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JPs approve budget to revive junior golf facility in Fort Smith

by Thomas Saccente | August 24, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.
Bob Robinson videotapes himself biking the fast downhill sections of Ben Geren Park's bike trails at Fort Smith in this June 2020 file photo. Robinson, as part of his "covid-19 lockdown project," was making a movie to enter in a contest.

FORT SMITH — Permission has officially been granted to proceed with the revival of a junior golf facility in Sebastian County.

The Quorum Court approved a budget for the Ben Geren Community Complex and a junior golf academy as part of an appropriation ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday, according to the county clerk’s office.

An earlier motion to add this matter to the agenda was approved 11-2, with Justices of the Peace John Spradlin and Danny Aldridge opposing. It needed nine yes votes to pass.

The Ben Geren complex, 6100 Golf Course Loop in Fort Smith, is adjacent to Sebastian County’s Ben Geren Golf Course and is the site of the former First Tee of Fort Smith, a nonprofit youth golf program that ended late last year.

The 50-acre complex that includes a nine-hole course, three-tiered driving range, 5,000-square-foot clubhouse, chipping practice area, a putting green and a maintenance facility has since reverted to the county.

Co u n ty Ju d ge D av i d Hudson said Friday that Jay Randolph, the county park administrator and golf course superintendent, and Ben Geren golf professional Matt Brown are working to open the academy and revive junior golf as quickly as possible.

“They’re working on that publicity plan and opening plan as we speak, and the marketing plan and all of the preplanning has already been done,” Hudson said. “We’ve been looking at that over a period of months, so it’s actually executing the opening and the marketing to bring junior golf back at that complex and then provide … the foot golf [a combination of soccer and golf] and adult golf opportunities, as well. So all of that is in process for opening.”

In addition to junior golf, adult golf and foot golf, there will be a small nature center in the complex’s clubhouse. Options for facility rental will be available.

Randolph said the county is moving into the final stages of getting the Ben Geren Community Complex ready.

“We’ve still got some [technical] work that we have to do for the building itself, and a few things on the golf course, and then just getting some things in place around the facility, but we’re 95% there, if not more,” Randolph said. “So we’re thinking in just the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to finish all the odds and ends we need to put into place, and then we’ll be ready to start having people come up here.”

In a memo included in the packets for the Quorum Court meetings July 21 and Tuesday, Hudson wrote that establishing a junior golf academy would require personnel revisions, including a golf professional to oversee the teaching program, and part-time employees to help administer the facility and maintain the additional property.

Hudson recommended, in addition to three more part-time positions, that the current part-time golf professional position at the course be extended to full time. The golf professional’s responsibilities would require 25% of his time dedicated to teaching junior golf, and the remaining 75% to other golf-related responsibilities.

With passage of the ordinance, Hudson said, the golf professional position, currently held by Brown, has been converted to full time. The county is working to fill the three part-time positions.

Randolph estimated that the junior golf academy will open in mid-September, with other features at the complex open around Sept. 7.

A draft 2020 budget for the complex amounts to $60,179 with revenue of only $23,080. This leaves a deficit of $37,099. The projected 2021 budget for the complex is about $87,551 a year with an estimated $60,576 in revenue, according to Hudson. That leaves a $26,975 deficit, which will need to be addressed through solicitation of donations and support from the community.

In his executive report for Tuesday’s meeting, Hudson wrote that actual revenue generated by the Ben Geren Golf Course for this year through the previous Monday was at $627,427, $103,000 ahead of the monthly amounts necessary to break even. The estimate required to meet expenditures for 2020, according to a golf course revenue and budget recap, is listed at $738,239. The actual 2018 and 2019 golf revenue was $596,987 and $694,772.

At the July 21 meeting, a motion to add consideration of the budget to the agenda failed to pass. However, Quorum Court members later unanimously agreed to tour the complex on Aug. 5 and to consider the matter again at Tuesday’s meeting.

Print Headline: JPs approve budget to revive junior golf facility in Fort Smith

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