Two years after an initial attempt to buy South Mountain Golf Course ended in lawsuits and recriminations, Salt Lake County is again poised to buy it.
The County Commission announced Tuesday its intent to approve a contract to buy the course for $15 million -- twice what it would have paid had the deal gone through in 1996.The vote to approve the contract is Wednesday.
"We are lucky this opportunity has presented itself," said Commissioner Brent Overson. "We get a turnkey operation, a maturing championship golf course with a first-class clubhouse and maintenance facility."
Part of the reason for the increased cost is it includes the clubhouse and maintenance facility, which didn't exist three years ago.
The course opened last June. It charges morning greens fees of $45 on weekdays and $55 on weekends, dropping $15 after 1 p.m. County officials say they won't determine what to charge until the transaction is completed, but it will likely be substantially less (the officials add that the purchase will not effect greens fees at the county's five other courses).
Charging lower greens fees, in fact, is the whole point. Overson has been saying for years that though South Mountain is legally required to be a public golf course, the only way to keep greens fees affordable is for the county to take ownership.
The deal is the latest in a controversial series of events surrounding the golf course. Citing a need to expand its stable of golf courses toward the south end of Salt Lake Valley, county commissioners tried to buy the course in 1996.
"Anticipated growth in Salt Lake County guarantees an expanding market for golf in our southeast section," said county Parks & Recreation director Glen Lu. "Unfortunately, the escalating cost of land may prevent further development anywhere in the area."
The county's initial offer of $6.5 million was rebuffed by South Mountain developers (the golf course is part of a huge residential development on Draper's Traverse Mountain), but the county's later offer of $7.9 million was accepted.
That deal fell through, however, after paperwork necessary to finalize it languished for months in then-county attorney Doug Short's office. Saying they couldn't wait any longer, developers accepted the offer from Crown Golf Properties, a Chicago-based operator of upscale golf courses, for a controlling share.
Overson blamed Short for the demise of a deal that he said would have greatly benefited the county and cash-poor golfers. Short countered that Overson had complicated the deal by holding secret meetings with South Mountain principal Terry Diehl.
The county's assessment of the course's value at the time was $13 million.
The truncated negotiations were also challenged in court by David Mast, a rival Draper-based developer, and his group Concerned Taxpayers of Utah. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
Draper originally had the right to buy the course for $6 million. City officials decided to pass, but they did force the South Mountain developers to accept an easement making the course perpetual open space, meaning it can't be developed with buildings in the future should the course fold.
The $15 million purchase price will be financed by a revenue bond issued by the Municipal Building Authority, to be paid back by greens fees proceeds.