private management were sent out in the spring after Councilman P.J. Connelly raised concerns about the golf course’s expenses.

Billy Casper currently manages 80 municipal courses and about 60 other courses. In nearby New Bern, the company manages the Fairfield Harbour Property Owners Association Course. During the June 5 meeting, staff said their recommendation of Billy Casper was partially based on the company’s strong marketing strategies. 

According to the agenda for Thursday’s council meeting, Connelly asked for a discussion about hiring a marketing firm after a closed-door discussion in August to discuss the contract with Billy Casper. 

Connelly said on Wednesday that the August meeting revealed the city was “further off than we wanted to be with Billy Casper.”

He said after looking at the situation and speaking to involved parties, he thinks the problem with the course is a lack of marketing, not a need for different management. He said during his time on the council the number of people visiting the course has consistently declined, something he attributes to that poor marketing.

“When it comes down to it, Recreation and Parks is not in the business of marketing,” said Connelly. “They have plenty of parks they have to maintain on an annual basis. They have their hands full.”

The decision to investigate outside management came during the Oct. 17 council meeting after a motion by Connelly received unanimous approval. Connelly during the October meeting said he recommended the proposal because the course has operated at a deficit since the city purchased the facility.

Bradford Creek was set up as an enterprise fund when the city purchased it soon after flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Revenue at the course has been a regular concern for some city leaders.

Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton said both options are worth looking into. He also said he does not believe that the city would hire both a private management firm and a marketing firm, so the council will likely pick between the two options. 

Mike Cato, The Professional Golf Association professional for the course said that he fully supports the idea of hiring a marketing firm. Cato said he thinks the issue with the course is the lack of marketing the surrounding community, and not engaging with possible revenue base, such as students at East Carolina University. He said that the course still  receives calls asking if the course is open to the public. 

Cato said that hiring a private management company could also be detrimental the player base the course has already established. 

If a marketing company option is available then that’d be good, not only for me, but for the course and the city,” said Cato. “I think bringing in a marketing company is better suited for the course and lets us maintain control over the programs and what the course offers, as well as the price. We just want to make sure we can keep offering the same quality of service and play.”

Connelly said the discussion on Thursday will be the starting point for the idea, and that no specific firms have been considered. He did say he would like the contract to go to a local company if that is the direction the council goes. He said in addition to marketing the course to the public, a firm might bring in different ideas that could increase the revenue of the course, and decrease the cost to the city. 

“It’s another option that we have, and in my opinion it’s an option that is worth exploring,” Connelly said Wednesday. “It keeps the control in the hands of the city of Greenville and the citizens that own the course, so it’s worth looking at. It’s a potential win-win for both the residents and the golf course.” 

Officials said Thursday’s discussion on the course likely will focus on whether to continue negotiations with the management firm or seek proposals from local marketing firms. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth

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