Wilmington Muni golf course greens set for first-ever overhaul

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The greens at the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course have never undergone an overhaul–not once since their development in the 1920s.

And so the city’s plan to invest $700,000–in funds generated by the course–to rehab the greens, paths and surroundings could be seen as historic preservation of sorts, Amy Beatty, superintendent of recreation, told Wilmington City Council on Tuesday.

Beatty that night presented a rough timeline and noted a possible but small greens-fee increase regarding the plan to improve “the Muni,” designed in 1926 by the acclaimed Donald Ross and named in 2009 by Golfweek as one of the country’s best municipal rounds. (For the current list of greens fees, click here.)

The Muni’s putting green would also benefit in the project. Photo by Ben Brown.

“The benefits of restoration are varied,” Beatty said. “With the degredation of the greens, the greens have become smaller and rounder.”

The plan entails restoring the greens to their original, 1926 Ross shape as well as adding curbs to the cart paths to reduce turf-wear from tires. Staffers are also looking at irrigation and drainage improvements, the latter to keep the greens from staying soggy so long after rains.

The improvement could begin a little more than a year from now.

But the course wouldn’t be knocked offline altogether during the work. The city plans to spread it over two fiscal years, closing down nine holes at a time, which should lessen the impact on customers and allow the city to maintain some revenue.

Beatty said the first nine holes would receive focus in fiscal 2014 and the second nine in fiscal 2015, with the entire course back in form by July 2015. Each nine was estimated to cost $350,000, for the $700,000 total.

At the same time, staffers are noting revenues the course would lose during the closures. The downtime could add up to $509,000 not generated, that estimation representing half of what the course would make if it remained open as usual.

The facility’s fund balance, like a savings account, currently holds $1.2 million, of which $550,000 would be transferred to the project, as would $150,000 in capital balance to cover the costs.

Increasing the per-round greens fees by $1 or $2, effective in July, would generate an offset and help to restore the course’s fund balance, officials said.

A recent survey with 228 respondents returned 90 percent support for such a fee increase, according to the city.

To inform the greater golf community of what’s ahead, the city would turn to social media, news media, printed ads, emails and printed notifications handed to golfers at the course.

“We’re one of the last golf courses in the region to restore greens,” Beatty noted Tuesday. “There’s been nine courses that I know of that have redone their greens in the past five to 10 years.”

Restoring the municipal course to its Ross standard could play into new marketing and promotion–perhaps to visitors of the Wilmington Convention Center–and boost competition with other area courses, Beatty added.

But the course’s long duration–more than three-quarters of a century–without any improvements to the greens received a remarkable score from Mayor Bill Saffo on Tuesday.

“What was the last time those greens were redone?” he asked Beatty for clarification after her presentation.

“The greens have never been redone,” she confirmed.

“Never?” Saffo questioned. “We’ve never–since it was built…?”

“That’s correct,” Beatty said.

“Well,” said Saffo, “I think we got our money’s worth.”

The municipal course is one of two golf facilities the City of Wilmington owns, the other being the Inland Greens par-three course the city bought in 2011 for $500,000 from a voter-approved parks and greenspace bond.

More info about those courses is viewable here.

Ben Brown is a news reporter at Port City Daily. Reach him at ben.b@hometownwilmington.com or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia