Town officials voted unanimously Monday night to pursue hiring an outside vendor to handle maintenance of the Longshore Golf Course, where substandard conditions have become a contentious issue for town golfers.
It was standing room only at the joint Town Hall meeting of the Golf Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Commission, which collectively gave the go ahead for the town to pursue a contract with Valley Crest Golf Course Maintenance. The California-based firm was one of three to respond to a request-for-proposals on how to rehabilitate the town's municipal course.
"The primary reason for moving to a contract golf management company is the depth of experience they bring," said Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy. "One of our failures of the current structure is the person sitting right here. I am not a golf superintendent."
The town is in the process of negotiating with Valley Crest. McCarthy said it was inappropriate to discuss the possible fees that the management firm would charge, but he said the town hopes to save money by hiring an outside vendor. Valley Crest and the other RFP respondents proposed budgets that were less expensive than the town's current budget for Longshore, McCarthy said.
Many attendees bemoaned the condition of the municipal course, but not everyone agreed that bringing in an outside contractor for maintenance for the first time is the solution.
Former course superintendent Dan Rackliffe, who had overseen maintenance of the municipal course for more than two decades, retired earlier this summer. The golf is now run by a substitute superintendent.
"Dan Rackliffe was an excellent employee for the town of Westport and a great servant for the town," McCarthy said after the meeting. "We have issues related to the course and he decided to take his retirement at that time."
McCarthy said a separation agreement with Rackliffe precluded him from discussing further the circumstances surrounding his abrupt retirement.
Attendees at the meeting widely agreed that conditions at the course has dropped precipitously in recent years, though opinion varied on whether it was within the last two years or even earlier that problems arose.
Extreme heat has contributed to the yellow condition of some greens, but the problem is multi-faceted, said Dick Healy of Eno Lane, who asked why town officials beyond Rackliff weren't being held accountable.
"People are sick of this," Healy said.
"We all know people in Westport aren't the most patient people," Raphael said. "So come next May or June, if the course doesn't look like we envision it should look like, there's going to be complaints and that's not going to be productive."
Parks and Recreation Chairman Andy Moss said officials recognize the urgency involved in rehabilitating the course and the joint meeting was called as a way of expediting the process.
"Improving the quality of the course is our first priority," Moss said.
With the approval from the two boards Monday night, McCarthy hopes to request funding to hire Valley Crest at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Board of Finance. The funding will need to be approved by other bodies as well, including the Representative Town Meeting.