Inside Report: New BREC golf director has lots of work ahead

BY FAIMON A. ROBERTS III

Advocate staff writer

When Jeffrey Lee Marks started April 8 as BREC’s new golf director, he was immediately confronted with issues that don’t involve pars or birdies.

BREC’s golf operation has routinely run annual deficits of a million dollars or more, and Parks Superintendent Carolyn McKnight — on the job just over a year — has targeted “growing the game” as the remedy for the shortfall.

By “growing the game,” McKnight means the courses for the East Baton Rouge Parish parks system must attract new players. Women and children should be particular targets, according to a recent report by two representatives of the Professional Golfers Association’s player development program.

Marks said he is ready for the challenge.

“There’s a lot of responsibility with having seven courses to supervise,” Marks said in a phone interview. “The most important thing is to have various programs for people of all different niches.”

Marks said BREC’s courses must not offer programming based just on demographics: age, ethnicity, and so on; but also on time availability.

“Some only have time to play on the weekends,” he said. “Some might only have time on a Monday.”

Golf instructional clinics must be available to those who can’t pay country club prices, Marks said. They must also offer clinics for every skill level and provide an environment where players feel comfortable, such as in all-woman clinics or classes for elderly players, he added.

Marks also said the courses must do a better job of marketing and promotion and improve customer service.

“Training staff on how to answer the phone, how to greet customers,” he said. “Little basic services that you can overlook.”

The PGA report also advised that offering alcoholic beverages at its facilities would help lure more tournaments and events to the courses.

Marks — who worked at courses in New York and Georgia before coming to Baton Rouge — said he had never worked at a course where alcohol wasn’t allowed.

In March, the Metro Council amended parish ordinances to allow BREC facilities to apply for a special class of liquor license, and BREC has approved a policy governing the sale of alcohol at the golf courses.

At City Park, Webb Park and Howell Park, liquor will be sold only in connection with special events. At Santa Maria (where it is already sold), Beaver Creek and Dumas, liquor will be sold in the clubhouse restaurants.

Marks said he plans to focus on staff training for alcohol sales.

“Everybody who is in contact or at the point of sale becomes safe or understands all of the rules that go along with it,” he said of his objective.

Of interest to regular players, Marks said he also planned to focus on improving the greens at BREC’s courses.

“Greens are a very big interest of mine,” he said. “They have to be in great shape.”

To do that, Marks said, he plans to review all the procedures for greens care, including fertilization, fungicide and seasonal practices.

According to the cover letter he submitted in support of his application, Marks oversaw 30 employees and membership at one golf course in his prior job. At BREC, he will oversee 149 employees and seven courses.

And the job may get bigger. McKnight has said she would like to combine the golf and tennis operations into a single department. BREC has five major tennis centers scattered throughout the parish, with 33 employees.

Faimon A. Roberts III covers East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate. He can be reached at froberts@theadvocate.com or on Twitter @faimon.