Another golf course showdown averted

On a day when 700 people signed up for tee times at Chambers Bay Golf Course, Pierce County officials apparently avoided another confrontation over the cost of the course.

The County Council’s Rules & Operations Committee on Monday voted 3-0 to approve a proposal to borrow $685,000 to buy mowers and other equipment for the course.

The move came on the first day the course accepted reservations for individual golfers. And it came just a few days after County Executive John Ladenburg warned that council delays threatened to push back the scheduled June 23 opening.

Though the latest Chambers Bay cost questions were resolved to the satisfaction of Rules Committee members, it’s clear the course remains a source of friction between the County Council and Ladenburg.

“We’re just trying to make sure the council has all the information it needs to make an intelligent decision,” Councilman Calvin Goings, D-Puyallup, said after the committee vote.

Under the plan approved by the committee, the county would borrow $685,000 over five years to buy mowers and other equipment needed to maintain the $21 million University Place golf course. The money would be repaid from golf course revenue.

Originally, the county planned to pay the company that will operate the course to lease maintenance equipment.

The new financing plan would save the county about $18,000 a year, in part because the county can borrow money cheaper than the contractor.

But the plan requires County Council approval, and the council has made a point of scrutinizing golf course expenses.

In 2005, the council temporarily froze funding for some golf course-related projects in a dispute with Ladenburg over cost issues.

The council eventually agreed to free the construction money. But a similar dust-up appeared to be brewing last week when the Rules Committee delayed action for one week on the plan to finance the cost of the mowers and other equipment.

Committee members wanted assurances the $685,000 in question was already budgeted, and not an additional expense. Pierce County Project Manager Tony Tipton provided documentation last week.

But in a press release issued Friday, Ladenburg and Tipton said the delay threatened the scheduled June 23 opening of Chambers Bay.

“Without the mowers and other equipment, it will be extremely difficult to open the course on June 23 with the quality of service and golf experience our customers are expecting,” Tipton said in the release.

“Public interest in Chambers Bay is amazingly high. The course is looking fantastic,” Ladenburg said in the release. “We need to open on schedule and start generating revenue to pay for the golf course and the other planned amenities, including the Soundview Trail through the property.”

“All the questions kind of surprised me,” Ladenburg said after Monday’s committee meeting. “We didn’t think this would be at all controversial.”

On Monday, after walking through the finances and receiving assurances there was no additional funding involved, council members voiced support for the plan to buy the needed equipment.

“It does appear to me that due diligence has been done,” said Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps.

The full council is expected to consider the measure May 1.

Despite premium price, Tee times go fast

Championship-caliber prices didn’t deter people from booking tee times at Pierce County’s Chambers Bay Golf Course on Monday.

By mid-afternoon, the University Place course had taken 700 reservations for tee times on the first day they were accepted, according to county project manager Tony Tipton.

In addition, in recent months the county has booked more than 3,200 rounds of golf for groups through the end of the year. The group bookings will generate $568,000 in golf fees and $142,000 in food and beverage revenue.

The public course, which is scheduled to open June 23, charges a premium price for what is billed as championship-caliber golf. Eighteen holes at the Scottish links-style course will cost Pierce County residents $65 to $100, depending on the day and season. Nonresidents will pay $115 to $150. There are no senior discounts.

County officials say the fees are comparable to similar courses nationally.

For now, Chambers Bay is accepting tee times only on its Web site. To make a reservation or for more information, visit www.chambersbaygolf.com.

David Wickert: 253-274-7341