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The cost of the master plan for Chesapeake Hills Golf Course received plenty of criticism Tuesday from the county commissioners.

Doug Meadows, director of the county’s division of Parks and Recreation, Joel Weiman, senior designer with McDonald Design Group, and Tim Hepler, general manager of the Lusby golf course, presented the golf course’s master plan to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The plan, which focuses on the golf course infrastructure, playability, a practice area and safety issues, was unanimously approved as a concept plan to be sent to the Calvert County Planning Commission; however, the commissioners wanted to be clear they were not making a commitment to the presented budget that spans fiscal years 2014 to 2019 and is estimated to cost $2.09 million.

“I don’t want to run a golf course; however, that the county owns a golf course, it’s a matter of responsible governing to determine will that golf course be usable and become self-sustaining financially because of the users, or will the golf course be an unusable eye sore?” Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) asked.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said, “Evan’s 100 percent right. We own it and we have to move forward with it. The hard pill to swallow is that I will guarantee you that we have over $10 million or more over the lifetime of that golf course that have come out of the taxpayers’ money to run that golf course. And it’s been the biggest blunder Calvert County’s ever done, unfortunately.”

In January 2011, Slaughenhoupt said the commissioners asked parks and recreation to create a strategic plan for getting Chesapeake Hills healthy.

“… We previously received a plan, or proposed contract, to create a business plan, which focused on the operations of the snack area and the pro shop,” Slaughenhoupt said. That contract was, “unfortunately, in my opinion,” not awarded, he said.

Clark responded, saying that “any business plan would include the golf course, not just the food and beverage part of it or clubhouse part of it.”

Meadows explained that staff felt the need for the master plan when the irrigation system was being designed.

A bid for the irrigation should be going out next week, he told the commissioners, adding that it will be a late winter or early spring installation.

“There seems to be some confusion about this,” Clark said of installing the irrigation despite the master plan calling for reshifting fairways and infrastructure. He said that implementing the irrigation now and then having to go back and “branch off” would just add more expense.

The McDonald Design Group was selected through a competitive bid price for drafting the master plan with the staff, Meadows said. He explained that because the bid was under $15,000, it didn’t have to come before the BOCC for approval, though it undergoes the same process as other bids.

“You know, on an issue like this that is somewhat contentious and has been since day one of this golf course, I think you would have served yourself better to have kept the board in the loop on the process that you were putting out to bid like that,” Clark said. “So, I’m a little concerned about this. … Very disturbing.”

Weiman told the commissioners that in an analysis of the property, the landforms are “excellent,” the routing of the holes is “really dramatic and very beautiful,” and there is a lot of potential for a practice area. “And, you’re really the only game in town,” he said, adding another positive to the analysis.

“We do have some things working against us,” he said of the negative aspects of the golf course, including agronomic problems and “a handful” of holes with safety issues.

In addition, the playability of the course will need to be improved. “A high handicapped player, or a beginning player, that can’t hit the ball very far, has to hit over a water hazard, and they dunk a few balls in the water — that reduces their enjoyability and they might not come out and play the next time,” Weiman said.

He added that practice facilities are lacking, though there is a potential for a practice area.

“This is a nuts and bolts plan. This is not a shoot-for-the-moon, glamorous plan,” Weiman told the commissioners.

The plan includes improving the turf grass; implementing extensive draining; pruning and removing some trees; widening fairway landing areas; creating “flat-bottomed” bunkers that are cheaper to build and maintain; renovating, realigning and leveling all tee surfaces; and rebuilding the “troublesome” Hole 2 green complex.

“Golf has become a game of practice,” said Weiman, adding that adding and renovating the practice area will create a direct revenue source with limited overhead while also increasing traffic and building the clientele.

Weiman said the master plan would be implemented in phases to ensure things are done well. In addition, he said, the phasing would allow a lot of the projects to be completed in-house during the winter months instead of hiring professionals for much of the work.

He did note, though, professionals would need to be hired for creating the bunkers.

The implementation cost is estimated at $1.86 million, but Meadows said it doesn’t include those items that are not in Weiman’s “field of expertise,” such as restrooms and rain shelters on the course, wash pads and expanding the parking lot, which is why there is an additional budget plan that estimates the cost at $2.09 million.

He said the master plan “gives us the ability to pick and choose” each year what to do next or what can be afforded.

In the existing draft capital improvement projects fiscal 2014 budget, $220,000 is requested for replacing Hole 2.

“We felt the No. 2 hole is the one that needs the most attention first, right off the bat,” Meadows told the commissioners, adding that priorities will be “shuffled” for the next fiscal year.

Clark asked, “How do we achieve this? Do we take this and put more taxpayers’ money into this in a time when we haven’t, for the last four years, been able to give employees [cost of living adjustments or step increases]? … What you need to do is to wait and make the golf course generate some money so that it can start to pay for some of this stuff.”

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said she did not vote to buy the golf course.

“I felt that at the time that the county bought the golf course we were buying a pig in a poke, in the sense that what’s come true has come true, which is that a tremendous amount of money was gonna have to be put in that golf course in order to make it viable.”

Shaw said she didn’t have a problem with the concept, but she didn’t understand where the money to pay for it was going to come from.

“It’s like a maze, and we’re investing taxpayer dollars in a part of that maze, but it doesn’t allow us to get through the maze,” she said.