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Agency Turns to Private Sector to Bring Golf Course Up to Par

May 20, 1993|BRENDA DAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Sinaloa Golf Course in Simi Valley will be getting a face-lift to attract more players, but not at the expense of the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, which owns the nine-hole public course.

Instead, a private operator has leased the 27-acre property with the promise to spend $300,000 to install new greens and repair the aging irrigation system, among other improvements planned over the next few years.

At a time when park district officials expect to cut their $7-million budget for the second straight year, the arrangement could create income where none has been generated before, said Jerry Gladden, the district's general manager.

"We're not talking big dollars here, but if he does the marketing, gets the play up and runs a lean operation, we could see $100,000 (a year)," Gladden said.

The move may not be an isolated case, Gladden said. Next, district officials plan to tag a for-rent sign on their 3-year-old equestrian center, which has been operating at a deficit, he said.

And leasing has been discussed for the park district's community center in Simi Valley now under construction and scheduled to open in a year. The district has not yet found operating funds to staff and maintain the facility, Gladden said.

"I just threw that out at a staff meeting as a wild idea," Gladden said. "Whether we could run it ourselves on a break-even level remains to be seen."

Already, there are signs of the recent change at Sinaloa Golf Course--literally. Green-and-white banners trumpeting the management change have been hung outside the clubhouse.

"If we start giving them nicer conditions and greener grass, more people are going to start playing this course," said Lynn Shackelford, a former Los Angeles Lakers announcer and Sinaloa's new general manager.

Easing comfortably into the role of promoter for a course that he admits has seen better days, Shackelford added, "Golfers are like fishermen, they tell each other where the fish are biting."

About 52,000 rounds of golf were shot at the course last year, but with promotions and a later closing time Shackelford expects that number will rise to 60,000 this year, he said.

The initial lease runs for one year to give Shackelford time to get permits from the city to make capital improvements. If he's successful, a 15-year agreement would be executed, officials said.

Under the terms of the lease, Shackelford must pay the district a minimum rent of $60,000 per year, or 25% of the profits, whichever is more. In addition, the agreement requires him to funnel 5% of annual profits into improvements at the course.

The park district's board of directors will keep an eye on the prices Shackelford charges and reserves the right to veto increases perceived as "gouging," Gladden said.

"The agreement requires him to continue operating it as a low-cost, local public recreation facility," Gladden said.

Shackelford plans to raise the flat greens and build some "fun" into them with undulations, he said. Once he installs an automatic sprinkler system and designs better drainage, grass now dried in spots will be green again, he said.

"I'm expecting to spend $25,000 per green," he said.

He's already upgraded the practice driving range with buckets of new balls and better mats to hit from. Next he plans to install netting to allow stronger hitters to overextend the 200-yard distance of the range, he said.

Holes at the par-3 course range from 90 to 135 yards, compared to the 500-yard fairways typical at par-5 courses built to professional regulations, so his niche is different, Shackelford said.

His advertising and promotional activities will primarily target families, seniors, women and the before- and after-work crowd, he said. His strategy is simple: low prices and high volume usage.

"A lot of people don't have the time, the ability or the physical endurance you need to play a full-length course," Shackelford said.

Shackelford learned the economics of golf working as vice president of acquisitions the past nine years with American Golf Corp., a company that has bought or leased 150 public and private golf courses nationwide, he said.

"I think I have a good handle on what facilities can do if you put money into them," Shackelford said.

Sports have always been near to his heart, Shackelford said. He played on three national championship basketball teams at UCLA in the late 1960s. After his stint as a local commentator for the Lakers, he was a sportscaster in Los Angeles during the 70s and 80s.

He did stints with two television networks, NBC and CBS, during college basketball playoffs and worked for a while broadcasting beach volleyball tournaments for the cable sports channel, ESPN.

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