Save Sligo Golf.com

Why Sligo Is Really Closing

There have been many reasons given to the community from our local leaders as to why Sligo must close as a golf course, from "poor financial performance" to a "clause" in the 30-year lease between the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the Montgomery County Revenue Authority that requires closing Sligo. Let's examine the facts and you decide for yourself.

      "Poor Financial Performance" or a rigged game?

The financial case is suspect at best. The truth is that the Revenue Authority heavily subsidizes many of the 9 golf courses they currently operate. All are charged an annual 6-figure "management fee" by the Authority. This is in addition to the manager's and staff's salary for each course. Tiny 9-hole Sligo Creek Golf Course pays the same $140,000.00 fee that massive 27-hole Northwest Golf Course pays, and "NW" also has a lighted, heated driving range and considerably more employees.

All Authority operated golf courses also pay a "Capital Projects Improvement Fund" fee of over $30,000.00 a year. The Authority claims Sligo "lost" $144,000 last year and $100,000 the year before. You do the math. When you subtract out the large, onerous fees that the Authority charges Sligo the golf course actually turns a profit.

The financial "loss" claimed at Sligo is a manufactured one and was initially designed to bolster the Authority's case to the Montgomery County Council that a gigantic, lighted, double-deck, 72-stall driving range was critical to saving golf at Sligo. Working together the local community and the golfing community successfully fought this off.

But even if Sligo loses money you should ask yourself why is it that so many of their suburban golf courses up-county that lose even more money are subsidized while the distinctly more urban Sligo Creek alone has been singled out as being "detrimental" to the Authority's growing golf monopoly?

In 2003 The National Golf Foundation did a landmark study on the importance of reaching out to women and minorities in order to grow the game of golf. Their study found that the place to find and reach out to these golfers was at 9-hole golf courses just like Sligo. It further concluded that lowering the barriers to entry, reducing intimidations and increasing this segment's "comfort level" was key to growth. What message does closing Sligo send?

 "We have no choice, closing Sligo is in the lease!" Is it?

One of the favorite arguments that our local leaders deploy is to say that Sligo cannot be operated as a golf course after October 1st because under the terms of the 30-year lease between the Authority and M-NCPPC once the Authority returns a golf course back to M-NCPPC it cannot be operated as a golf course. Period. But section 2.1 (2) of this very same lease states that if the Authority "in its reasonable opinion agrees that such a golf course would not compete" with its growing monopoly golf could be allowed to continue. So who really controls the shots?

M-NCPPC is the steward and legal "owner" of this public land but they claim that the Authority, legally their "tennant," tells them how it's going to be. The truth is that the Montgomery County Council has the real power, but you have to ask why M-NCPPC would sign a no-bid, no-compete, long-term, fiscally malfeasant, 30-year lease with the Authority that gives them near-absolute power over public property that they own. The Authority's charter sates that it is to operate "in whole OR IN PART" for the public good. The mission of the M-NCPPC is to preserve and protect the public land it oversees. So how and why did this seemingly odd couple come together?

In 2005 the Revenue Authority found itself in desperate financial condition. It was a good, old-fashioned bailout, Wall Street style, where the banks get taken care of and the taxpayers pick up the tab.

    "SOS: Revenue Authority Needs Revenue ASAP!"

In 2005 the Authority found itself in dire financial shape and under immense pressure from the banks who held over $20,000,000.00 in bonds they had issued in 2002. At this time the Authority's primary assets were five golf courses (Falls Road, Hampshire Greens, Rattlewood, Poolesville and Laytonsville) and the Montgomery County AirPark. The golf courses as a unit were not profitable and the AirPark lost $434,761.88 in 2004 and $360,319.38 in 2005. The debt schedule from 2005 shows no bond payment activity, although they owed the banks $580,000.00. Worse still, the Authority itself showed a net loss in 2005 of $291,292.65. The handwriting was on the wall.

