PORT TOWNSEND — Despite the peaceful feeling among the greens and fairways, the Port Townsend Municipal Golf Course is a setting for much debate.
This week, at last, the Port Townsend City Council finalized a three-year lease with Gabriel Tonan Golf Shop Inc., while considering the agreement a short-term solution.
During 2019 and 2020, city leaders eyed other uses for the 60-acre course: public open space, trails, play- and picnic-grounds, even a housing project. The golfers who use the 117-year-old course ultimately won, and a new contract with Tonan was negotiated through 2023.
Tonan, working in the clubhouse Wednesday morning, said it will be “tough to invest capital” into the course within just three years.
His fees are relatively low: $15 to play the nine holes, $4 for a small bucket of golf balls for the driving range.
Traffic has slowed during the pandemic, Tonan said; “this community is a little more reserved when it comes to coming out” to play golf.
The course and driving range at 1948 Blaine St. are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; as sunrise comes earlier, the links will open earlier, too.
On Feb. 13, Tonan will close the golf course while Port Townsend High School uses it to host a cross-country meet.
“It’s easy to social-distance here,” he said.
Well before the pandemic, the city wrangled with the finances of the golf course. A city-commissioned National Golf Association study advised investing $1.2 million in improvements and deferred maintenance.
“We’re not in a position to make that investment,” Public Works Director Steve King said Wednesday.
King, the point man after city parks and recreation director Alex Wisniewski departed for a job in Kitsap County in December, added the city is able to build a cost-saving water well on the golf course. He hopes to have it finished by summer, in time for irrigation season.
The new lease agreement requires Tonan to pay the city 6.5 percent of his gross receipts or $10,000 per year, whichever is greater. That $10,000 minimum is waived, though, until the state’s pandemic restrictions loosen.
The golf course’s pond and plant life fueled a bit of discussion as the City Council moved toward its vote on the lease.
While the lease requires Tonan, who has operated the course since 2014, to obtain written permission from the city before cutting down any trees, council member Monica MickHager wanted to ensure that tall shrubbery has the same protection.
During Monday’s council meeting, she expressed concern too about the pond near hole No. 2, and she called for testing of its water for pesticide and herbicide contamination.
“This is our wetland. We need to protect it,” MickHager said.
City Manager John Mauro responded that he didn’t want to pressure the council into making a decision, but the lease did need to be finalized.
“We’re in a bit of a bind here,” Mauro said, adding that going back in to modify the agreement would extend the delay; the previous lease expired Dec. 31.
“I don’t know that we want to micromanage” Tonan’s operation of his business, said Council member Ariel Speser.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the lease, with MickHager voting no.
Tonan, for his part, hopes to continue to provide an affordable place for local residents to play golf.
“This is what I’m passionate about,” he said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]