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What should it be? Future of Muni is up for debate

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - Updated: 10:25 AM


Recorder News Staff

Structure, marketing strategies, goals, positions and what to do with the golf professional at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course were all discussed during Wednesday's Golf Commission meeting.

"The purpose of this meeting, I think, is to plan for the future of the golf course," commission member Dustin Swanger said. "So, I think the first thing we ought to do is talk about where we want to be five years from now, what goals we have, what we'd like to accomplish, and talk about the structure we think is important to achieve those goals and how we move forward."

Swanger said the current purpose of the commission is to give the Common Council recommendations for golf course improvements.

Commission members discussed a variety of topics and ideas during the three-hour meeting, one being the golf course's structure moving forward.

"What should the golf course be?" Swanger asked the group. "Should it be a department of the city? Should it be its own not-for-profit organization that the city decides it's going to contribute to, much like a service? ... I think we ought to toy with those ideas."

Commission member Pam Ritter agreed.

"I agree, and privatization is another option," Ritter said.

"Or you could just sell it," Swanger replied.

Another topic discussed Wednesday was the contract of Joseph Merendo, referred to as "Joe the Pro," who has been the professional at Muni for decades.

"This isn't going to be the most popular thing to say, but I think we're all dancing around the issue here. What do we do with the pro?" commission member Robert Karutis said. "That's the biggest sticking point, and I think everybody here knows that."

Ritter suggested the group let Merendo stay another year until everything is sorted out. She said she wants to methodically work on a plan for the course, and take her time so the right decisions are made along the way. She wants the commission to decide during the next year whether to have a golf course manager, keep the golf pro, or have both.

Commission chairwoman Michele Russo, however, said the commission needs to make some decisions soon because they can't be postponed.

"We can keep the pro," Russo said. "I've been on the commission now for four or five years and this is what we've been doing for four or five years -- you say you want to take off another year, the same five council members may not be there next year, and you'll have to start all over with another group of people."

Russo said she's in favor of having a golf course manager. She said if the commission wants to keep Merendo at the course as well, she'd support that, too.

"I'm not advocating for or against," Karutis said, "but having a pro and a golf course manager adds another cost to the course. What's the golf course manager going to make -- $25,000? $55,000? $65,000? They're going to make something."

However, Russo said the manager could be another golf pro who could potentially bring in more customers and the two pros could work together.

Karutis suggested the commission have a meeting with Merendo and ask him if he wants to be golf pro next year.

"Does he want to be pro next year? Does he want to retire? Why don't we just ask him?" he said.

Ritter said the grounds of the golf course and marketing are more of a concern than deciding on Merendo's contract.

"We should be looking at ways to market to women and children," she said. "We should be looking at the rates -- we're charging half of what the average municipal course charges. We're losing money. We need to change the rate structure tremendously. We need to attract more members. We need to clean up the course. I would not add another employee and leave them with that."

Ritter continued that the commission should keep Merendo for another year so they can focus on improving the course.

"I think our focus should be on improvement of the course. That's the number-one priority in my mind," she said. "Because without it, it doesn't matter who's the pro, who's the general manager. If it's not decent, no one will go."

"Let's offer [Merendo] another year and work on the things that need to be worked on. We'll make peace, we'll have council support, we might be able to get funding which is critical doing the work we need to do -- let's think outside of the box at the bigger picture," Ritter continued.

Russo said if the commission wants to transition to a manager it should keep Merendo on as the golf pro and hire a manager at the same time.

Karutis said golf courses are competitive and adding a manager would add more costs, taking away from the funding of improvements.

Ritter agreed, and said members need to see the course improving, which she thinks will increase the number of members.

One goal commission members all agreed on during the meeting was that the golf course should be self-sustained, but they all agreed that goal won't be achieved for a few years.

The commission plans to revisit these issues in September.


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