Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Sentiment, history and convenience will face off against competition and tax breaks as discussion of a municipal golf course continues.
Turning Pine Meadows golf course in Baxter into a Crow Wing County-operated municipal course should be a hot topic until a final decision is made. The Crow Wing County Parks Advisory Committee is investigating the feasibility of the county buying the 18-hole facility from Continental Golf Corp., a golf operating company based in Eden Prairie. The committee is in the information-gathering stages.
Opinion at the Aug. 10 Crow Wing County Board meeting was split among the five commissioners. In the first round of comments Dewy Tautges and John Ferrari appeared to be against acquisition of the golf course. Ed Larsen was undecided while Gary Walters and Terry Sluss appeared to be in favor of the venture.
Dave Mooty, president of Continental Golf Corp. has not been contacted by anyone from the county.
"What I had said is it was worth at least $3 million, worth substantially more than $3 million, but I'm still not sure what the value is," said Mooty. "I would have to evaluate as we go forward. I've been told by people that it is probably worth $5 million to $5.5 million.
"I think our stance is that we are looking, as would any property owner, to maximize the profit if we were to sell the property. My personal opinion and I've told the city of Baxter that a golf course is not the best use for that piece of property."
Mooty said he doubted if any government entity could match an offer he might see from a buyer who wishes to use the property for other purposes.
Currently in Crow Wing County there are 19 privately owned golf courses. The list includes Pine Meadows, Breezy Point Resort (Whitebirch and the Traditional), Crosswoods in Crosslake, Cuyuna Country Club in Deerwood, Emily Greens, Golden Eagle in Fifty Lakes, Grand View Lodge (Pines, Garden, Preserve and Deacon's Lodge), Irish Hills in Jenkins, Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge (Lakes and Alec Nine), Fritz's Resort near Nisswa, Howard's Barn near Fifty Lakes, and Wildwedge Family Golf Park, Lakes Area Par 3 and Whitefish Golf Course, all near Pequot Lakes.
The closest Crow Wing County golf course to Pine Meadows, however, would be Cuyuna Country Club to the east and Fritz's Resort to the north. Madden's Resort and Cragun's Resort are both in Cass County. Eagles Landing is in Morrison County.
Talk of Pine Meadows being turned into a municipal course has caused concern among private course owners.
"We think there is an awful lot of golf in Crow Wing and Cass County," said Dave Gravdahl, general manager at Breezy Point Resort. "The taxes have not only doubled, but quadrupled, so our stance is maybe the county shouldn't be in the golf business. If Brainerd-Baxter wanted to, that's fine, but I don't think we should be subsidizing golf."
Gravdahl said he believes Breezy Point has affordable golf and people in the northern part of the county probably wouldn't drive to Pine Meadows when they pass by so many other courses on the way.
"We are all for anything that grows the game because that is important," said Mark Ronnei, CEO of Grand View Lodge, which operates the Pines, Garden, Preserve and Deacon's Lodge golf courses. "On the other hand, I struggle with the idea that something that can't make it as a private enterprise would turn into a governmental enterprise.
"Just removing it from the tax rolls is something I'm not in favor of."
Ronnei suggested a nine-hole municipal course in combination with some development around it, which he said would be "the best of both worlds."
"I'm biased in both directions," Ronnei said. "I don't want the government taking a private enterprise and making it a public entity. I totally support that kind of recreation in Brainerd for the kids, but if we're really concerned about the kids, what's wrong with nine holes?"
Bruce McIntosh, owner of Golden Eagle, said he wouldn't be happy paying taxes on his course to subsidize another course. He also said the tax ramifications may have an impact on the livelihood of the other courses in the area.
"It's not my obligation to help finance their golf course," said McIntosh. "I would hope they would understand that and give other golf courses the same benefit they're receiving.
"There is a lot of golf and I don't think Golden Eagle or any of the other privately owned courses would want to subsidize Pine Meadows in any way. It's survival of the fittest and if they can make it work as a municipal, that's fine. Other municipal courses have."
In an article published in The Dispatch July 31 Gary Walters said he expects commissioners will have questions on where the purchase money will come from, how a municipal course would affect tax rolls and whether the golf course would generate enough revenue to pay for itself. The county likely would borrow money to make any purchase and use golf course revenues to pay the debt, golf course employees and maintenance, Walters said.
In a letter to Larsen, Rick Skogen, chief financial adviser at Cragun's Resort, wrote, "I fundamentally don't think it is the job of government to buy failing business to continue to lose money at the taxpayers' expense. While at the same time competing unfairly with private businesses that are trying very hard to stay in business, employ local workers, buy local goods and make a small profit."
By not paying property taxes, Pine Meadows would not incur that expense and could use the money to pay employees, improve the course and clubhouse or lower its rates. Lowering rates is a big concern for many of the private owners.
According to Crow Wing County Pine Meadows' 2004 total taxes were $28,018.49.
"Municipal courses don't pay taxes and that would put that course at a competitive advantage in that it wouldn't have to worry about that expense," said Mike Stone, general manager of Crosswoods Golf Course in Crosslake. "That would be the only concern that I would have. That's kind of the sentiment of all privately held courses with regards to municipal courses.
"I really don't have a stand on it one way or the other. They're far enough away from us that it doesn't affect our business."
Jack Ruttger, owner of Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge, would hate to see it not be a golf course. He said it's nice to have the course for the Brainerd area people. He didn't understand why the county would buy it, though.
"Especially for people out east here when we have Cuyuna Country Club struggling to stay open, Garrison's course is trying to survive and we're trying to survive," said Ruttger. "Pine Meadows has always been used by people in the Brainerd area. It's extended up into the Gull Lake area and south, but with people living up in Crosslake and Pequot Lakes, why should they be paying to support a county course in Brainerd?
"I think it's nice they're trying to save it. I don't appreciate that the county is going to help support it, but I thought all along it would be a shame to take and tear that course up."
As a person in the golf business, Dale Lundgren, superintendent at Cuyuna Country Club, said he would hate to see it not be a golf course. But he added he wouldn't be in favor of his or the courses' tax dollars supporting it.
"The board here wouldn't be thrilled with that," said Lundgren. "I would hate to see it go, though. It's provided so much enjoyment for the Brainerd people."
Another concern was how much would the county pay? There was concern about other costs, like a clubhouse, the irrigation system and the maintenance equipment.
"Obviously the owners can sell (Pine Meadows) to whomever they want," said McIntosh. "It wouldn't affect us one way or the other. We don't get a lot of play from the people that patronize that golf course.
"My initial thought is, a professional golf management company owns and operates Pine Meadows right now and if they're having a difficult time making it work, what would make the county think they could do it?"
Mooty said the course is losing money this year.
"I think the fact that I told the public it would only be a golf course for another year or two had an adverse impact on our business," said Mooty.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856. He also is a part-time employee in the Pine Meadows pro shop.
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