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Amherst Board to negotiate with Value Turf to manage golf courses

The Town of Amherst will negotiate with a local turf-equipment company to take over management and operation of the town’s three municipal golf courses.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein on Monday said he’d like to work out an agreement with the Amherst-based Value Turf and its owner, John P. Leising, so the Town Board can vote on a contract by mid-March and the company can start preparing for the upcoming golf season.

Amherst is hoping a private contractor can turn things around at 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.

The courses have been operating at a net loss – about $2 million over the past 10 years – prompting officials to seek proposals from private companies interested in operating and managing the three. Only two submitted proposals.

The town steered away from a proposal by Billy Casper Golf, a Virginia-based company that manages, maintains and develops public and private courses nationwide. Billy Casper offered to run the municipal courses for $9,500 a month, but projected operations would continue to lose money over the next few years.

Value Turf, on the other hand, initially projected a profit of $350,000 a year, but after talking more with town officials the company believes it’s more likely to break even the first year. The issue prompted much discussion at Monday night’s Town Board meeting.

“They have experience in this?” asked Council Member Ramona D. Popowich.

“They do not have experience in maintaining a golf course,” Weinstein answered.

“I’m extremely leery,” said Council Member Mark A. Manna. “We can look at this for another year as far as I’m concerned. There should be no rush.”

However, a 3-2 majority of the Town Board voted to begin negotiations with Value Turf to determine what kind of deal might be arranged.

“I’m going to support the resolution just to get the ball rolling,” said Council Member Steven D. Sanders.

Value Turf – founded in 2007 – buys, sells and trades new and used turf equipment. While the company does business with area golf courses, this would be its first experience actually managing and operating a course.

But Value Turf plans to hire the former golf course superintendent at the Westwood Country Club to oversee day-to-day moving, maintenance and improvements, officials said.

“They’re bringing in the right people who have the experience,” said Council Member Guy R. Marlette.

In his proposal to the town, Leising also described plans to hire one part-time and two full-time employees to maintain Oakwood and another six to eight full-time seasonal employees for Audubon and the Par 3.

Manna thinks the public needs to be more involved before a decision is made.

“We definitely need change,” said Chris Drongosky, a frequent critic of Amherst’s municipal courses, “but I’m concerned whether this is the right path to go.”

“The people are disgusted,” resident Roger LeGoff said of Audubon. ”They’re going to other courses. It’s not in good shape.”