OCEAN CITY — After three decades, Ocean City’s municipal golf course Eagle’s Landing is in need of substantial infrastructure upgrades including elevating certain low-lying holes to mitigate tidal flooding.
During a budget hearing last week, Eagle’s Landing PGA Course Professional Bob Croll and Golf Course Superintendent Joe Perry presented to the Mayor and Council the municipal golf course’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. Largely due to losing much of the season last year because of the pandemic, the golf course’s expenses outstripped revenue.
The municipal golf course is an enterprise fund, and as such its budget is supported largely through user fees. In a perfect year, round fees and other user-generated fees at the facility support the golf course with little or no contribution needed from the town’s general fund, but last year was far from the typical year.
While the pandemic created revenue challenges for Eagle’s Landing last year, the larger long-term issue is the need for significant repairs at the municipal golf course, which is located off Route 611 in West Ocean City.
Eagle’s Landing remains a gem among the area private courses and was ranked by Golf Advisor magazine this year as the third best course in Maryland. There have been years when Eagle’s Landing has been ranked tops in the state, but it has been consistently in the top five over the years.
However, after three decades, Eagle’s Landing and its infrastructure are in need of renovation. The golf course has served the town and its residents and visitors well, but the renovations are needed in order for the municipal course to remain viable in the regional golf market.
The goal is to develop a golf course renovation master plan, perform survey and engineering work, obtain permits and retain the services of a design or build firm to make changes to certain identified holes in order to reduce damage from recurring tidal flooding events. A pre-master plan assessment has been completed, which identified needed repairs and improvements to the course.
The highest priority are measures to reduce repeat damage and hole closures due to tidal flooding by raising the elevation on five low-lying holes, replacing storm drain outfalls and installing additional flood control improvements. Certain holes flood during high tide events and have to be altered or deemed unplayable at times.
A consultant surveyed the course and developed a series of recommendations to mitigate the flooding issues. The project, with an estimated $1.5 million price tag, was listed as “very important” in the town’s most recent capital improvement plan. While the golf course is an enterprise, those significant renovations will likely have to be paid for as part of a bond sale or contributions from the general fund as pay-as-you-go projects.
“You have a 32-year-old house and you’ve done a good job keeping it up, but sooner or later you need renovations,” said Perry. “That’s where we are now. As far as the tidal flooding, when the downtown floods, we flood. We’re unique in that we manage our own golf course. We don’t farm out that service.”
During last week’s budget hearings, Councilman Mark Paddack questioned if user fees in the form of increases in per-round costs for golfers could help address the needed improvement project.
“How do we make Eagle’s Landing number-one in the state?” he said. “If we increased the fees by even 50 cents or a dollar, we could dedicate the revenue to improving the flooding and draining issues.”
Recreation and Parks Department Director Susan Petito said there was flexibility in the round prices based on demand, similar to how hotels set rates, but cautioned Eagle’s Landing is a municipal course and considered an amenity for residents and visitors.
“Our goal is to be placed in the market as affordable and a great value,” she said. “When the course gets full, the price goes up. When there’s more availability, the price goes down. It’s a dynamic pricing process.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca praised Croll and Perry for the management of the golf course, but voiced a little concern about the gap between revenue and expenditures last year, despite the challenges with COVID-19.
“Eagle’s Landing is a showplace and I’m really proud of it,” he said. “You both do an outstanding job. Expenses are up, and revenue is down. That’s not one of my favorite combos.”
Paddack reiterated his idea about nudging the user fees to help fund the improvements needed.
“I’ve read that assessment, and I’ve seen the greens and fairways flooding,” he said. “Instead of the taxpayers paying for all of this, I’d like to see if the users could pay some portion of these expenses. I know that’s a challenge, but maybe somehow we can offset some of this.”
Croll said the course was well on its way to finishing in the black last year before the pandemic.
“We’ve implemented dynamic pricing and we had good development with it last year,” he said. “We were looking like we were going to get a little revenue to put away. Then, COVID hit and we lost our entire spring package season.”
Croll said the current spring season is going well and the course is back on track.
“When people come to Ocean City, they play at Eagle’s Landing and they love it,” he said. “We also believe we bring people to Ocean City. I think if we get a good run without interruptions, you will see the revenue going up. We always provide a premium experience at an affordable price. We are city-owned and we try to keep the price at or below our competitors.”
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp explained the fluctuations in an enterprise like the municipal golf course.
“The golf course is an enterprise fund,” she said. “If they have a great year, the revenue stays in their fund balance and that overage can be used to offset the cost of some of these projects.”