Two outgoing members of the Hillcrest Golf Course board of directors say the compensation package of club pro John Vickers has forced directors to raise membership dues and green fees and cut back maintenance.
“John Vickers is popular but his likeability is not the issue,” said Jack Morrison, a board member from 2007-09. “The issue is a compensation package that is three times the national average for a job like Hillcrest's.”
The 260-acre Hillcrest Golf Course is on city of Durango-owned land near Fort Lewis College. It is operated by Durango Municipal Recreation, a nonprofit organization, through a 99-year lease for $1 a year.
The city has no part in operating the golf course. But it provides, free, untreated water to irrigate greens and landscaping. In 2009, the club used 134 million gallons of water (about 411 acre-feet), said Durango Public Works Director Jack Rogers.
Other entities that use untreated water pay 77 cents per 1,000 gallons. At that rate, the irrigation water would cost Hillcrest $103,180.
Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said that beyond the stipulations of the lease – that the land be used for public recreation and that there be no discrimination by race, color or creed – the city doesn't become involved in the management of the facility.
“The management doesn't concern city government,” LeBlanc said. “We have a lease, but we're in no position to second-guess how the club is operated.”
“The purpose of this corporation is to promote the health and general welfare of the citizens of Durango and the surrounding territory by providing, maintaining and promoting adequate recreational facilities for the citizens of the city of Durango and vicinity and for visitors to this community.”
Hillcrest is struggling financially, they said. Membership is down from 1,057 in May 2009 to 857 in May this year. The club had 1,389 members in 2006 and 1,272 in 2008.
Membership dues have been raised from $370 to $400 and the maintenance budget reduced; and for the last two years the club has borrowed money to get through the winter, Podlesnik said.
At Hillcrest the green fee (members don't pay) is $36 (or $49 with a cart). The green fee at other regional golf courses: Dalton Ranch Golf Course, $89, which includes a cart); the Glacier Club, varies for members but $125 for visitors; Piñon Hills in Farmington, $55 weekdays, $61 on weekends (with cart included).
No complaints were to be heard Wednesday from golfers at Hillcrest.
“He (Vickers) does a really good job,” said Eric Walker, 13, who's played golf at Hillcrest since he could play the game. “If you need help he'll stop what he's doing and come help.”
“(Hillcrest is) one the best golf bargains in America,” said Ray Sigwart of Durango and Arizona. “It's a good golf course that is constantly maintained.”
William Carroll, a Durango resident and golfer at Hillcrest for more than 20 years, characterized Hillcrest as a playable course at a reasonable price.
“There must be some kind of jealousy,” Carroll said. “I think Vickers deserves every penny.”
Morrison, an executive coaching consultant, ran 12 golf courses, seven of them public, from Maine to Florida, in a career spanning 40 years. He also was a golf club pro in New England.
Podlesnik taught at the Fort Lewis College School of Business for 25 years. A golf club pro runs the golf shop, makes sure parties are at the first tee on time and keeps play moving so no one is delayed. Minutes for the April board meeting shows that Vickers received $6,000 for marshaling to keep play going, an activity that other employees do as part of their routine duties.
A club superintendent oversees grounds maintenance and upkeep.
The pro need not be a Tiger Woods, Morrison said, but only be a proficient golfer over 36 holes and pass the PGA of America course for apprentices.
Morrison cited a report last year by Jeff Beaudry, a Professional Golf Association employment consultant. The report was based on 14,000 responses to a survey of PGA professionals. The part pertinent to Hillcrest focused on public for-profit and municipal golf courses where green fees ranged from $25 to $50.
The survey found that nationally the average total annual compensation for the lead club pro was $68,212 and the median compensation was $58,000. In Colorado, the corresponding figures were $65,354 and $61,500, respectively.
Fewer than 1 percent of golf clubs nationally give their pro the income from cart rental and driving range fees, each a high-revenue, low-cost perk, Morrison said.
The club has not been stingy, Morrison and Podlesnik said.
In 2006, after Vickers complained of small compensation, the club paid $25,000 for new kitchen equipment, an obligation that was Vickers; in 2007, Vickers was given a $7,500 bonus; in 2008, the board increased the golf pro's share of golf cart rentals and driving range fees; and this spring the board exempted Vickers from scheduled golf cart replacement, a savings of $50,000 that boosts his compensation to around $220,000.
The compensation changes occurred this spring when the board revisited the five-year contract signed by Vickers last fall. Five board members approved the contract and three voted no. Board chairman Jim Cross votes only in case of a tie.
Asked to comment on the mid-stream contract modifications, yes-vote board member Mike Amato referred a caller to Cross, and Jim Howell, who has served on the board for about 18 years over four decades. Howell said he'd answer questions only at a board of directors meeting. Cross could not be reached.