City considers renewing golf agreement

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Franklin’s City Council, on Oct. 22, discussed renewing a shared services agreement with Southampton County to allow city and county residents to play golf at the Cypress Cove Country Club at a reduced cost.

The two governing bodies first entered into the agreement in November 2017, with each contributing $30,000 to the country club. This agreement allowed residents of either locality the use of the country club’s greens and golf carts for $25 per round. The current contract, if not renewed, will expire at the end of November this year.

According to City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV, Franklin and Southampton County residents have played a total of 1,124 rounds of golf from the date the contract went into effect through Sept. 15. While the exact number of rounds to be played by Franklin residents was not disclosed during the council meeting, a discussion of the matter during the Southampton County Board of Supervisors meeting, also held on Oct. 22, revealed this figure to be 246 rounds, or roughly 21.8 percent.

Williams added that area high schools with golf teams also realized a savings from the agreement.

Travis Felts, principal of Franklin High School, said that without the agreement in place, his school would have had to pay the country club $500 to field a team for practice and matches. Now, there is no fee paid to the country club.

That said, the 2018-2019 school year will be the first time since 2015 that FHS has fielded a golf team. In 2015 and prior, the school only had to pay the country club a $100 driving range fee. This year, FHS’s golf team has four players, while teams at Southampton High School and Southampton Academy, which also benefit from the agreement, each have 11 players on their teams.

Andrea Hill, a spokeswoman for the country club, confirmed that prior to the agreement, each of the three area high schools was charged $500 per team to use the golf course, and said that this fee itself was less than the actual costs for practice, balls, cart fees for coaches and greens fees for a season. These costs would have amounted to $7,000 for Southampton High School and $2,500 for Franklin High School.

“The three area high schools have not been asked to pay these fees for the past 15-plus years due to the generosity of the club,” Hill said. “The three area high school golf teams have been able to continue to have golf teams and use the Cypress Cove golf course for their practices and matches for no fee as part of the city/county agreement. The club continues to provide these services and facility for our area school teams matches, and spectators and parents are allowed to watch matches without a fee.”

There have also been six separate golf tournaments played at the country club as fundraisers for various community organizations since the subsidy agreement went into effect. The total amount raised from these tournaments was $73,350.

However, Williams said that since charity tournament participants tend to pay a premium to participate, rather than a subsidized rate, the benefit to local organizations and the Franklin-Southampton community in having the agreement in place is more intangible. Hill took issue with the use of the term “subsidy” in reference to the agreement, but confirmed that the agreement had no direct bearing on charity tournaments.

One intangible benefit, Williams said, was that having a local golf course allows various organizations to have their respective charity tournaments “at home” rather than not having a tournament, or playing the  tournament elsewhere. Local tournaments are also a benefit to the local businesses that advertise at such events, he added.

“The car dealerships in Franklin often will sponsor a hole and advertise by having one or two vehicles on the tee box of a hole for the golfers to see and inspect as they play the hole,” Williams said. “The sponsorship may include an opportunity to win a car by making a hole in one on the particular hole. Those kinds of sponsorships will also increase the number of people who want to come out and play in the tournament… If the golf course is not in good shape, then none of that takes place.”

Williams clarified that by “not in good shape,” he was referring to the condition of the golf course grounds.

When asked if the club was in any sort of financial difficulty prior to the enacting of the Franklin/Southampton agreement, Hill said that the country club was a 501(c)(7) nonprofit rather than a for-profit business. She added, “We don’t believe The Tidewater News is the place to publish financial information for any company or organization.”

Williams also confirmed that, although Franklin’s and Southampton’s governing bodies both discussed among themselves the possibility of renewing the agreement, the two bodies have yet to discuss the matter with each other. Nor has there been any discussion of changing the amount of money each locality would contribute based on actual usage were the agreement to be renewed.