by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
Platte County and KemperSports appear to be on their way to forming a partnership in an attempt to enhance operations at the county-owned Shiloh Springs Golf Course.
County officials Monday unanimously selected KemperSports over three other proposals the county received following interviews with vendors interested in serving as a managing partner at the county-owned and operated 122-acre golf course located a few miles east of Platte City off of Hwy. 92.
The details of a contract are expected to be worked out in negotiations between county commissioners and KemperSports in the coming days.
“KemperSports presents the county with the best opportunity to provide a high quality golf operation to increase rounds, to increase participation in golf programs, and ultimately help us achieve our goal of maximizing golf course operational revenues,” said Brian Nowotny, director of Platte County parks and recreation.
The golf course opened in 1994. It became under the reins of the Platte County parks and recreation department in 2005. Since Shiloh Springs became part of the long range Platte County Parks Master Plan in 2009, the county has made vast improvements to the playing conditions and golf programs at Shiloh Springs.
The county’s master parks plan in 2009-10 indicated Shiloh would be at least at a break-even point as far as annual revenues generated. That hasn’t happened, as the county is budgeting for an operating loss of $200,000 this year. Nowotny said entering into a management contract is the next step to try to make Shiloh less of a drain on the county’s park fund.
Nowotny said this past golf season more than 17,000 rounds of golf were played. There were upwards of 100 children introduced to the game of golf while participating in the county's junior golf program and 120 male participants involved in the men's league.
But there have been hurdles.
“The challenge facing Platte County now is to improve the financial viability of the golf course without neglecting our responsibility to residents to provide a public recreational service,” said Nowotny.
To achieve this goal, the county solicited proposals for what is hoped to be a cost-conscious partnership aimed at building a “realistic framework that will facilitate long-term success of the golf operation.”
In January, the county received a total of four qualified proposals. Although none of the vendors could offer the county a guarantee to “eliminate the operational subsidy,” said Nowotny, all four vendors said they could save the county money by generating additional revenues at the golf course.
The park director gave his recommendation to move forward with KemperSports. He acknowledged their national and local presence. Currently, KemperSports runs the Hodge Park Golf Course and Shoal Creek Golf Course.
According to their proposal, KemperSports would manage high quality golf programs, run the on-site food and beverage operation, as well as manage the sales and marketing at Shiloh Springs.
KemperSports indicated it would employ a full-time marketing director with the intended goal of increasing golf participation and the number of tournaments held at Shiloh Springs through online marketing and other means of interaction. KemperSports says it will also implement a customer loyalty program and introduce non-traditional golf practices, including a program known as Starting New at Golf (SNAG). Immediately following a round of golf, KemperSports says they would solicit feedback from the golfers and implement a customer service training program.
Nowotny said KemperSports expressed interest in exploring the possibility of expanding the food and beverage operations and indicated they could cut the cost of golf merchandise sold at Shiloh Springs due to their sheer quantity of purchased golf merchandise.
The county would continue to manage all maintenance aspects.
If for any reason a contract agreement with KemperSports cannot be reached during future negotiations, county officials would have an opportunity to turn in another direction.
Ron Schieber, Platte County Presiding Commissioner, said eliminating the continuous need to subsidize Shiloh Springs is his priority.
Jim U'Ren, a Platte City resident who started an online petition dubbed Hands Off Shiloh Springs said the golf course improves the quality of life for many folks in the county.
“What if we cave in and say we can't afford a golf course and say we need to sell it,” said U'Ren. “The other counties around us will just take that money and take that interest. That is what we can't do. We can't give up and lose something so important. It is a long-term development and asset to this county.”
He and others argued the golf course is a park and recreational asset that should be regarded as such rather than a revenue generator. They pointed to how the golf course is structured under an enterprise fund for accounting purposes, but suggested county officials re-examine how the county labels Shiloh Springs on its books.
In the past several years, outside auditors have made a note that the county golf course operates at a loss. Kevin Robinson, Platte County auditor, said auditing principles mandate that auditors disclose that information when a business owned by the government is labeled as an enterprise fund.
Robinson said traditionally when a government runs what is deemed to be a business with the potential to make a profit, it is often classified as an enterprise fund. “It does not mean it has to be profitable, but it has the potential to make a profit,” added Robinson. The county could examine the possibility of reclassifying the golf course operation by labeling it as a county asset, similar to how the county's community centers are classified,” he indicated.
Other golfers identified the marketing of the 122-acre golf course as defective.
Micheale Hensley, who identified herself as a long-term employee at Shiloh Springs, claimed the marketing of Shiloh Springs had been mismanaged by the county.
“As long as I have lived in this county, do you know how many people I have come across who don't know we have a golf course?” questioned Hensley.
That opinion resonated with Robert Rose, a retired TWA employee and avid golfer. “My career has been in sales and marketing and I think that is the big downfall,” said Rose. “People don't know about the course.”
Rose said Shiloh Springs is the most affordable golf course in the county. Should the county partner with a vendor, Rose warned, “I'm sure the price will go up and you will start seeing people seeking other alternatives.” He said the private courses in Platte County are much more expensive and not a practical option for seniors.
Dan Biermann, a long-time employee at Shiloh Springs, said the grounds have never looked so good. “That course probably has the best greens in the area and we just love it out there,” said Biermann.