The Cook County-Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority (EDA) recently appointed a five-member management board to run Superior National Golf Course at Lutsen.
The idea for the new golf course management board came from board chair Mike Littfin during the EDA’s October meeting. The EDA has been seeking financial help from the county for Superior National, with little success so far. Littfin stated during the meeting that he felt the county board was looking for a change in approach and new people involved with the management of Superior National.
Members of the new management board are County Commissioner Bruce Martinson, EDA board member Mark Sandbo, Jim King, of the Friends of Superior National, Marland Hanson, Lutsen Township Supervisor, and Thomas Fredeen.
At the Tuesday, November 9 county board meeting, commissioners voted to confirm Bruce Martinson as their representative on the new golf course management board, but there were questions about its purpose and whether it will have any authority. County Attorney Tim Scannell:
“I know nothing about this,” said Scannell. “What is this golf course management board? Is that a longstanding board or something? Is that a new board? You know, one question I would have is, is this management board actually have any authority? Or is it just a committee that is working to help the EDA be more efficient? Because I don’t think they’re going to have any legal authority to do anything. The authority is going to be the EDA’s authority.”
Commissioner Fritz Sobanja also had questions.
“Throughout this process and during my tenure as a commissioner, I’ve never really known who is running the golf course. And what authority is there for this five member board to do something, versus whoever you’ve hired for a manager out there and what authority do they have.? And then you have this friends of the golf course group, that is not official in any capacity, yet they are….they’re in there kind of almost acting like they are,” said Sobanja.
Superior National was originally managed by the Recreation Management Company (RMC), part of the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association (LTTA). The EDA took over in 2002, creating a three-member golf course committee made up of EDA board members. The course operates in the black, but in recent years there’s been a steady decline in revenues. Capital improvements have been delayed, maintenance deferred, and marketing dollars slashed. The result is golf course in need of repair and a rejuvenated image, but few resources to address those needs. Jim Hall is the EDA treasurer, and he’s on the current golf course committee.
“So far, it’s never been any county dollars put into the golf course,” says Hall. “There’s none. And the public has to understand that we’re not being subsidized. The city is subsidizing, I believe, the city golf course, and that comes out of their levy, but that’s not been true of Superior National to this point.”
In August of this year the EDA, along with a group of golf course advocates, made a request to the county board for 1.8 million in 1 percent sales tax money or bonding funds to address critical infrastructure and maintenance needs at Superior National, $460,000 from the general fund to pay off the remaining bonds, and $100,000 a year for operating expenses. The county did not grant the request at the time and instead moved to hire an independent golf course consultant to advise them.
It remains to be seen what authority or effect the EDA’s new golf course management board will have, or whether its creation will have any influence on future county board decisions regarding Superior National.