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A dozen companies express interest in running Amherst’s municipal golf courses

As many as a dozen companies have expressed interest in managing and operating the three municipal golf courses in Amherst.

The town met with potential contractors last week to show off the facilities and answer questions before the Jan. 16 deadline for proposals.

Ten people who expressed early interest in submitting a proposal turned out for the meeting Tuesday, while the town has been talking by phone with two other out-of-state companies considering the opportunity, said Mary-Diana Pouli, executive director of the town’s Youth & Recreation Department. That department currently operates the three municipal courses.

“We anticipate getting back five to seven proposals,” said Councilmember Guy R. Marlette. “I think it’s pretty good. Our hope was that we would get at least a few proposals we could look at.”

The town agreed in August to seek proposals from private companies interested in operating and managing the Audubon Golf Course at 500 Maple Road, its companion Par 3 across the street at 475 Maple, and Oakwood Golf Course at 3575 Tonawanda Creek Road. Amherst would still maintain ownership.

Revenue from the three courses has not kept pace with what it costs the town to maintain and operate them.

Over the past 10 years, for example, the town saw a net loss of more than $2 million – or an average of $202,000 a year – running its three courses, with losses ranging from $21,500 in 2004 to as much as $375,000 in 2010, according to figures from the town Comptroller’s Office.

A drop in rounds played, more competition from area courses, fewer golfers, weather conditions and less interest in the game contributed to the losses.

But the town also said it’s handcuffed by high labor costs paid to union workers in the Highway Department, who have exclusive rights to maintain the courses.

In fact, there has been some debate about whether the town has to negotiate with the highway union to contract out the maintenance duties.

Once the town receives the proposals, a committee will review them and narrow down the candidates before one is approved by the Town Board, Pouli said.

“As soon as the proposals come in we will start working diligently, because time would be of the essence,” Pouli said. “Our best-case scenario is that this is in place for the 2015 season, which would be April.”