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First-time operator Value Golf gets chance to run Amherst’s three municipal courses

A local company taking its first crack at running golf courses will oversee management and operation of the three municipal courses in Amherst in time for the coming season.

Amherst has agreed to a deal with Amherst-based Value Golf, which will pay the town nearly a half-million dollars over the next five years for the right to operate Audubon Golf Course at 500 Maple Road, its companion Par 3 course across the street at 475 Maple and Oakwood Golf Course at 3575 Tonawanda Creek Road.

In return, Value Turf will keep any profits – if it can make any.

The town figures that it has been losing an average of $200,000 a year running its three courses, which prompted officials to hire John P. Leising, Value Golf’s owner, in hopes that he and his staff can make the operation more financially viable.

“Our goal is to keep it affordable for the community and make it a friendly, playable golf course,” Leising said. “It’s already a nice place. We want to make it more eye-appealing and pay more attention to the details.”

Amherst will still own the three courses but will receive a $275,000 licensing fee from Value Golf to manage the facilities. That amounts to $30,000 this year; $40,000 in 2016; $55,000 in 2017; $70,000 in 2018; and $80,000 in 2019.

In addition, Value Turf will lease the town’s 54 golf carts for $118,000 over the length of the contract. The company also will pay $21,000 a year to the town, which will keep an account for course improvements.

Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein hopes to gain at least an additional $100,000 by auctioning off the equipment that the town used to maintain the courses.

“We think we can break even in the sense that our debt service for golf is a little less than what we’ll be taking in over the five years,” Weinstein said.

The supervisor believes that Value Golf may be able to break even in the first year, then hopefully start turning a profit in subsequent years.

Greens fees are expected to go up by $1 in the second and third years of the contract, but Leising is counting on providing a better product to attract more golfers, particularly those who were unhappy about the past condition of the municipal courses.

“We’re going to show the golfers we’re going to make a difference,” Leising said.

Lower labor costs also are expected to generate additional savings.

One of the complaints by Amherst is that it has been handcuffed by high labor costs paid to union workers in the Highway Department, who have exclusive rights to maintain the courses. The new agreement allows Value Turf to bring in its own crew headed by Bryan Culver, former grounds superintendent at Westwood Country Club.

Leising owns Value Turf, which buys, sells and trades new and used turf equipment. This will be Leising’s first experience actually managing and operating a course. He was one of only two to submit proposals to operate the three municipal courses.

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

The Town Board voted, 3-2, on Monday to sign the agreement with Value Golf, although the company’s lack of experience has raised questions. “It’s not what I know about running a course; it’s who I know,” Leising said. “We plan on hiring the staff from Westwood and have some other experts that are ready to be on board.”