When Powell Golf Club Board President Jerry Herweyer began to lead the struggling course’s board in 2011, the club was facing what many considered an insurmountable debt.
Course leaders, after expenses, were often only able to pay the yearly interest on the $250,000 they owed without ever making a dent on the principal. And the club would regularly run out of money around November or December.
“Members were pre-paying next year’s memberships, and we were using that money to survive until spring,” recalled Herweyer, the board’s president. “Obviously that is never a good situation when you’re using next year’s money to pay this year’s bills.”
Fast forward six years and the golf course is now operating in the black for the first time in decades, using a mixture of fundraising and contributions from the City of Powell to erase the debt.
“The last five years, we’ve probably run lean enough to not have to tap into the next year’s money to get by — and we’ve actually had situations where we’ve had a little extra cash left over to purchase some equipment,” said Herweyer. “We’re just in a lot better shape than we were in 2011.”
The course has been city-owned since 1970, but is managed by an independent board. The board consists of seven members, including City Councilman Eric Paul. Paul doesn’t vote on the board to avoid a conflict of interest, but he acts as a liaison between the club and the city.
“They [the board] worked extremely hard and extremely effectively at getting rid of that debt. It’s also thanks in large part to the generosity of their membership,” Paul said. “For the golf course, it definitely gives them a little breathing room, a little more freedom to do some of the things that have been deferred.”
Herweyer said the majority of the debt came in the late 1990s, the result of a nine-hole addition to the original course. (Those holes now make up the front nine.)
“[The addition] was obviously a big expense. And the rates weren’t increased at the golf course to cover that money,” Herweyer said. “So there was a continual loss of money, with trying to pay off the debt and not raising the rates.”
Equipment upkeep and upgrades and yearly wear and tear on the course were also factors, as Wyoming winters are notoriously hard on golf courses throughout the state.
“There was a year where the greens on the back nine had severe winter kill and had to be replaced,” Herweyer explained. “That added substantially to the debt as well.”
But all that began to change in 2012. The Powell City Council agreed to provide $50,000 that year, but on the condition that the funds be matched dollar-for-dollar by donations — whether it be community support, fundraising campaigns and/or sponsorships.
“That first year and every year since then, whatever they’ve given us, we’ve been able to match,” Herweyer said.
It proved to be a beneficial plan, as the city’s money went directly to the debt, while the golf club’s matching funds went to operations, Herweyer said.
In 2015, the city doubled down on the matching funds formula, requiring the full amount be put toward the debt.
“In hindsight, that was a good deal,” Herweyer said. “That helped us pay off that debt faster.”
That year also saw the establishment of a crowdfunding initiative, “Keeping it Green in 2015.” Set up by Toby Bonner, the Tribune’s general manager and then a club board member, “that raised about $70,000,” Herweyer said. “We were going to use that to repair our irrigation tanks, that sort of thing. And with that, we had money leftover to pay more of the debt off.”
By last June, all of the debt was gone.
For the City of Powell, it’s a “nice luxury” to get rid of the debt, said councilman Paul.
“At the end of the day, we [the city] didn’t have any obligation to pay down the debt in any form,” he said. “But we felt it was appropriate to find a path to help the golf course get to this stage. It gives the city a little more freedom in how we can build the golf course in the future as well.”
The city is providing $10,000 to the club in this fiscal year.
Herweyer said that, despite a slight drop in memberships, 2017 was a good year for the club.
The Powell Golf Club had 168 members this year, down from 175 in 2011, he said, but within the 160-190 range that the club historically fluctuates between, he said.
“The community has been on board since this whole thing started; they’ve really stepped up,” Herweyer added. “Even now, with the debt paid off, we still get donations.”
Paul said no one expected the debt to be paid off this quickly, attributing the accomplishment to the hard work and diligence of everyone involved.
When Paul first joined the council in 2013, the golf course was still deeply in debt.
“In just a little under four years, they’ve exhausted that debt,” he said. “That’s a pretty remarkable feat in any sense of the word. It truly is to the credit of the current golf board and to the membership of the course. They’re really the ones that made it happen.”