Buyers lining up for golf course as subdivision process begins

There are cash offers on the table for Island Greens.

But so far, none from the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District.

District commissioners are considering a public purchase of the private golf course in Clinton. But as commissioners decide whether to ask voters next year for money to buy the golf course, the owners of Island Greens are working on plans to subdivide the property for new homes.

Earlier this year, district commissioners began considering the purchase of the privately-owned, nine-hole course, located on a 32-acre property on French Road. Their plan is to go before voters in February with a special $1.25 million mini-bond request to pay for the property.

At the district’s last meeting, however, some were wondering if a public purchase makes sense.

Ray Gabelein told commissioners that while the course is a very nice place for people of all ages to enjoy a round of golf, he just doesn’t think the park district should buy it.

“First, maintaining a golf course is labor intensive and must be done all year, even in rain and snow,” Gabelein said.

“If there is a downturn in the economy, golf will be one of the things people will give up first. Most folks don’t golf in the winter, but the course still must be maintained.”

Gabelein noted the time and labor that will be needed to move equipment from park headquarters to the site.

“However it’s worked out, it will cost time and money,” he said.

Island Greens is perfect for a private owner-operator who lives on site, Gabelein said. He added that while the honor system of collecting money in a lock box works for the current owners, it wouldn’t be appropriate for a public agency.

“Island Transit has done studies showing the cost of collecting fares outweighs the value of charging people to ride,” he said. “The honor system is not appropriate for a public body that needs to maintain strict accounting records.”

But the biggest problem could be environmental.

“The course was built on or near a wetland buffer and if you take it over, scrutiny will increase dramatically,” Gabelein said.

Commissioner Matt Simms said the district was still studying the idea of a purchase.

“Part of our mission is to provide outdoor recreation for our constituencies,” he said. “I want us to preserve that element on the South End. We’d do this only if it pays for itself.”

Commissioners plan on getting expert advice on the possible pitfalls of running a community golf course before making any decision on buying the property.

Commission chairman Jim Porter said they will be scheduling a more thorough walk-through with the owner of the property soon.

“The course is a beautiful, non-pretentious place where no one tries to impress with their golf scores,” Porter said. “We have to see if it makes sense for us to buy it.”

Island Greens owners Dave and Karen Anderson have had the property up for sale for a year; the last offer was for $1.25 million.

“We’ve had four offers, mostly cash,” Karen Anderson said. “All said they wanted to keep the course going but as time went on it was clear they had houses in mind.”

The Andersons are working with Island County to subdivide their land so five homes can be built around the greens. “But we’d like it to stay as a golf course,” she added. “Selling to Parks & Rec seems a good fit.”

Dave Anderson explained that park commissioners and staff had been out to look over the property, but no substantive discussions had taken place yet.

The land is zoned rural, meaning only a single home per five acres is allowed.

“There will be six lots total, including the house we live in,” Anderson said. “Either myself or the new owner can build three houses on the sixth fairway and two at the end of the driving range.”

He added that he and his wife Karen take about $50,0000 a year from greens fees.

The park district should be able to make it work financially, he said.

The Andersons opened the nine-hole course in 1989 and have made improvements over the years.

They charge $9 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for a round of nine holes; golfers typically drop their fees into an old milk can lock box that the couple checks each day.

Golfers Dave Carey and Bill Tucker from Clinton have been coming to Island Greens for years.

“The course is challenging because of the narrow fairways,” Tucker said. “But it’s just right for beating my buddy Jerry about 80 percent of the time.”

Carey noted the course was accessible and reasonable.

“Where’s a working guy going to find a course as nice as this at these prices?” Carey asked.

Though details remain sketchy, the parks district is considering putting two “mini-bonds” before voters next year. The district will also seek a renewal of its levy in February.

The first bond would pay for renovations to Castle Park, the construction of new picnic shelters, the installation of better drainage under the ball fields, paving, and a new roof for the district’s administrative building. The estimated cost is $1.5 million.

The second mini-bond would pay for the golf course should the district approve the purchase.

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