By Stephen Seitz
KILLINGTON — It’s good to take stock every 20 years or so, and that is what the town golf advisory committee is doing on the occasion of the Green Mountain National golf course’s 20th anniversary.
When the committee met on Nov. 19, one of the topics on their agenda was to discuss whether the course has accomplished its original mission.
Town Manager Seth Webb said the course’s chief purpose was to promote economic development for Killington. He cited the 1991 and 1994 Sherburne town reports, at which voters authorized funds to purchase the land and construct the course.
“The main purpose was to foster visitations from beyond the commuting range,” Webb said. “The idea was to direct tourist dollars to Killington lodging and retail.”
The course was also supposed to pay for itself.
“It’s a great course, but we didn’t meet those goals. The course doesn’t cover its debt,” said committee member Mary Furlong, but asked. “Why would we stir that pot?” she asked.
Webb noted that while the course has been unable to pay its own debt it has accomplished its main goal of being an economic development engine “by generating non-winter tourism revenue,” he said.
Committee member Ken Lee said that recently the course has been fruitful in a general sense. “Things have been reasonably good in the last five years,” Lee said. He added, “the original pro-forma for the course incorrectly assumed greens fees would be triple of what today’s prices actually are.”
In addition to Furlong and Lee, Peter Metzler and Leo Davin make up the Killington golf committee.
Golf director Dave Soucy agreed.
“We consistently outperform the industry,” he said. “The industry says that a successful course has 10,000 golfers, and Killington barely has 10,000 people. A lot of golf courses are struggling, but one thing we do well is retain our customer base. We’re consistently rated one of the top courses in the state.”
Golf.com ranked Green Mountain National at No. 5 in Vermont for 2014, behind Manchester’s Equinox, Okemo, Jay Peak, and Stowe.
Soucy estimated that 45-50 percent of GMNC’s customer traffic comes from out of state, 20 percent local, 25 percent comes from tournaments, and 15 percent comes visitors from the rest of the state.
The course’s finances went into the rough in 2003. Originally, the course was expected to produce enough revenue to cover its debts; however, the course only paid the principal. To cover the shortfalls, the town took out short-term notes from 2003-2010. While this ensured progress on long-term debt, short-term debt accumulated considerably. According to town documents, during this period the town accumulated an additional $2.4 million in debt on top of the original bond.
Webb said that the town decided to take the debt on in 2011. And in the same year, the town voted to shift the local options tax to the general fund to help offset annual payments.
“The original pro-forma was off, so it wasn’t realistic to expect the course to pay the debt,” he said. “It pays its operations and capital cost, but not its debt…With that said, in each of the past four years, we have been able to put $50,000 a year to offset debt payments.”
The debt is expected to be repaid by 2025, after which the course should be able to take over.
Despite the milestone anniversary, Soucy said celebration plans were still on the drawing board.
“It’s in the discussion stages,” he said. “For the first three years, we had a futures tour. We’re thinking about a ‘Back to the Futures Tour.’ Plans are still ongoing.”
More detailed information can be found on www.killingtontown.com, by searching for “golf.”