When the State of Louisiana purchased the assets of financially troubled Tournament Players Club (TPC) golf club in Marrero in Jefferson Parish on September 10, 2009, it’s no wonder the Division of Administration did not inform the State Land Office for a full year.
State Land Office (SLO) Administrator Charles St. Romain said his office is responsible for the identification, administration and management of state public lands and waterbottoms, but that he was unaware that the state had purchased the TPC facilities until September of this year.
The Act of Sale, dated September 10, 2009, was signed by then-Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis. The purchase price was $9,150,000. Davis resigned in August of this year.
Marrero Land and Improvement Association, headed by real estate developer Buckner Barkley, a financial backer of the Louisiana Republican Party and Gov. Bobby Jindal, donated about 250 acres of land in 2001—during the administration of then-Gov. Murphy Foster. The state in turn spent about $12.8 million to pay for the cost of building the course which hosts the Zurich Classic PGA Tournament each year.
The state then leased the property to TPC and Foster agreed to a deal whereby the state guaranteed a minimum number of rounds of golf at the facility each year. The rounds were to be purchased through hotel concierges in New Orleans but the hotel industry was not informed of the deal initially and the state found itself shelling out $5.1 million in the club’s very first year.
The club continued to lose money and in 2009, the state purchased the facility. The Division of Administration in November of 2008, more than nine months before the execution of the sales agreement, entered into an agreement with the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) to administer the club. LSED also manages the Louisiana Superdome.
LSED in turn executed a “golf facility management agreement” with TPC Louisiana under which TPC would manage the club for 30 years for a minimum of $100,000 per year, plus an incentive management fee of 2.5 percent of gross revenues and 10 percent of net revenues not to exceed $150,000 per year with annual increases not to exceed 3 percent per annum. That agreement was dated September 10, 2009, the same date as the sales agreement between TPC and the state.
No explanation was given as to why the state bailed out a failing facility for nearly $9.2 million and immediately turned the operation of that facility back over to the company that had been running it at a financial loss.
Even more puzzling is why the state saw the need to invest in a golf course in the first place. Or in the case of the Louisiana Legislature, four golf courses. The state is also financing the construction of courses in Lake Charles and Alexandria and it assumed operation of Black Bear Golf Course at Poverty Point in 2006. Since 1997, the state has spent in excess of $141 million on golf courses—all at a time when the state budget is hemorrhaging red ink and designer golf courses are on the decline in popularity and shutting down all over the country.
The Louisiana Municipal Police Employee Retirement System (MPERS) in October 2009 lost its $24 million investment in the Hal Sutton designed Boot Ranch Development golf club in Fredericksburg, Texas. That would be bad enough if that were the only such loss by MPERS, but it’s not. The retirement system has also dropped $12.1 million on Olde Oaks Golf Club in Haughton (and still losing $500,000 a year) and $3.1 million on The Club at Stonebridge, also in Bossier Parish. MPERS also lost an additional $15.7 million on its purchase of and improvements to the development of Olde Oaks properties, bringing its total losses just on golf courses to more than $39 million.
Golf courses that have recently closed in Louisiana include:
• The Bluffs Country Club in St. Francisville, designed by Arnold Palmer and which opened in 1988, closed in March of 2009;
• Sherwood Forest Country Club, Fairwood Country Club, and Shenandoah Country Club in Baton Rouge;
• Santa Maria Golf Course in Baton Rouge, designed by Robert Trent Jones (closed for a year before being re-opened by East Baton Rouge Parish);
• Carter Plantation Golf Club in Springfield in Livingston Parish, designed by David Toms, while not closed, has not performed up to expectations and is currently mired in litigation;
• Belle Terre Golf and Country Club in LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish (closed in August of this year).
In Georgia, the Fairways of Canton has closed, leaving that city on the hook for annual payments of $300,000. Other golf courses that have closed in Georgia include courses in Jones Creek, Tucker, and Roswell. In all, at least 15 golf courses in Georgia currently are on the market.
A quick internet check revealed clubs for sale all over the country, including three in Louisiana (Florien, Ethel, and Monroe). Others on the market in neighboring states include four each in Mississippi and Alabama, three in Arkansas, and a dozen in Texas.
It remains to be seen what, if anything, the state will realize on its investments in the four golf courses but should any or all of them fail, it’s pretty certain some hard questions will need to be asked—and answered.