Saving Bacon: The future of Bacon Park - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Saving Bacon: The future of Bacon Park

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

88 years ago, there were grand plans for Savannah's Municipal Golf Park, four courses by legendary designer Donald Ross on adjoining sides of what is now Skidaway Road.

Today, the outlook for what became Bacon Park Golf Course is considerably more modest, and more urgent.

"There are more golf courses and there's less people playing golf,'' said City of Savannah Leisure Service director Joe Shearouse. "So, we really don't need 27 holes.''

But Bacon Park will need an influx of attention, labor and money when management of the property changes at the end of this year, EDR Management, Inc. ends its 16-year operation of the city-owned facility.

"It's like anything, now is the time to see what the market would like to do,'' said Shearouse, who will oversee the bidding process for the management contract for Savannah's only municipal golf course. "I've had a lot of local interest, at least two or three groups locally that are putting a together a team. I've had some interest from outside the Savannah area, folks that manage courses in the Atlanta area. Our plan is to have this out on the street in probably the next four to six weeks and council will approve a selection by September 1st, no later than October 1st.''

But the downturn that has struck the golf industry also took a hand to Bacon Park, where rounds played are less than half what they were 10 years ago, and where the recession, reduction in play and a rise in fuel costs have conspired against course conditions.

"My gas and diesel budget when I first started here was $5,000 a year. It is now thirty $37,000,'' said EDR president Bob Elmore. An even bigger factor working against course operators has been a steep increase in price for petroleum-based fertilizers. "That's just one of the things that happened. Bridge work's got to be done, we've got cart paths that have to be done, the irrigation system needs repair or replacing, so you've got some serious work ahead of you.''

The amount of work, with the city insisting no public money will be used for it and which could include $1 million for a new irrigation system, creates challenges for anyone interested in the management contract.

Those parties could include O.C. Welch.

"If there's anybody who has that place in their blood, it's me,'' said Welch, who got his first job at Bacon Park at the age of 11 and has played there even longer. "Yes, I'm interested. I've had quite a few people approach me and I've been talking to two other guys about Bacon Park. Everybody likes to remember the good things in their life, but could that be re-created? That's a long shot.''

Gallea Golf Properties has made an imprint in the local golf market by taking over management of both Crosswinds and Henderson Golf Clubs and could put together a bid for Bacon Park.

But the company has its own concerns.

"The business plan that Chris and Leslie Gallea have is acquiring a new golf course once every two years and he's always looking,'' Charlie Dobbertin director of instruction at the Gallea Golf Properties Golf Academy said of his company's owners, who now live in Pooler. "But if he did get it, I feel it would have to be a good deal where he'd have to have his foot in there for a multi-year deal so that he'd get it the way he wants to get it done.''

Any interested party will likely be looking to rework the current arrangement with the city and will also be looking for a rebound in the popularity of golf.

"We would take a proposal that would put more capital money into the golf course, less monthly income to us,'' says Shearouse. "We're willing to work with a new group coming in. We're looking for a new group to come in with some new ideas and excited about improving things.''

"You better be committed if you come in here,'' added Elmore. " You have to have the golf background to be able to do it, you have to have some serious money behind you to do it and you have to be 100 percent committed to do it. And then it will happen.''

What the city does not want, Shearouse says, is to run Bacon Park itself or to shut it down

"No, that's not on the table, hasn't been discussed,'' Shearouse said of closing Bacon Park. "Our best interest is, we want a municipal golf course that is in good condition. It doesn't have to compare to Harbour Town. But it needs to be in good condition and be affordable.''

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