Santa Rosa hopes the new operator can help in the heart of Bennett Valley Golf

Harker said company officials have already begun meeting with various Santa Rosa groups to launch youth programs and expand access to the older population.

One of the programs the company is considering would be a combination of golf education and job training. The company will take the youngsters to the course to teach them how to play golf and train them for the different course jobs they can do after school.

He said Touchstone plans to host other types of events, such as runs and luncheons, to bring people to the site as well.

The city is working on a long-term plan for the course

Besides day-to-day operations, the city will now start looking at how to revitalize the cycle and pay for improvements.

Touchstone set aside $50,000 for landscaping at the entrance to the golf course.

Other minor improvements were planned in the first year, including work on sand traps, tree thinning, and in the restaurant.

But in the long run, millions of improvements are needed across the facility. One of the top priorities is to replace the 50-year-old irrigation system and install a drainage system to prevent water from pooling on the connections, which is estimated to cost $4.4 million.

Earlier this year, a consultant recommended completing a site-wide masterplan and creating a list of priority projects. Touchstone said some of the work can be done at home.

Now the city has to figure out how to pay for the improvements.

The chancellor recommended funding the business through investing a public fund, bonds or using golf course revenue, a move that could require the city to increase its playing fees.

As a city project, the golf course is supposed to be self-sustaining, meaning that course revenues have to be paid for operations and capital projects.

Annual rounds played on the course generate revenue but the course’s profitability is hampered by the $458,500 annual payment required to repay about $4 million in debt arising from the club’s 2005 renewal. The city expects to withdraw the debt by 2030.

The debt burden forced the debtor to use reserve funds and General Fund dollars to run the cycle and pay off obligations, leaving less money for improvements.

City officials hope the new management contract will be more profitable for Santa Rosa.

The City will receive all cycle revenue and is responsible for all operating expenses under the new management contract. Under the previous contract, not enough revenue was recorded to cover the costs, Parks deputy director Jane Santos said.

Santos said course revenue will also see a pickup as the restaurant reopens after two years.

Santos said the city expects a loss in the first year due to operations transfer costs, minor improvements and debt payments, but the cycle is expected to run in the green in the coming years and the surplus funds can be put into capital improvement.

City staff will return to the council later this year with an update on cycle revenues and expenses, and a list of recommended capital projects and financing options.

Golfers have ‘high hopes’

Capuano, who has been playing in Bennett Valley since he was a kid in the early 1990s, described the course as his second home.

He joined the golf club about 16 years ago. He said club members make up many of the tours played in Bennett Valley. Their annual membership ranges from around 250 to 350 members.

Capuano worries that without improvements, talk of redeveloping the course won’t go away.

The shop’s professional design and restaurant made the course a great venue but at a cost. He said that if the cycle was not heavily indebted, that money could go towards deferred maintenance and the cycle would be profitable.

“(The contract) is definitely a good step in the right direction but I have a feeling the matter will never be closed,” he said. “But I have high hopes for this decade.”

Dan Galvin is more optimistic.

Touchstone will bring stability to the course as a high school student, said Galvin, whose father chaired a committee in the 1960s that led to the course’s creation and was one of the original employees at the pro shop.

He said it’s upsetting that the city is considering redeveloping Bennett Valley, but he’s glad elected officials heard the thousands of residents who struggled to save the track.

Hopefully the discussion will be laid to rest forever.

“I hope the cycle will be preserved forever and any ideas of selling or redeveloping part or all of it will go away,” he said.

You can reach writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.