$150,000 renovation begins at Riverside Golf Course
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More than a half-century ago, Steve Beller drove his first golf ball at Riverside Golf Course.
"That was when it was a nine-hole course," he said. "Every change we've had since then has been for the good."
Since that first game in 1957, the now 64-year-old Victoria resident has seen the golf course take many forms, seen it flourish through years of good funding and needed improvements, and survive through devastating storms and droughts.
The latest improvement - a two-year, $150,000 renovation to re-green 18 holes - is one Beller and the other golfers hope will attract new players, increase revenue and make the game more challenging.
Golf Course Superintendent Danny Arena watched closely as bulldozers build up greens on hole eight, designed by Ralph Plummer in 1945.
Two days ago, it looked like a turtle shell. After squishing it down, spreading it out, and adding a few "wrinkles," the new green started to take shape.
"The only defense golf courses have to technology is to enhance the greens," Arena said. "What we're trying to do is add more contours to the green to make it more interesting, more challenging."
What might seem like a leisurely issue drew criticism from several council members, including Councilman Gabriel Soliz, who was the only vote against the ordinance to transfer $37,500 from the general fund to the parks department for the golf course.
Soliz said during the March 20 council meeting that the golf course should foot the bill, not the city.
The golf course staff recognized the greens needed renovating at least a decade ago, and other council members asked why money was not set aside earlier for the project, or why fees could not be raised to cover these expenses.
The council approved the transfer 6-1 under the capital improvements program.
Arena said the $150,000 price tag was a significant discount.
Some greens can cost as high as $30,000 to renovate depending on the amount of work needed and resources available.
The course brings country club quality at a municipal course price, he said.
Regular annual dues, for golfers age 19-65, cost $600. Junior golfers, age 5-18, pay $200 annually, while golfers older than 65 pay $550 annually. Daily fees range from $18 during weekdays and $20 on weekends, according to the course's website.
Riverside Golf Course is the only public, 18-hole course in the Crossroads. If the fees increased, it would limit accessibility, Arena said.
Mayor Will Armstrong previously called the golf course one of the community's "most treasured aspects."
Arena said any profit the course makes is reinvested.
"We cannot keep money in the bank," he said. "It goes immediately back into the golf course. It would have taken us years to pay this off," Arena said. "It will almost be like a new course."
Leaf Toombs, the board treasurer, said golfers and staff are excited about the improvements.
He said the project is a renovation, not routine maintenance.
"The greens will be more receptive," he said. "It'll be a fair test of golf, rather than a significant degree of luck."
Don Mahaffey, co-owner of Greenscape Methods, of Edna, heading up the project.
"This is a cool golf course because of who it serves," Mahaffey said. "The conditions, turf and grass, and playing was good. The greens just needed to be updated."
Toombs said the board of directors is researching applying for hotel occupancy tax funds.
They expect to plant grass near May 15 and have the nine holes open by the golf course's biggest event, the Labor Day Tournament.
"When we start bringing people in, they're going to golf this and word will get out," Arena said. "People will want to come and play this. It's just going to blow them away."
Beller said he is thankful the city gave financial backing for the course's upgrades.
"It's not like we're making hand-over-fist," Beller said. "We're trying to keep golfing at a reasonable cost and still make some improvements."
He said the other golfers are eager to see the project complete.
He is imagining the perfect green: one that rolls pure, with no hops or chatter on the ball. It needs to be consistent in slopes and elevation, while still allowing the ball to travel at a decent speed.
"Everybody's just anxious," Beller said. "We can't wait to get out and play it."