MUSCLE SHOALS - The city has been in the golfing business for a little more than six months at Cypress Lakes.
So far, at least on the money side, the city's game needs a little improvement.
From March through September, the city spent $898,199 on the facility. That number includes expenses related to salaries, benefits, supplies and numerous maintenance projects.
On the revenue side, the facility has brought in $556,399, producing a net loss of $341,800.
Businessman Neil Whitesell gave Cypress Lakes Country Club to Muscle Shoals in the spring, with the city taking over ownership and operation March 6. The property is valued between $23.1 million and $25 million, based on financial asset filings posted by the city.
Despite losing money on the operation thus far, city officials said the donation benefits the city and adds another quality of life attraction and brings visitors to Muscle Shoals.
"The course enhances our ability to recruit business and industry and residents," Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford said.
That doesn't mean the property has a blank check, though. Bradford said the expenses are being monitored, and he's convinced the financial trend will be reversed.
City and state officials said golf courses rarely produce profits for municipalities. Pelham and Scottsboro are two possible exceptions, and those cities have shown only small profits, officials said.
"It is one of the few municipal services that does have a revenue stream," Bradford said. "We are certainly working toward breaking even. We are certainly looking at ways to cut down on expenses and save money on maintenance and purchasing."
Rusty Wheeles, parks and recreation director for the city, said taking over the golf course has been "smooth."
He makes that statement while acknowledging maintenance projects on the course, many of which were long overdue, have been a constant at the facility. He said dealing with those projects is the biggest reason the operations is in the red through the first seven months.
"From our research, it is not uncommon for some courses to lose money, and it is also not uncommon for courses to make a little money," Wheeles said. "Our goal is to be self-supporting."
The city repaired fountains and aerators for ponds, while searching and repairing leaks in the golf course ponds. Leaking pipes in the clubhouse building have been repaired, and workers have painted and replaced carpet and spent hours trimming overgrown shrubbery and trees.
"Most of the items were capital items that we needed to buy and some equipment we had to buy or repair," Wheeles said. "We have to get the course and building back into the shape that it needs to be in."
The results have yielded positive results among patrons, Wheeles said.
Cypress Lakes General Manager Scott Arndt said the number of rounds played at the course has been "tremendous."
For March through September, 14,431 rounds of golf have been played at the course. How that compares to the previous seven months is uncertain because the city does not have those records. But Arndt said some employees who worked at the club under the previous management have estimated the golf action has at least doubled.
Arndt and Wheeles both cited increases in pool memberships and tennis memberships. Wheeles said the tennis membership numbers have increased from two paid tennis members when the city took ownership to 58. There were 41 pool passes sold during the summer months.
Almost from day one, the city has attempted to find and fix leaks in the golf course's 15 ponds. Some of those ponds have been a part of the city's flood maintenance program since the course was built in 1992 when it was known as the Oaks golf course.
The project was brought to fruition thanks to, in part, a $2.75 million, 20-year park authority bond signed by the city in 1991. In November 1994, Whitesell made a $7.5 million investment in the property to build the clubhouse, and pool and tennis facilities.
The property was renamed Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club at that point.
Wheeles said the leaks now are confined to three ponds, but work to repair those leaks can't begin until winter because those ponds also are used to water the course.
City Engineer Brad Williams has worked alongside Wheeles on the pond project.
"We are going to get everything fixed," Wheeles said. "We are still new at this. We have had to do a number of things in terms of general maintenance, things that needed to be done to get the property in good shape."
Landscaping is another issue the city has dealt with since taking ownership. Arndt said shrubs and trees were overgrown, and some retaining walls and fencing needed to be repaired.
"Our maintenance staff here did a good job in cleaning up some areas that were overgrown," he said. "They got it back to its original state, back to where it should have been."
He said the improvements were needed immediately to continue attracting people to the course. He said if the city hadn't spent the money up front, it risked a drop of in usage.
"We were able to attract a lot of people to the course," Wheeles said. "Some of that is because people now know they can come out and play, but some has to be from the work put in to make the course attractive."
Another addition city officials expect to pay off is having the restaurant reopened. The city signed a lease, effective Oct. 1, with Rhoda Plain, of Rhoda P's Catering Services, to serve lunch and cater events at the facility.
Arndt joked that while the food hasn't been good for his figure, there has been a steady line of dinners at the restaurant. The city is counting on Rhoda P's following to draw events to the facility.
Wheeles said the way the restaurant lease is structured, the city stands to gain more from room rentals than with the previous tenant.
He said the changes the city has made — on the golf course, in the building and with a new restaurant tenant — should translate into better numbers in 2013.
"This shouldn't be an issues next year," Wheeles said "Many of our expenses were one-time things that we needed. They aren't going to be recurring. Our goal is to break even."
If the course, breaks even, he said the city still gains.
"This is a $20 million- $25 million gift the city was given," he said. "It is a huge asset the city now has."
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@Times Daily.com.
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