Paying to be Thirty-three

Since 2009 Union County has paid over $35,000 to New Jersey Monthly for what appears to be Runnells-related ads but it did buy them a feature story in the July issue on the 40 best public golf courses in New Jersey.  Galloping Hill came in at number 33 and Ash Brook was number 36.  There were 32 other courses in 13 other counties who did not spend (supposedly) $17.6 million on their operations who still came out ahead of the  Galloping Hill money pit and even Ash Brook, without tens of millions of dollars being sunk into it, managed to come within 3 slots of Galloping Hill.

But the interesting aspect of this publicity was the machinations that the NJ Monthly staff had to go through, from distractions to outright lying, to make their puff piece fly.  Some excerpts form the article with (my comments):

The selection of Galloping Hill—a Union County course where registered residents can play 18 holes on a weekend for just $31 ($47 with cart)—is the fruit of a rare public-private partnership: Union County; the NJSGA; Kemper Sports, a leading golf course management company; and TaylorMade, the world’s No. 1 golf-equipment maker, have together brought about a stunning turnaround for a course that just seven years ago was an embarrassment  (like every other area that is within the direct control of this dysfunctional system of governance) .

Maintenance on the 27-hole layout was slipshod….Galloping Hill in the early 2000s “was being run like a park,” says Armando Sanchez, who was hired as Union County’s director of golf operations in 2008. “The attitude was, ‘If we don’t cut the greens today, we’ll cut them tomorrow.’” (2008: 11 years into total Democrat control and 7 years into the Devanney era.  Was it Bush’s fault?)

(The next four paragraphs are on the food in a restaurant and banquet center that was still months from opening at press time.)

“When golfers come to Galloping Hill now,” Sanchez points out, “they receive treatment they usually see only at high-end daily-fee and private courses. But most important, they will be doing so at very affordable prices.” (Since Union County taxpayers will be squeezed for the millions of dollars this fiasco will lose every year.)

In 1995, the county hired prominent New Jersey-based golf architect Stephen Kay to renovate Galloping Hill. The project, completed in 2000, used three different contractors, of whom the first two had little or no golf experience. In the end, says one veteran observer, Galloping Hill got only “a Band-Aid.” (So what were the first two contractors experienced in? Political donations?)

By 2007, Galloping Hill—far from being ready to wrest the most prestigious state championship from the private clubs—was barely holding on. That year, for the first time, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders examined the economics of its three golf courses separately from the operation of the Department of Parks and Recreation. It discovered that golf was losing about $500,000 a year. (They lied.)

Devanney brought in Sanchez, who has a degree in golf management and had worked with Jack Nicklaus’s Golden Bear Industries. (No experience in personal training?  And where does one get a degree in golf management?)

In 2009, the county signed a five-year contract with Kemper Sports to manage the daily operation of Galloping Hill and Ashbrook. In the deal, expected to be renewed when it expires at the end of next year, Kemper is paid a monthly management fee, and the county retains all revenues except for retail sales in the pro shop. (That’s a lie.  Kemper also gets a cut of gross revenue over a certain amount plus construction management fees.  For 2012 Kemper got $4,224,630.76 out of the county including $56,768,66 as an incentive fee.)

The freeholders took the biggest step in 2010, when they approved $17.6 million in bonds to pay for the Learning Center, a new maintenance facility and the new clubhouse, whose second floor includes a large banquet hall—expected to produce significant revenue for the county (which will go to Kemper, DeCotiis, Netta, et. alia while the county absorbs the far more significant expenses.)

In June of this year, the clubhouse opened with the NJSGA’s flag flying from the roof. “It’s a dream come true,” (finding these chumps) says NJSGA executive director Steve Foehl. “It’s vital to our branding to be associated with a first-class facility like Galloping Hill.” In the first two years, the association will pay the county $5,000 a month rent; then the sum will increase 3 percent every three years till the end of the 10-year lease. By the end of May, the banquet space had already booked 80 events through 2016. “We are on target to hit about $5.6 million in revenue this year,” says Sanchez, “with operational costs at about $5.3 million.” (by county math).

The next phase begins this fall, when Montclair’s eminent golf architect, Rees Jones, known as the Open Doctor, begins preparing the course for the 2016 NJ Open. While 200 to 300 yards will be added to Galloping Hill’s 6,639-yard length, much of the work—like bunker renovations—will aim to “restore the classic feel of the golf course,” says Jones, “and provide regular golfers with as enjoyable an experience as possible” (and taxpayers with as excruciating an experience as possible).

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by G. Albritton on July 14, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    That NJ Monthly story is so much less journalism than it is harlotry, spitting back out every phony talking point and falsity fed by the County to the supposed reporter without any effort to see the other, seamy, wasteful side of this boondoggle that has cost and will cost the County’s taxpayers big time.

    Mr. Bury points out many of the idiocies repeated in the piece, but for another good example just look at the statement that the Freeholders in 2007 discovered that golf operations in the County were losing $500,000. Then just 4 paragraphs later, the closing of Oak Ridge golf course is said to have saved $600,000. How does a golf course claimed to be losing $430K on revenues of about $1 million, save $600k by being converted into a park with still substantial maintenance costs but ZERO revenues? What calculator did this fool of a reporter use? Answer: None. He just took the County line, with the hook and sinker.

    And where does this idiot get this nonsense?: “In the [five-year KemperSports management] deal, EXPECTED TO BE RENEWED when it expires at the end of next year, Kemper is paid a monthly management fee….” Just WHO expects it to be renewed? Who told you that in preparing your story, Mr. Levin? Who suggested to you that the competitive contracting process under the NJ Local Public Contracts Law would not apply after the maximum legal 5-year contract term that Kemper wheedled in 2009? Maybe in 2014 Billy Casper Golf, which should have beat out Kemper in 2009, will get a proposal in that won’t as conveniently be ignored.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Daniel Shays on July 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

    They hang themselves, all the time, this being a perfect example. Kudos as usual

    Reply

  3. Posted by bpaterson on July 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

    GA, FWIW you appear more upset at the freeholder idiocy than normal, i’m not a happy camper either but will wish that this county boondoggle somehow works out finally for once.

    Mr Bury is correct on all points. I still laugh at the Kemper presentation last year where they proudly proclaimed attainment of golf course revenue of $4.2 million, but said nothing about the expenditure side; that turned out to be approximately $5 million, for an overall loss. Of course the freeholders who don’t share a full brain between all 9 of em accepted that glowing statement.

    One interesting fact that occurred this year, is that the golf operations are now removed from the county budget and are under the auspices of the Union County Improvement Authority so any revenues can be easily commingled at the UCIA and unaccountable to the public if bad news. Nothing is ever up front, but when the union county govt schemes continue to blow up, the only recourse is to bury everything and raise taxes with finger pointing elsewhere.

    Another item is that claim of UC golf director sanchez and his “degree in golf management”, we would like to OPRA that document. He didnt have that when they hired him 5 years ago, because they would have touted that, so he got it recently to avoid further embarrassment of his uselessness. Best guess is that it was from an online course or possibly Farahi the fraud, president of Kean university fabricated that at the direction of senator lesniak again covering for the county screw ups.

    Last item is just how many public golf course are there in NJ? Top 40. If there are 21 counties, maybe the average is 2 each so there are 42 courses. $20 million expenditure to get into the bottom 20% is not too great. It would be interesting to find what ranking was galloping hill course before they spent that $20 million of taxpayer money on that acropolis of corruption.

    Thanks to the watchdogs for the real forensics on this latest article. Without their knowledge the UC freehodlers failed in duping the public again.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Jeff Arnold on July 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I have contacted Bramnick and Kean to put pressure on CC to appoint a special prosecutor. I am beginning to think the NJ GOP is no different then what we have in UC.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Jeff Arnold on July 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    OOPS! Meant to add that I got no response from Kean, and a response from Bramnick that read, “Thanks for your input.”

    Reply

  6. Posted by Rick M on July 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    If they would just admit that they lied, and fabricated the golf losses; and re-opened Oak Ridge as a golf course again, my friends and I might just spend a $1 or two at one of the county golfing facilities. But until that happens, we will golf anywhere else other than Union County, no matter how well the golf courses get fictitiously rated. Can’t even imagine what it is like to book a tee time today with only two county courses?

    Reply

  7. Posted by G. Albritton on July 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    BP, you are right (as you are so often) that I am particularly upset about the County’s golf operations — which have gone from a mismanaged, ailing program, straining to serve the County’s residents in 2008, to a mismanaged, bloated and still truly ailing program that by 2013 has robbed huge sums of tax dollars from those residents and otherwise has abandoned their interests virtually completely.

