Golf Course Operator Cites City Shortcomings at the Stumbling Links
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - "It's a business, not a department."
With those succinct words George Vakalis summed up and directly hit the nail on the head what is probably most wrong with the stumbling fortunes of the Largo Municipal Golf Course.
The 3,000-plus-word missive to the mayor and City Commission on Monday is a telling definition of the difference between those who must make a profit to succeed and those who merely have to show up, do the routine and collect a paycheck.
In a world where the supply of money is inexhaustible and spending is relatively easy because it is not coming out of your pocket directly, Vakalis made a vivid contrast between that world and his world.
And in that 12-page missive to the city, Vakalis didn't just complain. He offered answers and solutions, something City Hall administrators and elected officials seem to be hard pressed to do.
Instead, the golf course problem has been shuttled off to a "study" - a "marketing plan" - which is tantamount in this case to calling in a witch doctor for a dying patient when immediate and expert remedies are demanded.
Addressed to the mayor and commissioners and signed by Vakalis and his associate, Mary Ann Cunningham, both of whom run the Golf View Café under contract with the city, say they "would like to add some input about the situation" at the golf course.
"We have also added in our view some possible solutions that could be attempted to rectify the problems here," they wrote. They added, "We are in a desperate position if this cannot be done."
That warning probably has some universality because any operator of the café in the context of the present administration of the golf course would have exactly the same problems. At least Vakalis and Cunningham offer possible solutions.
Their communication that arrived at City Hall at the beginning of the Monday workday enumerates problems at the course.
For example, "Reaction time from management is too long (micromanaging)." As a business, they argue, problems need to be acted upon immediately within days, not months.
They point out that a sign advertising the course has been down for two years and that a washed out cart path on the 10th hole is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
"We have to rely on golfers, but it seems that we at the café have more concern about getting golfers on the course than the city does. It seems that a loss of revenue is not (a problem) with management; they receive their paycheck if it's busy or not," the memo says, in words that clearly define the city's approach to the course's failure.
"Let the manager manage," they say in offering a solution. They say they haven't seen this happen. "Why keep a manager if you don't have confidence in him to make a decision?"
It would seem that the manager, Don Brandon, should be allowed to make quick decisions based on sound judgment. He is paid more than $70,000 a year. But Vakalis and Cunningham indicate that Brandon is handcuffed by having to have any moves okayed by City Hall.
Another problem they cite is lack of advertising and exposure (although the commission has agreed that signs will be posted, directing the public to the course.)
They say calls come in frequently with people wanting directions to the golf course.
Vakalis and Cunningham say events going on at the library and recreation centers are publicized but not for the golf course. "Expand the e-mail base and target the younger golfer," they suggest. "No exposure, no effort, no business; and we question why we are in this mess?"
Other problem areas cited are not enough golfers (don't raise the price of fees - "government's solution" - lower them); stock the pro shop so there are goods to sell (a "bare shop" keeps people away); older golfers (they tend not to spend; create incentives for younger golfers with special rates.)
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