The Big Driver, a driving range in Washington, has been in the city’s care since 2013-14 costing a total of over $47,000 in maintenance fees.
Now, the city is looking into cutting off the $1 lease deal it has with L.B. Eckelkamp Jr. and Bonnie J. Eckelkamp for the land.
“We need to look into losing Big Driver to help save time,” Councilman Steve Sullentrup said during the city council meeting Monday, Oct. 1.
Originally the driving range was supposed to make money, but now there’s a financial and manpower issue.
“Besides the amount of manpower it takes to maintain it, we also are going to have some rather large expenses that we’re going to have in the next couple of years,” Darren Lamb, city administrator, said during the park board meeting Wednesday.
Lamb said work needs to be done on the parking lot and building.
“In my opinion, it’s not just the money issue,” Darren Dunkle, parks director, said. “The biggest part of it is a manpower issue. When we first started this we had a lot of seasonal (workers) at a much cheaper rate doing some of the work out there. Like everywhere else over the years (we’re) losing more and more seasonal (workers) so it had to turn over to full-time people to do it.”
Dunkle said the amount of work that needs to be done at the range throughout the year has amounted to 40 hours a week for about 30 weeks out of the year.
“That’s a full-time person for 30 weeks and that hurts us in other areas of our operations trying to keep them intact,” Dunkle said. “Yes, it is a financial impact, but the maintenance hits us hard.”
Darren Lamb said that another argument to leave the deal is that Wolf Hollow’s driving range offers cheaper service.
“I guess Wolf Hollow probably does it as an enticement (so you’ll) play a round of golf while you’re there,” Lamb said.
Board members then discussed their concern regarding high school cross-country meets.
Several area schools use the range as the location for meets. Dunkle assured the board those events will not fall by the wayside.
“That was an agreement with L.B.,” Dunkle said. “He can continue if he wants to allow them to do that.”
Lamb said to his knowledge the city’s not involved with the maintenance for the meets.
Concluding the discussion, Lamb said he didn’t want the board to vote on the issue just yet.
“I just wanted to bring it up as a discussion and see how the board feels,” he said. “You can wait until next month to go ahead and make a decision.”
Washington first entered into a lease agreement with the Eckelkamps in 2012, the same year the parks department took over operations of Big Driver.
The city council approved a lease extension in 2016 that was good until April of this year.
In 2015, the park board and city debated closing the facility. Funds for Big Driver and Little Putter were excluded from the 2015 budget because the range was losing a reported $15,000 a year.
In an effort to save money, but still keep the facility open, the city decided to close the Little Putter miniature golf area, but keep the driving range open.
At the end of October, Dunkle reported 937 people had used Big Driver. In the same report, it was noted Big Driver had generated $9,422.02 against $8,840.72 in expenses.
Big Driver only accepts credit cards now that a golf ball vending machine was purchased to help run the driving range. With the machine, customers can show up, pay with a credit card and get a bucket of balls.
While the machine eliminates the need for someone to staff the range and hand out balls, Dunkle said staffing is still needed to run the range.
A machine dispenses balls with a credit card payment. Golfers can get 30 golf balls for $5, 75 balls for $10 and 100 balls for $15.