    In the process, the Freeholders have spread tens of millions of the taxpayers’ money around building unnecessary and wasteful improvements to enrich KemperSports and favored contractors, and manipulated fees and membership rates in unprecedented ways which effectively give non-residents equal access to the two County courses while shutting out thousands of resident tax-paying golfers, and particularly disadvantaging the senior citizens of the County. When the “turnaround” in the County golf program was launched in 2008, Freeholder Estrada said that “[O]ur task is not to make money but to provide services for residents at a reasonable effective cost.” (see April 10, 2008 Freeholder meeting minutes). Five years later, it is clear that the exact opposite has been the goal of the Freeholders.

    Are you sure the UCIA has now taken over the golf courses? How could New Jersey Monthly miss that detail? I know that was the plan, but lately the UCIA has been busy putting out several fires (unsuccessfully) without perhaps a focus on starting any new ones. County Resolution 2012-1098 and UCIA Resolution 1-2013 approved a Memorandum of Understanding intending to lead to the negotiation of an agreement for the sale of the golf properties to the UCIA, and that MOU was signed by the County on January 8, 2013 and approved by the UCIA on January 9, 2013. But help me here – Has that purchase agreement been signed or have these Resolutions been updated at all? If so, the fact has escaped my notice. This is an important question since the MOU by its terms (Article VII) terminated last week if there were not any such resolutions extending the term of the MOU beyond six months.

    Mr. Sanchez claims to have an Associate’s degree from the “Professional Golfers Career College”, earned over two years in 1996-98. Opinions may differ as to the value of such a degree, with the graduates and the school administration thinking very highly of it, and just about everyone else thinking otherwise. But he and his education are both trash in my book, since he didn’t have brains enough to avoid signing off on the wanton destruction of Oak Ridge shortly after Devanney hired him. And no one has ever explained why the County needed to retain him as a separate, expensive “Director of Golf” after 2009 with a supposedly professional golf management company then under contract and plenty of other supervisory personnel in the Parks Department with time on their hands. Since he has no particular or needed expertise to sell, maybe the Freeholders are just buying his silence.

    Reply

  8. Posted by G. Albritton on July 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I intended above also to give heaps of credit to Mr. Paterson for that wonderful “Acropolis of Corruption”, in referring to the new Galloping Hill clubhouse. That’s pure genius, and I will never see it again without that name echoing in mine ear.

    I would also suggest at a point just after that lofty structure first looms into each driver’s view in either direction on the Garden State Parkway, that signs be erected reading: “SURRENDER DOROTHY”

    Reply

  9. Posted by Peter Scull on July 15, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Rick M : count me amongst those who haven’t spent a penny at a county golf facility since the closure of Oak Ridge and NEVER WILL as long as it remains the dog shit filled wasteland that it now is. “They don’t even want to cut the grass” – a quote from a county employee I spoke to a couple of weeks ago. Have lived across from the (former) 13th green for 55 of my 64 years and “cut my teeth” on that course. Needless to say it was a huge loss for me when they bulldozed it. Middlesex County gets my golf $$ now and will for the foreseeable future.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Rick M on July 16, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Peter, I feel your pain…. Maybe we played together over the years, as I also grew up on Oak Ridge Golf Course… Now playing every week at Hyatt, and alot down in Monmouth County (they have 11 golf courses to Union County’s 2, all well maintained/well run). Hope that someday, we can get rid of the current crop of bureaucrats and new blood realizes the fallacy of a golf course hosting archery and dog shit. Hopefully, the lunacy will run its course… but stupidity rules in UC New Jersey…

    Reply

  11. Posted by NFS on July 17, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Off topic, I know. Was trying to start a new topic, but I can’t and I’ve been banned from NJ.com for months. ah

    Someone please tell NJnobody that George Zimmerman did not leave his car. He was not in the car when the operator said “you don’t need to do that”. The operator said before that “suggestion” was “where is he now?”

    That was where George Zimmerman got out of his car to answer the operator’s question as to where was Trevon Martins’ whereabouts.

    Regardless how you feel about the case (and I think the jury got it right), NJnobody got it wrong when she/he posted that Zimmerman was wrong by getting out of his car. He was not in his car SSSSIIIIRRR when the dispatcher said “Are you following him? and GZ replied: “yes” and the dispatcher said “You don’t need to do that” and then GZ replied “ok”.

    George Zimmerman NEVER got out of his car because he was never in his car to begin with when the operator said “we don’t need you to do that”.

    I can’t post on NJ.com. I am and have been banned from a news outlet. Strange, but true.

    If someone can correct NJnobody, that would be a small start for these racial tensions that not only the President has caused, but the rest of the race baitors, i.e., Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons et al.

    Reply

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