Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Highland Retains Soule Park Golf Course

By Daryl Kelley
Operators of the county-owned Soule Park golf course in east Ojai will continue to manage the facility for at least another 10 years under an agreement the Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday.

“We think this is an excellent agreement for the county, and we’ve gotten an excellent response from golfer representatives,” said Rebecca Arnold, deputy director of the county General Services Agency.

Highlands Golf, the current operator, prevailed over four other bidders, because of its performance in helping to reconstruct the flood-damaged Ojai links and its acclaim as operator of the county’s Rustic Canyon course in Moorpark.

“We liked their proven track record at Rustic Canyon,” Arnold said. “They’ve received kudos and acclaim for Rustic.” That links-style public course is consistently ranked among the best in Southern California.

Soule Park head professional Tyson York “has also done an excellent job” of bringing golf tournaments back to Soule Park this year after it recovered from reconstruction, Arnold said.

York said tournament days now stand at 133 for 2007, compared with about 130 before the floods and 30 in the reconstruction year.

A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times ranked Ojai’s picturesque Soule Park links as one of the top bargains in the region. Rounds cost at little as $18 after 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Since the devastating floods of 2005, a $4.1-million reconstruction has replaced all of the course’s tees and greens and added more than 60 sand traps – plus adding about 1,000 yards to the 18 holes.

Highlands Golf was chosen to continue operations because revenues over the next 10 years were expected to reach $4 million, a $400,000 annual average similar to that in decades past, Arnold said.

The annual guarantee is only $180,000 by Highlands, but the county’s share of other revenue is expected to bring in about $138,000 next year, or $318,000 overall, with county revenues expected to scale upward after that, she said.

All revenues from course operations are expected to be $2.6 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, she said. And next fiscal year’s anticipated revenue is $2.7 million.

Highlands Golf prevailed over bidders Bill Casper Golf, Touchstone Golf, Bellows Golf Management and Evergreen Alliance Golf. A committee evaluated the highly varied proposals and determined that Highlands “offered the best value to the county,” said Arnold in her letter to supervisors.

The agreement also required Highlands to spend $100,000 for capital improvements initially and 4 percent of its green fees annually after that, or at least $60,000 a year.

Arnold said the deal is good for the county because golf’s popularity has fallen in recent years: in the last year alone, rounds played are off 3.7 percent in Los Angeles County and 3.5 percent in Orange County, she said.

Just what Highlands will do with Soule Park’s restaurant, near the clubhouse, is still being discussed, Arnold said. Highlands recently changed restaurant management after a campaign to bring in more dinner customers failed. Arnold said dinners still may not be served because restaurants in Ojai are having a hard time, but the patio area may be expanded and the d├ęcor updated.

“This is a subject we’ve been talking about a lot in the last two months,” York said. “It’s a great venue for a restaurant. It’s a spectacular view. But people think of it as a golf course, not a restaurant.”

The county Parks Commission approved the contract Monday, and supervisors’ approval followed on Tuesday.