When state auditors and city officials found that Gary Lindeblad, the golf pro at Indian Canyon Golf Course since the mid-1980s, owed the city nearly $90,000 because of poor bookkeeping, he didn’t balk.
Instead, Lindeblad delivered three handwritten pages to the city arguing he was owed more than $190,000 because “severe maintenance issues” at the 80-year-old golf course had cut into his revenue over the years, a line of reasoning that met little resistance at City Hall.
The money swap – which will end with Lindeblad $107,729 in the positive – is part of an out-of-court settlement between Lindeblad and the city, which was agreed to by the city’s Park Board last month, signed by Mayor David Condon last week and included a gag order that city officials claim prevents them from talking about the matter.
The settlement isn’t subject to City Council approval because the money came out of the park fund, which is controlled by the autonomous Park Board.
Chris Wright, board president, and Mike Allen, the City Council liaison to the board, were the only two Park Board members to vote against the settlement, which was recommended by the city’s legal department. Wright would not comment on the settlement, citing the gag order.
Allen said he wouldn’t comment on specifics of the settlement, other than to say he didn’t approve of it.
“I didn’t support it, and I’ve only gone against legal three times,” Allen said, referring to how often he’s voted contrary to the city legal department’s advice. “I think the city did have standing in this case.”
Lindeblad, who manages Indian Canyon and earns money in part by taking a percentage of green fees and cart rentals, said Tuesday that he too was forbidden to speak on the matter.
“I signed a confidentiality agreement,” he said. “I really can’t say anything.”
In February, state auditors informed the city of bookkeeping and cash-handling problems at the city’s four golf courses, as well as at Riverfront Park, but suggested the park’s issues were minor. Leroy Eadie, the city’s parks director, said the audit had no formal “findings,” but was meant to inform the city of potential issues. He said the issues have been “completely, fully resolved.”
Eadie also would not comment on the settlement, saying he was “restricted in speaking about it.”
Auditors faulted the golf courses for allowing multiple cashiers to work out of the same register, not recording methods of payment, discrepancies in cash receipt reports and using multiple credit card machines.
The report singled out Lindeblad, saying he owed the city at least $25,000 for unpaid golf revenues, fuel purchases and leasehold excise tax. According to Eadie, the city retains all green fees paid at Indian Canyon, and Lindeblad receives nearly all golf cart and driving range revenues. He also earns money at the pro shop and restaurant.
When city officials looked into what Lindeblad owed, they came to a much larger figure: $88,205, including interest and penalties.
Faced with such a large back bill, Lindeblad made a reckoning of his own loss of revenue, which he said was due to a notoriously dilapidated, if beloved, golf course. To argue his case to the city, Lindeblad calculated by hand what he thought he was owed by comparing his “average rounds per year” and “range traffic” to those at Downriver Golf Course. He also compared current revenues to those he earned in 2006 through 2008.
“Those were the last 3 years that did not have driving range flooding or severe maintenance issues,” he wrote.
In his calculations, Lindeblad also said he would have “received a slight bonus on green fees” if the degraded course hadn’t affected his business. He said he was owed a total of $190,637 in lost revenue.
“This figure does not include the giant losses I suffered in both pro-shop sales and, especially, the restaurant,” Lindeblad wrote. “Both of those revenue centers depend heavily on outside plan and tournaments, neither of which I’ve had the last two years.”
The golf course began hosting the annual Rosauers Open Invitational in 1988, but the event was moved in 2014 because of damage to some of the course’s greens.
Maintenance issues at the course have long been a problem. In spring 2011, the course’s driving range was inundated by 3 feet of water in places, and city officials couldn’t identify the source of the flooding. Some pointed to the redesigned entrance to the course as the source. Lindeblad blamed nearby apartments.
By summer, the standing water had turned to rancid mud. Lindeblad estimated at the time that the course would lose 40,000 balls – most buried in the muck.
At the time, Lindeblad said it was the sixth year of such issues, and estimated it would cost the course more than $30,000 in extra labor, lost revenue and lost balls for 2011 alone.
“I’m frustrated because I know management has sought out answers, but they just don’t seem to be able to find them,” Lindeblad said then.
This February, supporters of the course made an impassioned plea – and presented a film narrated by former pro football quarterback Mark Rypien lauding the course – to the Park Board. They wanted the city to fix the course, which was once home to the United States Golf Association and PGA Tour events. In 1981, it was named the sixth-best public golf course in the nation by Golf Digest.
Lindeblad, who said he could talk about the condition of the course, suggested the long-awaited repair was on its way. He added that the city moved a “dream team” maintenance crew to Indian Canyon this winter. The driving range hasn’t been flooded for two years, he said.
“The city realized it had been in a slow and steady decline,” he said. “It looks better now than I’ve seen it in five years.”
Eadie, the parks director, said the Park Board’s finance committee decided Tuesday to put nearly $140,000 toward course and grounds improvements, as well as some for the restaurant.
Eadie also said Lindeblad’s contract with the city ends this year. As with all city contracts, the city will put the contract out to bid and Eadie “fully expects” Lindeblad to submit a proposal to remain at Indian Canyon Golf Course.
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