On July 20, 2017, City Council met to discuss the future of the Highland Lakes and Lago Vista Golf Courses.
Brad Kramer, COO of Walters Weddings Estates (waltersweddingestates.com), attended the meeting and gave a public presentation announcing their interest in purchasing the Highland Lakes Golf Course. Since Walters Wedding Estates purchased the clubhouse in 2016, owner Keith Walters repeatedly expressed the company’s desire to purchase the Highland Lakes Golf Course during informal meetings with the City.
Walters Wedding Estates currently owns the Nature’s Point wedding event venue (www.naturespoint.com) at 18206 Lakeshore Point Boulevard and the Highland Lakes Clubhouse which includes the restaurant on the lower level. These facilities are currently undergoing expansion and/or renovations. Mr. Kramer told Council that the company intends to break ground sometime in August for the Nature’s Point expansion. The restaurant at Highlands is expected to be opened early September of this year.
Since fall of 2016, Walters Wedding Estates has expanded their high end wedding venues around the state from eight to a current count of 15. Plans are to add four more venues within the Hill Country and San Antonio Area. This includes Nature’s Point in Lago Vista.
At the meeting, Mr. Kramer said Walters Wedding Estates has definite plans to build a 60-room boutique hotel that will offer lodging for the 500-600 guests expected to visit Lago Vista each weekend for weddings. While building the hotel is imminent, the location is undetermined. Mr. Kramer said the company’s aim is to provide a complete “guest experience” offering not only high end lodging, butactivities that will enhance their weekend stay. Depending on whether a purchase deal can be made, the company will either build the hotel at Highland Lakes Golf Course for a “golf experience” or at Nature’s Point for a “lake experience.” Mr. Kramer said the company will need a couple months to do their financial due diligence. Their concern is that repairing the course and bringing it back up to resort-style play could cost the company $3 million plus the actual purchase price. “The course condition is the big sticking point,” said Mr. Kramer.
City Council has been working diligently for months to hash out the future of the two golf courses. The costs associated with chemicals and fertilization, effluent disposal, replacement of the aging irrigation systems, and the need for increased golf course staff has put the City in a financial bind.
Projections for this year’s Highland Lakes and Lago Vista Golf Course operations estimate a deficit of nearly $800,000. If the operation of both courses continues, the City estimates it would be on track to run a deficit of $1 million for operational expenditures only. In order to improve course and facility standards to match local competition and to market to new players, additional capital improvement expenditures would be required.
Good course conditions rely on proper chemicals and fertilization. Neighboring courses show much better course conditions. A study completed this year showed that similar courses typically spend $70,000 per year on turf maintenance. Lago Vista is currently spending an approximate $10,000-$15,000 per course.
Staffing numbers also show Lago Vista has much fewer employees at each course as compared with similar courses. Increasing the number of employees would be another necessary expenditure for proper course maintenance.
The Lago Vista Golf Course is irrigated completely by using effluent water. As there is not enough effluent to irrigate both courses, Highland Lakes Golf Course supplements the effluent with raw water.
At the July 20th meeting, City Council discussed several options. Points were made about the value and legacy of the courses, the effect on tourism, resident amenities, new housing development on the courses, and the impact on property values of those homes located adjacent to the courses. Also discussed was the financial impact on the City for keeping the courses open as well as costs for closed courses which include paying out contracts related to equipment and services, ongoing green space maintenance and staffing, and continued irrigation and system maintenance.
The City is currently in budget planning for the 2017/2018 fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2017. With this and a potential sales opportunity in mind, Council decided that after roughly a year of discussions, it was time to make a decision. A motion was made to keep both courses open until the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2017), and then close Highland Lakes Golf Course at the start of the new fiscal year (October 1, 2017.) The motion was defeated 4 to 3. A second motion was made to cease all operations on both Highland Lakes and Lago Golf Courses no later than August 31, 2017. The Grill at the Lago Vista Golf Course clubhouse would cease all operations immediately. The motion was voted down 4-3. Council resubmitted the first motion. This time it passed 4-3.
Therefore, balancing the City’s significant financial distress associated with keeping the courses running, yet understanding the inherent value these courses bring to the community, City Council came to the agreement to keep both courses open until the end of this fiscal year on September 30th, and then close Highland Lakes Golf Course on October 1st with the hope that Walters Wedding Estates will proceed with a purchase agreement of the Highland Lakes Golf Course.
Mayor Dale Mitchell commented, “We are optimistic that we can find a way to have a sales agreement with Walters Wedding Estates for their purchase of the Highland Lakes Golf Course. Their future plans for Lago Vista and the surrounding area will provide a positive economic impact for many years to come. It would allow us to continue to have the two legacy golf courses that have been here since the 1970’s and maintain an attraction for visitors. We hope to reach a purchase agreement.”
Walters Wedding Estates is currently investing $10 million into Nature’s Point. The cost of building the hotel is said to be $3 million. If the company were to purchase the Highland Lakes Golf Course, it would be necessary to invest another $3 million for improving the golf course, cart barn, driving range, cart paths, irrigation system and more.