Editorial: What's par for this course?

What a difference 21 months can make.

It was February of 2011 when the Town of Bethlehem was spending no small amount of time and energy debating the merits of attempting to purchase the bankrupt Normanside Country Club.

If you don’t recall, the town ended up submitting a bid of $1.5 million to buy up the course’s debt, missing by $75,000 the opportunity to be the owner of an 18-hole golf course with a full restaurant and clubhouse. This followed weeks of standing-room-only meetings and a whole lot of discussion about the role of government.

Town leaders at the time framed the bid as a fantastic business opportunity that would preserve a vital resource for the townspeople. Today, not two years later, the situation has been reversed and Bethlehem is looking to get out of the golf course business entirely.

As you’ll read on the front page, the town is hoping the PGA will be able to help find a private manager for the 9-hole golf course so the town can lose the recreational albatross.

These situations are not apples to apples. Colonial Acres has a lot of issues that keep it from being competitive, namely a lack of amenities most golfers expect when spending half a day on the links. Like toilets. In this respect, Normanside had a lot more going for it.

Bethlehem’s 2011 stab at Normanside didn’t work out because it was outbid by a private partnership that, in less than two years, by all accounts has done well with the business. They made improvements to the course, opened golfing up to nonmembers and once again made the club a destination for special events and community groups. We’ll never know what the outcome of municipal ownership would have been, but with this year’s multimillion-dollar budget gap we wonder if capital improvements would have received the town’s undivided attention.

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