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JPs to tour proposed site for golf effort

FORT SMITH — Sebastian County justices of the peace are set to learn more this week about a site for a proposed initiative to continue teaching junior golf in the area.

The Quorum Court will have a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to tour the Ben Geren Community Complex at 6100 Golf Course Loop in Fort Smith. On July 21, the Quorum Court unanimously agreed to meet Wednesday and to consider on Aug. 18 a budget for the Ben Geren Community Complex and for a junior golf academy.

Sebastian County Judge David Hudson said Friday that the Quorum Court will look at the property and facilities and become more familiar with what is there and the opportunities present.

A motion to add considering the implementation of a budget for the project to the agenda got eight positive votes and four negative votes from the Quorum Court during the July 21 meeting, falling short of the nine yes votes it needed to pass.

The Ben Geren complex is the site of the former First Tee of Fort Smith. Hudson said First Tee of Fort Smith was a nonprofit youth golf program that ceased to operate late last year. The property reverted back to the county. The county is taking care of the property, with most of its focus on the pro shop building.

“It’s a building that we have insured for half-a-million dollars,” Hudson said. “It’s a very nice building, and so we’ve added that to our insurance. The roof was leaking. We had to put a new roof on it, so the Quorum Court appropriated money to put another roof on. We’ve reactivated and are closely monitoring all of the [heating and air-conditioning] units, and we’ve allocated some money in case any of the units … fail, they can be replaced. And then we’ve been working to repair and replace wood and Sheetrock and things that were damaged or that had deteriorated.”

Randolph, the county park administrator and golf course superintendent, said that the former First Tee property includes a nine-hole golf course, three-tiered driving range, 5,000 square-foot clubhouse, chipping practice area, a putting green and maintenance facility.

Hudson said the recommendation to implement a budget for the project was the result of his work with Randolph and other staff members. To him, this property is an amenity that should be allowed to provide continued service to the area, both in terms of county facility rental and for outdoor activities for young people, he said.

“Everybody needs to get out and get exercise,” Hudson said. “And then, the game of golf itself is a life skill … you can learn a lot from the challenge of golf. Golf’s not an easy game to play well, and so, there’s a lot of teaching that comes out of that. I think it’d just be an asset as a recreational program for young people in this region.”

Similarly, Randolph believes that a junior golf academy at the site would provide a way for young people to be active in a sport outside, one that would allow them to social-distance in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“And golf is one of those sports that you can play for a lifetime, and when you get kids in it early in their life, they can learn it and they can have it for the rest of their life, so that’s very positive,” Randolph said.

First Tee has also been active in the past, which Randolph said shows that the children and the community liked that program. First Tee had 386 children in its program in 2018, 379 in 2017 and 374 in 2016.

However, Randolph said a junior golf academy would not be the only feature the complex would offer should it get the budget. Among the others are the aforementioned facility rental, adult play, and foot golf (a combination of soccer and golf). There also would be a small nature center. a

STAFFING, FUNDING

In a memo included in the July 21 Quorum Court meeting packet, Hudson wrote that the county has worked extensively with Randolph to evaluate options to develop a junior golf program and use facilities at the site. However, establishing a junior golf academy requires personnel revisions to support a golf professional to oversee the teaching program, as well as part-time employees to help administer the facility and maintain the additional property.

With this in mind, Hudson recommended that the current part-time golf professional position at the Ben Geren course be extended to full time. The golf professional’s responsibilities would primarily represent 75% of the person’s time, with the remaining 25% dedicated to teaching junior golf. Three part-time positions would be needed.

A draft 2020 budget for the Ben Geren complex, which includes the necessary funding for these positions, amounts to $60,179 against revenue of $23,080. This leaves a deficit of $37,099.

“Right now, the Ben Geren Golf Course has had an outstanding year,” Hudson said.

A golf course revenue and budget recap lists the revenue generated by the golf course during the first six months of 2020 as $432,423. This represents a surplus of the estimate required to meet expenditures for that same period, $371,139. It also exceeds what the golf course generated during the first six months of 2018 and 2019, $316,009 and $346,423.

“The other thing that we’re hopeful of is that members in the community that support the junior golf program will help support this program as well,” Hudson said.

The projected 2021 budget for the Ben Geren complex is about $87,551 a year with an estimated $60,576 of revenue, Hudson wrote in the memo. This leaves a $26,975 difference for the solicitation of donations and support from the community.

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