Task force considers town's position on golf course

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Jan. 25, 2013
Golf Course Task Force Chair Esther Clarke has explored several possibilities for the town to improve management of the Long Hill Country Club. Photo by Evan Pajer.
Golf Course Task Force Chair Esther Clarke has explored several possibilities for the town to improve management of the Long Hill Country Club. Photo by Evan Pajer.

On Jan. 24, a task force was created by East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc to examine the town's stake in a golf course and come up with recommendations for improvements. The course, known as the Long Hill Country Club, has put the town in a difficult position.

The country club is owned by the town and has been managed by a private firm known as MDM Golf Management since 2008. Town Finance Director Mike Walsh said that the course has not been making a profit for MDM, and that maintenance on the course has suffered as a result. "If you look at the finances, there is not enough money to maintain the course," Walsh said.

Committee member Tim Birtles said that the town does not know exactly what steps MDM has taken to maintain the course. "We don't know, since we have no documentation," Birtles said. "There were obvious things that were not done."

The course has put the town in a tricky position. According to Chair Esther Clarke, the task force looked into the possibility of dropping the contract with MDM. Clarke said that attorneys for the town determined that the town could not legally leave the contract, and that any modifications to the contract would require the consent of both MDM and the Town Council. In addition, Clarke said, Leclerc told the committee that the town taking back management of the course was not a possibility. Clarke read a letter to the task force from Leclerc that read, "We cannot take back control of the golf course. We do not have the funds, equipment, or personnel to do so. It is not an option I will consider."

The committee came up with a list of 13 preliminary recommendations. One of the most discussed was an option to allow MDM to leave the contract without penalty. "One thing we could recommend to the council is to offer MDM an option to get out without paying a $750,000 penalty," task force member Chris Kehoe said. Kehoe also discussed the possibility of the Town Council holding a special meeting in early February to authorize the town to seek out other companies that could be interested in running the course.

"The problem with that is if they walk and no one else steps in, the town would have to take over the course, and that isn't an option," committee member Tom Rup said. Clarke said that MDM also owns much of the club's equipment, including the stoves, tables and chairs in the club's restaurant.

Rup disagreed with the idea of attempting to get rid of MDM outright, saying that the town should give the company a chance at success. "If we do nothing and set them up for failure, they will default. But if we set them up to succeed, we both win," he said.

Other suggestions included hiring a Professional Golf Association-approved golf pro, renovating the country club's main building, and hiring specialists from the United States Golf Association to prepare a report on other possible improvements.

Walsh said that once the list of recommendations is finalized, he will meet with MDM to discuss it. "We will convene a meeting with MDM and their attorneys and we have to address that. All of your recommendations will go to the mayor, but they may not make it to the council," he said.

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