ARCADIA — The Santa Anita County Golf Course, one of the busiest public golf centers in Southern California, will be turned over to a private management partnership next month in a move designed to boost county revenues and to bring about a face lift of the 40-year-old, 18-hole facility.
Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to lease the course to a four-member partnership that plans to invest $750,000 in new landscaping, construction and refurbishment over the next two years. Planned additions to the course include a 125- to 200-seat banquet room, a cocktail lounge and a 70-space parking lot at the clubhouse near Santa Anita Avenue and Huntington Drive.
Additional plans call for refurbishing a coffee shop, repaving a parking lot and improving irrigation and maintenance of the 140-acre regulation course.
Scott Henderson, managing general partner of Santa Anita Associates, a Santa Ana-based group of investors and contractors, said the group hopes to begin construction in about six months. He said the partnership will handle all operations of the course, its pro shop and food concessions.
Golfing and cart-rental fees will continue to be set and reviewed yearly by the county Department of Parks and Recreation. However, the partnership will have the power to set its own prices for food, beverages and golfing equipment.
Under terms of the 25-year lease, the partnership must guarantee the county revenues of at least $390,000 per year, compared to about $250,000 the county now receives each year by operating the course itself, said Steve Duron, a senior contract analyst for the county parks department. But under a revenue-sharing formula, the county may receive more if gross receipts reach levels projected by the partnership.
"We assume we'll be paying the county upwards of $450,000" per year, Henderson said. "Certainly once the (construction) is completed, we should be giving them over $500,000 a year."
Duron said the agreement is part of the county's new approach to operating its 18 publicly owned golf courses in recent years. Since 1981, private leaseholders have taken over 11 of those courses, including the 18-hole Altadena County Golf Course and the 18-hole Eaton Canyon County Golf Course in Pasadena.
Generally, Duron said, "the lease operation of our golf courses has turned out to be very profitable."
Supervisors asked for operating proposals for the Santa Anita course in July, Duron said. Eight parties responded to the request, including Bruce Wyatt, who currently operates the course's golf shop under an agreement with the county. Wyatt sought to expand his contract, which was expiring, to include all operations at the course, Duron said.
Wyatt's attorney, Lee Gire of Glendale, argued Tuesday that supervisors were legally required to select Wyatt to operate the course because his proposal was more lucrative to the county than the plan submitted by Santa Anita Associates. Wyatt planned to guarantee the county $1.88 million over the first five years of the contract, compared to about $1.86 million the four-member partnership had guaranteed, Gire said in an interview.
"They should . . . let the contract to the bidder who offers the best financial package . . . unless they determine he's not qualified" to run the golf course, Gire said.
Satisfied With Wyatt
Duron said county park officials were satisfied with Wyatt's operation of the golf shop in recent years, but that his overall plan was not rated as highly as that of Santa Anita Associates. The partnership includes Henderson, a former corporate bank officer; Ron Lane, owner of Lan Ron Enterprises, a Newport Beach-based development company; Bill Donovan, the operator of an 18-hole regulation golf course in Santa Ana; and Donovan's son Michael, a sales manager for food and beverage concessions at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
The county was not legally required to award the contract to the most lucrative bidder because management capabilities were also a critical part of the decision, Duron said.
Henderson said Santa Anita Associates was formed specifically to develop plans and to bid for the golf course operation. He said investors hope to restore the course to the condition of its glory years. In the early 1970s, the course was the busiest public golf course in the nation, according to Henderson, serving up to 117,000 golfers per year.
The Santa Anita course currently is the third most popular course owned by the county, serving 106,000 golfers a year, Duron said.
Maintenance of the course has "fallen below par" in recent years, Henderson said. "It looks old, and it is old. What it needs now is an awful lot of tender loving care."