The Montgomery County Council members at that time, with the exception of Wellington and Bryant, began planning a rescue, a bailout really, by quietly arranging a sweetheart lease between the Authority and M-NCPPC, which operated four golf courses (Sligo, Needwood, Little Bennett and Northwest) in Montgomery County. It appears that the public was not only kept out of the loop but intentionally mislead.

On December 21, 2005, M-NCPPC adopted its "Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2007 - 2009." A sweeping number of issues were intentionally addressed as "this document features an action plan organized by overarching strategic objectives." Nowhere in this 63 page document meant for public consumption was leasing their 4 Montgomery County golf courses, the crown jewels of the organization, to the Authority even mentioned, although golf was directly addressed: M-NCPPC proudly pointed out their brand new tee-time reservation system .They should have saved their (our) money.

Four months later, on April 6, 2006, in less time than it takes to get a driver's license and below the public's radar, M-NCPPC signed an Interim Operating Agreement with the Authority, prelude to the formal 30-year lease. Buried in this legally-binding document giving control and revenue from their 4 public golf courses to the Authority is the following:

"... the parties understand that MCRA has pledged all revenues from the Golf System (the 5 courses they ran) for its existing financing (the $20 million bond debt) and that MCRA may be required to pledge revenues from the Park Golf Courses (M-NCPPC's 4 courses)."

The Authority's and the bank's financial positions rapidly improved once they got their hands on the public's "Park" golf courses. But it gets even better for the Authority thanks to a sweetheart lease drawn up by mostly Authority lawyers. In fact it was so generous M-NCPPC's own lead attorney resigned after 17 years of service in protest.  

                                        "A New Lease On Life"

Former M-NCPPC golf courses Northwest and Needwood are now the second and third most profitable courses in the Authority's growing monopoly. Except for Falls Road in Potomac, these are the only 3 truly profitable golf courses the Authority operates. The Authority seems to have no problem subsidizing its suburban up-county golf courses with the huge profits of these "public" golf courses.

But down-county and decidedly urban Sligo does not get one thin dime. It gets kicked to the curb come October 1st. There is no revenue sharing for Sligo, only the other courses needing it. Why is this?

And it only gets better for the Authority as the lease with M-NCPPC not only seems to allow them to return golf courses that they no longer want and then turn around and demand that the property no longer be operated as a golf course, as of November 11, 2011, it appears the Authority will pay no rent (they currently pay $480,000/yr to M-NCPPC) thanks to generous provisions in the lease (sections 1.39, 1.49 _ 4.2) that switch them to a "percentage rent" scheme based on net revenue. Such a deal!

                        "A Case of Discrimination?"

Players who golf at Sligo regularly know that it has a higher mix of people of color, women, handicapped, low income and senior golfers than the bigger, more expensive courses up-county.  We are not accusing anyone of actively engaging in discrimination but the facts speak for themselves: Up-county golf courses get subsidies and revenue sharing from the Authority while down-county, urban Sligo gets the boot. Is this just a mere oversight?

Sligo regulars consider this close-in to Silver Spring and DC course (and the only conventional golf course at this end of the county) like a gateway golf course. It has a friendly, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, wide age range of golfers, some of whom are playing in Montgomery County for the first time.

Sligo offers the very type of low barriers and comfortable, relaxed environment that The National Golf Foundation says is critical to growing the game. Clearly there is a double standard when up-county golf courses need money and get subsidies and Sligo gets kicked to the curb October 1st.

We see Sligo as a gateway into Montgomery County golf. Perhaps others just see it as a gate that needs closing. 

Golf has a long history of being the sport of white suburban men. What does singling out and closing Sligo say to you? 

 

Please help us save this valuable community resource for everyone in our diverse community. For a county that prides itself on diversity not one single study has been performed to show what the impact of closing Sligo will have on minorities, women, seniors, low income and handicapped golfers. This is simply unacceptable.

 

Contact the Montgomery County Council, Ike Leggett and others listed in "What You Can Do To Save Sligo."

 

On behalf of ALL golfers, Thank You!

 

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