The county will soon own the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club.

Not to mention the only public pool for miles, refurbished in the past two years, the pro shop and restaurant.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to purchase the golf club for the club’s current debt or $390,000, whichever amount is lower.

The money will come from the fifth bed tax penny collected for parks and recreation.

The county will own the 173 acres including the 18-hole golf course and grounds, along with equipment, the clubhouse and meeting room.

The course was built in 1969 and designed by Bill Amick.

From the championship tees it plays to a par-72 6,655 yards.

“It is a gem,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “It would be a disaster for the community if it went away.

“We will hold it as a park and protect it for the community and protect it for the tourist base.”

As part of a series of motions Tuesday, commissioners also approved advertising for proposals from potential operators for the club.

The course would remain open to the public, locals and tourists alike, Hammond said.

“That course is a good draw for us,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “This will be good for the community.”

The county would maintain ownership but lease to an operator for $1 per year and subsidize some costs of operation for the first three years.

However, county personnel would not be any part of day-to-day operations of the club, save, for example, meetings held at the club by the Gulf County Tourist Development Council, Hammond said.

In addition, after the initial three years the county could decide to sell the course to a company to operate it or divest of the club altogether, providing a right of first refusal for purchase to members of the club.

Under the purchase, those members, and their selected board, would have no say in the operation of the course or club/restaurant.

Operations will fall under a contract between county and operator.

The agreement emerged from negotiations Hammond has had with club officials for months.

Already facing budgetary issues in the past two years, following Hurricane Michael and subsequent decline in membership, the club lacked the resources to fully recover and continue operations.

 

Prison recovery

A major question for county officials since Hurricane Michael was the future of the Gulf Correctional Institution and the Forestry Annex, both badly damaged in the storm.

Inmates were transferred to other facilities and employees were displaced, some forced to drive three and four hours to work in other regional prisons.

Warden Scott Payne said that the construction work at GCI was “making a lot of progress.”

The hope is that work on the main unit will be completed by the end of May and inmates will begin to be returned to the facility in June.

“We are treating it as a new facility, as a new opening,” Payne said.

The return of inmates will be a “slow progression” in large measure because the lack of clarity on the employment front.

Payne said due to the displacements, retirements, leaving the corrections system, the number of employees without logistical obstacles to returning to work in Gulf County is an unknown.

As for the Annex, the end of the July it is hoped will bring the last of construction work, but how soon that facility would be populated remained fluid, Payne said.