Eagle’s Landing Golf Course Bridge Work Debated

OCEAN CITY — Replacing aging wooden bridges at the town-owned Eagle’s Landing golf course was one of the first planks of the fiscal year 2020 budget this week.

The town’s fiscal year 2020 budget was introduced in full on Tuesday and individual departmental budget discussions began in earnest on Wednesday. One of the first departments to present its requested budget was the overall Recreation and Parks Department, and individually the Eagle’s Landing municipal golf course, which falls under its wide umbrella.

Last year, it was learned many of the cart bridges at the 30-year-old municipal Eagle’s Landing course have fallen into disrepair and are in urgent need of replacing with an estimated cost of $230,000. Replacing the bridges was included in the town’s capital improvement plan (CIP) this year and was given a “very important” rating in the Mayor and Council’s priority grading system.

As such, replacing the Eagle’s Landing was included as a line item in the general fund budget presented on Tuesday at $230,000. Eagle’s Landing Superintendent Joe Perry explained the bridges had bee held together for as long as possible, but were now in need of a major restoration after 30 years of heavy traffic.

“We’ve done a lot of preventative maintenance over the years, but it’s gotten beyond our ability to handle it,” he said. “It’s major restoration, but it should last another 30 years. It’s not a project we can handle in-house.”

Perry used the analogy of replacing the famed Ocean City Boardwalk every 10 years or so, which ironically is also included in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

“It’s not completely unlike the Boardwalk,” he said. “They’re subject to wear and tear and there is a tremendous amount of traffic. There have been over one million rounds of golf out there since those bridges were first constructed.”

Councilman Mark Paddack questioned the scope of the proposed golf course bridge replacement project.

“I’ve been out there and looked at some of these bridges and they look pretty good,” he said. “The pilings look pretty decent. Is it the pilings or just the decking?”

Perry explained the pilings were generally in good shape, but the bridge decks and the joist systems the supported them needed to be replaced.

“It’s a complete replacement of the decking and the joists,” he said. “The decks have been replaced twice and the joists can’t handle another nailing for a re-decking.”

Perry agreed some needed more urgent attention than others.

“We have prioritized this and about three-quarters of the bridges need to be replaced,” he said. “The ones by the clubhouse and the 18th green are in pretty good shape. They aren’t scheduled to be done this year and we might get a few more years out of them.”

Some on the council questioned the funding process for the municipal golf course, which is essentially an enterprise fund and has such is largely self-sufficient. By design, it’s not necessarily supposed to turn a profit each year, but rather is an amenity for local residents and visitors.

“They do the best they can,” said Budget Manager Jennie Knapp. “The golf course isn’t always profitable, but it isn’t necessarily supposed to be. It’s an enterprise fund like water and wastewater. They have broken even for a long time.”

Councilman John Gehrig pointed out Eagle’s Landing is essentially a business subject to the same boom and bust times as private sector businesses.

“Any business has cyclical periods,” he said. “Maybe at times when the golf course is profitable, they could have a reserve fund of their own to offset some of these maintenance costs. When it does become profitable, they can pay for some of these things themselves.”

Councilman Dennis Dare provided a brief history lesson on Eagle’s Landing and how it was never intended to be a run-of-the-mill municipal course.

“That’s an honorable goal,” he said. “A lot of cities provide a basic municipal golf course. The concept for Eagle’s Landing was to build a resort-class golf course. The council at the time was looking for ways to expand the season and the decision was made to build a resort golf course and not a standard municipal course. That has led to Ocean City becoming a major golf destination.”

Dare pointed out there were times when Eagle’s Landing was highly profitable, but it spawned several new courses in the area, which was the primary objective.

“We killed it early on, but we knew it wouldn’t last,” he said. “There were years when hundreds of thousands of dollars came from the golf course. Then several other courses came along and there were other challenges and there was a ceiling for that somewhat. It did accomplish the goal of making the area a major golf destination.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Paddack dusted off the somewhat controversial idea of painting one of the town’s water towers with the Eagle’s Landing logo, an idea that was shot down last year for a variety of reasons.

“I don’t want to open an old wound, but remind me again about the concept for painting the water tower with the golf ball design and the Eagle’s Landing logo,” he said. “That would have been a heck of a way to promote our own golf course. That could have helped with some of the golf course’s budget needs.”

Paddack’s colleagues shot down any notion of revisiting the water tower argument with the budget work session already dragging into the late afternoon with other departments still to present.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.