CCU Golf Course: $3 Million Taxpayer-Funded Whiff

March 11, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveCoastal Carolina University wants to spend $3 million in taxpayer dollars to buy a golf course it has been leasing, but the odds at getting state approval are akin to a hole-in-one-shot.

The S.C. Budget and Control Board at its Feb. 23 meeting voted carry over the proposal after a half-hour-long discussion dominated by concerns raised by Gov. Mark Sanford, one of five board members.

Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said afterward the matter could come again at the board’s next regular meeting in June.

“I keep going back to the big question, which is, is this the kind of time to be buying a golf course?” Sanford said during the February meeting, noting the state’s ongoing severe budget problems.

Citing figures from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Sanford said the 188-acre Quail Creek golf course and driving range, which is next to Coastal’s campus in Conway and used by both students and the public, has lost a total of nearly $1.4 million over the last four fiscal years.

And it’s projected to lose another $500,000 this fiscal year, he said.

Sanford also pointed out that the nearby Burning Ridge golf course recently sold for $1.8 million – far less than the asking price for Quail Creek.

“People are buying things at deep discounts down there,” he said, adding later during the discussion, “You have golf courses being plowed up now down in Myrtle Beach.”

Mark Kelley, the university’s legislative liaison, disputed Sanford’s points, contending that the governor’s financial figures didn’t take into account tuition paid by 253 students who participate in the university’s Professional Golf Management program.

According to the most recent annual figures compiled by the university, the program had revenues, including tuition, of about $5 million and expenses of approximately $3 million, for a net gain of about $2 million, Kelley said. The average net income over the last five years has been about $1 million, he said.

“If there wasn’t a PGM (program) there, and we were using it for the students and faculty … to be members out there to play golf, I would absolutely agree with you,” Kelley told Sanford. “But I think what you got to factor in is that this is a classroom.”

But it’s not a cheap classroom. Based on the university’s figures, the program annually costs about $11,500 per student.

Kelley said during the meeting that besides Coastal Carolina, students at neighboring Horry Georgetown Technical College also use the course to learn about golf course maintenance.

The proposed $3,039,108 purchase would save about $500,000 over the remaining 10 years of the lease, Kelley said. The golf course, owned by Chestnut Holdings LLC of Morgantown, W.Va., was appraised in November at $3,775,000, according to Budget and Control Board documents.

Those documents noted the purchase would be financed with proceeds from a 1-cent Horry County sales tax.

Budget and Control Board member Richard Eckstrom, the state’s comptroller general, echoed Sanford’s concerns during the February meeting.

“We really couldn’t identify a poorer time to acquire liabilities like this,” Eckstrom said.

Board member Hugh Leatherman, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, made a motion to carry over the proposal after contending the program would continue without buying the course.

“I’m not tying those two together,” he said.

Kelley did not return messages left for him last week by The Nerve, and university spokeswoman Anne Monk declined comment when contacted.

Three days after the Budget and Control Board meeting, the university’s board of trustees voted to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students by 4.91 and 8 percent, respectively.

Coastal reportedly was the first four-year university in the state to announce a tuition hike for next year.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 779-5022, ext. 106, or rick@scpolicycouncil.com.