by KATHRYN DENTATO
HERNANDO SUN REPORTER
Alan Garman approached the City Council with a proposal to return the Quarry to its original purpose: “to provide our youth and community with a golf course.” Garman was a member of a group of citizens who worked to design and build the golf course which opened in 1996. He said that the community effort to bring the golf course to life was unheard of for a smaller city and was recognized by The First Tee (thefirsttee.org), an organization that helps youth learn core values while teaching them the game of golf.
Garman said he understood that another community effort will be required, and his presentation was to determine if the council would even be open to the possibility of reopening the golf course or would allow staff to answer questions or provide information. He would want to negotiate a lease that would be fair to both the city and the golf course. Any profit made would be reinvested in the golf course.
Because Garman is chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, he acknowledged that he would have to vacate that position to avoid any potential conflict of interest. With a master plan being developed for the Quarry, the Parks Board has discussed a dog park. Garman believes that several ideas can be incorporated into his vision for the Quarry – the dog park, frisbee golf, and even a potential solution to the gate issue at the Enrichment Center.
David Pugh, who previously worked for the City of Brooksville, recalled the hundreds of volunteers who helped clear the land and the effort to prepare the grounds. Irrigation was key then, and money was borrowed to pay for the irrigation system. Pugh said the condition of the irrigation system will be a deciding factor in whether this project can move forward.
The success of the Quarry golf course led to articles in publications such as Golf Digest and by the National Golf Foundation. Pugh said that restoring the golf course has been discussed for a few years and thinks this is the right time to bring golf back for the children. Originally, he said, children up to age 13 played free.
But all of that will depend on the conditions of the well and irrigation system, as well as time to get the course back in shape. Pugh and Garman wanted the council’s permission to at least try, to see what was needed and whether it was feasible.
Though it was only in concept stage, Council member Brayton spoke in favor of giving Garman and Pugh the opportunity to research what the Quarry would need so they could make a more formal presentation. He mentioned how busy the golf course was and that it had a purpose.
Council member Betty Erhard agreed and said the council should give Garman and Pugh its support to bring the golf course back to life, rather than have it continue to sit idle.
Battista reminded the council of the multiple public meetings for the proposed master plan for the property. The community’s input at the meetings included choices of a splash area, dog-park, and other amenities. The consultant was preparing a report for the council based on those meetings, Battista said.
The difference between Pugh’s and Garman’s current efforts and the initial golf course is that this time they would like to make a profit as a private entity. Garman stated that there would be no risk to the City if they made no profit. The golf course would be run by volunteers, and if special events are held on the property, any profit would be infused back into the golf course.
Vice-Mayor Joe Bernardini supported the idea and had no objection to letting Garman and Pugh explore it further. Residents and winter visitors at Cloverleaf were frequently at the golf course, he said. First Tee was actively engaging with children at that time and providing some funding to support the course.
Bernardini said the master plan includes some expensive items which could be paid for through grants, but that was not a guarantee. He did think there would be room enough at the Quarry to accommodate amenities the public requested.
Pugh advised that they intend to use volunteers, so overhead will be small. No salaries, no benefits, no need for workman’s compensation insurance. He anticipated volunteers and donations to get the course ready. If they can get the golf course in shape, they will. If it’s not possible, Pugh said they will admit that too. They just want the opportunity to try.
“The Quarry gained a lot of exposure for Brooksville,” Pugh said. “No matter where you go…the Quarry’s known.”
Garman agreed with Bernardini, saying that because residents of Cloverleaf and other areas golfed so much, there were plenty of funds to support the children playing for free. The driving range would be the first area they would prepare to help generate money, Garman said. Contests will be another way to bring funds to the project.
Erhard said she was excited about the prospect and suggested to Mayor Bill Kemerer that the Council support the idea. Brayton asked what Pugh and Garman would need from staff.
The first thing, Garman said, is the key to the well and pump system. The lights will need to be tested and their group will need to meet with the Enrichment Center about the pro shop. But getting to that point will take time, Garman admitted.
Kemerer agreed that the idea should be pursued, particularly since they were instrumental in getting the course opened initially. “If you can get the support from the community, the Council would be crazy not to support you,” he said.
Kemerer cautioned Garman about his position on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, concerned that it would give the appearance of a “back door” advantage. If a lease is negotiated, Kemerer suggested Garman meet with Daryl Johnston to discuss the financial portion.
First Tee, Kemerer said, is to teach kids discipline and a positive culture. Golf is just the means to do that. Garman agreed that they “teach life skills through the game of golf.”
Battista concurred with Kemerer’s recommendation of Daryl Johnston as he has experience in working with the city council on other lease agreements.
City Attorney Betsy Vose advised that she could only answer questions about the City’s requirements. She could not give any advice to Garman or anyone representing the conceptual team.
Vose did agree with Kemerer’s statement that Mr. Garman should remove himself from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board quickly because of the conflict of interest and possible violation of the Sunshine Law due to his financial involvement. Bernardini’s position as liaison to the Parks Board does not present a conflict of interest as he is not financially connected to the proposed golf course.
Vose said the City would require the golf course entity to carry insurance in the event someone was injured on the property. It was not a question of providing benefits to the volunteers, but of protecting the organization and the City from lawsuits.
City Manager Mark Kutney summarized the discussion by confirming that while the Council was directing staff to provide reasonable assistance to Pugh and Garman, they also wanted to proceed concurrently with the master plan for the park.
Battista and Brayton agreed that exploring both options concurrently was best since a detailed presentation would be made in the future. Brayton suggesting the possibility of combining them if the two plans were not in conflict. Kemerer said there was no guarantee that either plan would be cost affordable.