County sorts out legal issues at Bay Dunes golf course

Bay Dunes is under new management that county officials hope will soon become legal and official.

When the old landfill off Majette Tower Road was closed and sealed, Bay County turned the site into a golf course and in 1994 leased the course to Phoenix Construction and the company’s owner, James Finch, for 35 years. Finch immediately subleased his interests to City Sports. Though the company established a local corporation, all of the principals were based in Detroit, Mich., which is where county officials said the course was run from.

But, that changed in May 2011 when City Sports put their sublease up for sale and local businessman and golfing enthusiast Tony Ray purchased it. Ray said he previously had managed the Sunny Hills golf course and was anxious to return to the business.

“My goal here is to continue to make improvements and make this a pre-eminent golf course in Bay County,” he said.

Commissioner Guy Tunnell said he has visited the course and it appears to be well-maintained and doing good business.

But, there’s just one problem with the new management ‚ it’s not precisely official. By changing possession of the golf course without going through the right process, the original lease and sublease were breached, assistant county manager Dan Shaw said.

Shaw said the county has been working with Ray to secure him under contract, but there’s been some trouble coming up with a security bond. Bay County required a $100,000 bond from City Sports and initially had requested Ray put up a $200,000 bond as insurance. That amount has been negotiated down and Ray said he and county officials were “very close” to an agreement.

“We want someone to manage the golf course and if that’s him, that’s great,” Shaw said. “He appears to have been doing a good job out there.”

If an agreement fails to be reached, Shaw said the lease for management might be put out to bid. The county would not manage the course because of the cost and expertise involved, Shaw said. There is a provision, though, that if the course crosses a threshold number of members or rounds the county would get a cut of the profits.

Though most golf courses break even or lose money, Ray said Bay Dunes has the potential to be successful, citing a good layout, nice water features and no houses bordering the course.

“I’d really like to see the course make a real go of it,” Tunnell said. “I’d like to see it continue to grow as an asset to Bay County. I think it could be pretty profitable for the right person.”

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